Halloween is coming up and there are a ton of ways to get into the spirit. One of the ways people traditionally like to do this is by watching horror movies. Some are campy, some are gruesome, some are terrifying on a psychological level. Another way to explore these same elements of horror, but with a heightened sense of immersion, is through video games.
What makes horror games particularly terrifying, especially when compared to their movie counterparts, is the agency of the player over both the character and the camera. You get this very real sense that something could be either behind you or in your blind spot. In movies, the camera direction tends to show you what is important, but in games, the player never gets the comfort of feeling that their character is protected by a linear storyline. What happens is, in part, their own responsibility.
Having responsibility over the character lends itself to two more factors that are perfect for horror. First, if the story is particularly well written and the character is particularly lovable, the player may be emotionally invested in keeping them out of harm’s way. Second, the player must react, despite panic and jump scares. This knowledge keeps the player constantly engaged and, ideally, a bit on edge. As their level of panic increases, they’re more apt to make mistakes. The genre is interesting in that way, since most other genres don’t have a noticeable link between player ability and their emotional state. Perhaps that last claim is a bit anecdotal, though; I’m easily frightened by games.
Of course, taste in horror is going to vary and not everyone is going to look for a sense of terror from their games. For those more inclined to action, Resident Evil and the F.E.A.R. series have changed direction from their earliest entries and are now empowering, hero fantasies where the player can easily dispatch a ton of monsters at a time. For those who want zombies in their game, but need to sate their competitive nature, there is the Left 4 Dead franchise. Psychological thriller? Alan Wake may be perfect for you. Sci-Fi? Dead Space has got your back. Would you like some humor in your horror? May I recommend Shadows of the Damned , a game made by Goichi Suda and Shinji Mikami, of No More Heroes and Resident Evil fame, respectively.
There are even good choices for people who aren’t, traditionally, gamers. Five Nights at Freddy’s is a point-and-click survival game that has become massively popular. Due to the simple nature of the gameplay, virtually anyone can pick up the game and quickly understand it. This allows them to effortlessly delve into the mysteries of the narrative and fully enjoy the game’s unique atmosphere; a Chuck-E-Cheese inspired pizza place that is haunted by its mascots in the wake of a tragic accident. The game is also available on mobile platforms now, so it is more accessible than ever.
Fans of movies can also cross over and enjoy the special blend of horror games have to offer without totally abandoning the classics. Friday the 13th: The Game was just announced and, while details are scarce, the trailer so far looks to be keeping with the spirit of the movies.
I realize I’m coming from a place of bias, what with my writing for a video game site and all. Video games have become part of my traditions, but I do believe in the edge they have in the horror genre. There will be some who prefer a more passive experience, and others still who would rather walk a haunted house. But, if you are a gamer or simply want to try something new and, perhaps, scarier, then consider making games a part of your own Halloween traditions.