Game Philosophy: Horror

So, Halloween is getting closer and closer, so I wanted to do something a bit in it’s theme.

So instead of being nerds with glasses, let’s be nerds with how we dress in Halloween Costumes of obscure characters,
like this:

Heh heh… I’m totally going to dress like that on Halloween…

Anyway, welcome to another:

Today’s topic:

In my opinion there are 3 techniques of inducing horror in games.

The first is the screamers, where you go in a room and suddenly “BLAH!” a monster appears and you either get shocked or just annoyed.

The second is the bleeders, where you go in a room and go “Oh my god! There is jam everywhere! And the dog is licking it! The horror!”.

The last is the creepers, where you go in a room and you hear something which you immediately assume is a monster, but you can’t find it anywhere only to figure out it’s right behind you but you’re too afraid to look because it might just bite your eyes off if you do thus making you tense just by doing NOTHING.

See the last is always the best no matter what, because it uses your imagination rather than have a scripted scene that TELLS you to be scared.
Instead it gradually makes you more and more scared of the situation just because of how the levels are made.

Not to say the first two techniques are bad, but what people need to realize is that those two techniques should be used to COMPLIMENT the third rather than be something on it’s own.

For example, you enter this room:

It’s an ordinary room, nothing special.

Now imagine ingame, suddenly it turns to night.

Okay, that’s a bit weird, but nothing to be to afraid of.

Then suddenly the moonlight gets brighter and brighter.

Okay, that’s a little bit worrying…

Suddenly the moons stops shining like that and HOLY CRAP!

H-how the heck did that happen?! Suddenly there’s blood everywhere that was dark! OMGWTFBQQ!


What is happening?!

Huh? The door opened? GAH! What is that thing?!

D-did you do all this?!


You see, there is a certain rythm to it.

I just used all 3 of the techniques in a way, but the main concept is keeping the suspense, creeping you out one step at a time.

Sure I used gore and a bit of a screamer image out of nowhere, but I lured people into it.

It just starts out as something that feels relatively safe, and I slowly build it till it gets creepier and creepier.
I used the blood to shock the viewers, and then continue building up the creep factor so I could end it with a creepy screamer ending.
Whether this little test scared you or not is not the point here, I’m just showing how the techniques are supposed to be used.

The thing that fuels horror is discomfort.

Gore discomforts you because that’s proof that something died here violently.
Screamers surprise you at times you don’t expect and thus discomfort you.
And creepers make you feel uneasy and gives you discomfort due to how you know SOMETHING is going to happen, and the anticipation is what makes it scary.

But people seem to forget that discomfort IS the core of it all, which is why I don’t see that many good new uses of horror lately.

As an example of it done right, I present Silent Hill 4:

As the subtitle presents, Silent Hill 4 is about the titular room.

Obligatory The Room reference
You are tearing me aPART, Lisa!

Obligatory Tommy Wiseau reference aside, what Silent Hill 4 does right is how they develop the room.

The game makes it very painfully obvious that you are safe from monsters as long as you’re in the room, since for some reason the monsters can’t get into it.
It gives you a feeling of comfort in it, knowing that you’re safe and won’t be disturbed and you have all the time to do whatever you want.
It becomes your safe haven, which you rely on to hide in it whenever you’re too scared.
And you believe it, because through like half of the game,  you STILL can rely on it.
Then suddenly your safe haven isn’t so safe anymore.
The room starts mutating, Silent Hill style of course, and monsters get in it.
That is discomfort, as it takes away your comfort zone, and in effect is scary because logically you enter the room to take a break and of course let your guard down.

Another game I’ll use as an example would be Alan Wake:

In Alan Wake you play a writer who’s trapped in his own written story.
The reason he couldn’t just write that he becomes Superman and plows through everything though is the fact that it’s a story he’s already written… when he was possessed by the darkness.

And the game uses that. During the game you pick up lots of manuscripts of the story Alan had written when he was possessed.
Due to how the story came through, it’s obvious to realize that whatever the manuscript says, it’ll come true.
Thus you get wonderful moments where you escape a scary forest and are relieved you finally got out of there, only to find a manuscript.
You read the manuscript and… it tells about how you escaped the scary forest only to be attacked by a chainsaw.
“A chainsaw?” you’ll ask. You’ll wander around and don’t see a chainsaw anywhere.
It builds up the suspense because you KNOW a chainsaw will be there eventually to cut you in half if you’re not careful, but you can’t friggin find it!
And that makes it scary, almost making you relieved when the chainsaw finally appears since it’ll prove you don’t have to worry about a chainsaw any more… well besides the one RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE!

Last little example here would be Amnesia Dark Descent:

Besides what it does in building suspense, what it also does is good use of the First Person Perspective, which I said games were supposed to do in my last Game Philosophies.

Amnesia uses the fact that your view is limited.
You are in a dark castle and the longer you stay in the darkness, the less sane you’ll get and for some reason being less sane makes your eyes blurry (just go with it).
However, being in the light makes monsters able to see you better.
So you either have the choice of losing vision, or being murdered.
But what makes the horror good is that it takes away the comfort of being able to kill the monsters.
You can’t. At all.
You know how you handle the monsters in this game?
You sit in a corner, and cower, not looking at the enemy.
See, gamers by nature are aggressive, and simply kill an enemy when they get the chance.
But this game does it differently, it’s practically a stealth game where being spotted will very likely get you killed.
But the difference is that unlike most stealth games, it takes away your ability to stalk them.
To dodge them, you have to NOT look at them when you’re hiding. Which ultimately makes the monsters scarier because you barely see them.

So, those are my little guidelines to, at least in my opinion, a decent horror game.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go start putting my make-up on my face as the Ginosaji. (And now I’m really tempted to show the picture on Halloween…)

Published by Huy Minh Le

Huy Minh Le is a Video Game Enthusiast, Movie Lover, Writer, Content Marketeer and regular TvTropes reader! His studies in Game Design, Art, and Writing has led to a very creative, yet analytical mind.

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