Will Virtual Reality Make Horror Games Too Scary?

Will Virtual Reality Make Horror Games Too Scary?

Since the Oculus Rift first took to the scene, a bunch of interesting tech demos have been released for it. Some of these tech demos involve putting you in control of a dolphin trying to cheat on a test. However, most of these demos try to scare the crap out of you. Whether you are running from murderous clowns, having spiders crawl all over your body, being mauled to death by a zombie, or countless other horror scenarios, game developers have latched on to the idea that VR is the perfect next step for the horror genre.

Michiteru Okabe, producer of Resident Evil Revelations 2 , even commented that VR will change the world of games , specifically horror games, as we know it. “I think it makes sense. Having gone from 2D to 3D, now it’s time to surround yourself in these worlds instead of just having a screen in front of you. It makes sense; the technology is there,” Okabe said.

“There’s going to be some really compelling stuff coming out on [VR], no doubt,” he added. “It makes sense for a lot of game genres; I think it makes a special kind of sense for horror games where immersion is more important than perhaps in other genres,” he said. “I think we should most definitely start thinking about what we could do with that kind of technology in the future. It makes perfect sense.”

But will VR make horror games safe? One of the things that the horror genre actually relies on is a level of detachment. No matter how scary a situation gets it’s still on the screen. It can’t hurt you.

VR games, however, stick to your face even if you reel back in fright. For evidence, just check out the YouTube channel GamesWithHank where Hank Green of the VlogBrothers and Nerdfighteria falls out of his chair and struggles to take his Oculus Rift off his face several times while a jump scare is still going on.

Of course, no one was seriously hurt during these jump scares, and even when he fell out of his chair he was able to get up just fine. But these were just demos. Imagine what full games can do. There have already been YouTube videos of people accidentally harming themselves in minor ways with the Oculus Rift when surprised and, while hilarious, they do bring up a few concerns.

First of all, you can actually be scared to death. It’s called Stress Cardio Myopathy, and basically it’s when your heart starts beating arhythmically due to repeated and sudden stress. People have died from, essentially, being scared to death when confronted with muggings or car crashes or other stressful life events, without incurring any physical injuries. This is the same response that allows someone to die of a broken heart as well.

You might think this is weird and kind of alarmist, but I’m not the only one who thinks this way. During a Q&A session at Unite 2014 in Seattle, creative director for Cloudhead Games, Denny Unger, said that death-by-horror-games on Oculus Rift “were inevitable.”

“The low hanging fruit of VR, to me, is horror games that purposely do jump scares,” Unger said. “We’re very close to having the first death in VR—I firmly believe that.”

“When the commercial version comes out, somebody is going to scare somebody to death—somebody with a heart condition or something like that,” Unger said. “It is going to happen. Absolutely.”

Will Virtual Reality Make Horror Games Too Scary?

Am I saying that this is a reason for horror games to not be made for VR platforms? No, not at all. However, I do think that we now have to think of a rather odd question, or rather questions. First of all, we have to ask ourselves, “How scary is too scary for the normal healthy human being?” If a game can induce stress related heart failure even in a healthy individual, likely due to a rapid nature scare prolonged over an extended span of time, should it still be allowed to be made? Of course, this is theoretical and may never happen, and in fact likely won’t because if we ever find the magical formula that does allow us to flat out kill a player, it will be noticed well beforehand in testing.

So let’s say that issue will solve itself, either by never happening or by killing its own design team. The second issue we need to think of is, “How much warning do you have to put on a horror game?” Some games already have warnings, claiming that they are not for the faint of heart, but these warnings are few and far between. The only warning that is commonplace on games these days is the warning of epileptic seizures. Will heart disease related warnings become commonplace too?

What do you think? Can a game become too scary? Will someone die from VR? Let us know in the comments.

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