Horror with a Joystick

By: Prashanth Vijayaraghavan

One of the most powerful mediums that can be used in horror is also the most over-looked. While nearly everyone has seen a horror movie, the amount of people who have played a “survival horror” video game is sure to be in the minority. While it is true that horror themed video games are not as popular as their silver screen counter-parts, because games are dependent on player input, they posses several advantages that add to the horror of a story, making them one of the best ways to scare. To demonstrate some of these benefits I will use the critically acclaimed game “Resident Evil 4” (2005) for reference due to its use of horror tactics that are now pervasive in the survival horror genre.

The obligation of video games that sets it apart from other forms of media is the direct engagement of an individual (known as the player) to control a fictional character on screen (known as the avatar). One result of this relationship that can be particularly scary is that your character can die, often times due to your mistakes. Since you control the character, it No matter your level of engagement in a movie, you cannot change the outcome of a protagonist, however in a video game, poor performance will have your character decapitated or mutilated in front of you, an example of which can be seen here. Additionally, you are not only responsible for letting your character “not die”, but also for progression of the story. While it may seem tense to watch a hero shoot through a wave of zombies, the situation is infinitely more nerve wrecking when it is you who must do the shooting and must depend on your own dexterity for survival.

Video games also have the advantage of being animated and programmed. Because they don’t take place in the real world, the grotesque and sinister nature of the monsters is only as limited as the artist’s imagination. Even a game that was created over 8 years ago (a very long time in terms of video game advancement) has creatures that can top any computer graphics or make-up artist in Hollywood, as can be seen in this short cut scene.  There is no “close your eyes during the scary part” in a video game. You must be engaged at all times.

Video games are look down upon by some, alien to others, and loved by many, yet every single person who has picked up a controller will speak to the uniqueness of this medium. It is this uniqueness that can makes video games one of the best methods to tell a horror story, yet these few aspects are just a taste of what survival horror video games have to offer the horror genre and story telling as a whole. For those of you who seldom play video games, I highly recommend giving a survival horror game a shot. It will be an experience unlike anything you’ve ever encountered. I’ll leave you with my most terrifying moment in “Resident Evil 4”. (Enjoy)

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7 thoughts on “Horror with a Joystick

  1. Ok, well that scene was strangely reminiscent of a scene in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (sound effects included), so that made it less scary but somehow worse. I’ve always liked computer games, and I still play them, though I don’t play games that are considered horror I do play Mystery Case Files, Shiver, and Sherlock Holmes adventure games that have some tense and even very graphic moments. But the only games I’ve ever played that kill you if you make a mistake are the Nancy Drew adventure games, which seems counterproductive for a children’s game, but you do get a second chance, or a third, really as many as you need, but playing a first person game where the character can die makes you very careful and very quick with the solutions, while probably also traumatizing 10 year old girls everywhere… I definitely want to check out some true horror video games now though!

  2. I definitely get what you mean when you said playing a horror video game could be a different kind of experience. Even though I was watching you play, I definitely felt afraid and kind of an intense feeling just by watching your actions, especially watching how many times you actually had to shoot the “monsters” before they actually died. This definitely made me want to try out a horror video game for myself.

  3. I definitely know what you are saying. I think that video games are not as popular as movies, but do in much the same, faciliate the same roles. I personally haven’t played video games in a while, but in junior high when Halo came out, I was realized it completely told a story. In fact, the game was created to follow a book. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Vegas, was a book before it was a video game. So I think in the same way, video games and movies have the same function.

  4. I completely understand where you’re coming from and I think the engaging aspect of video games are what make them so addicting and interesting. However, in my opinion, video games are even more fake than movies because when do we see zombies in real life? And typically all of the avatars in video games, at least the ones I’ve seen (which is only like two seeing as I have six sisters and zero brothers), are very unrealistic. I still would love to try playing one of these games you talk about just to see if I would get scared.

  5. I have never played a horror video game before, but it does seem scarier than just a horror movie. In a movie you can close your eyes or turn it off, but in a video game you cannot lose focus because then you will die. It is like you are the character in the movie being chased by the monster. The game sucks you in, making you feel like a real victim. This horror video game reminds me of the Slenderman game. Although I haven’t played that either, it seems that in the game Slenderman is hunting you. That is one of my biggest fears come to life on a computer screen. Thanks, but no thanks, I think i’ll pass on this one.

  6. I like to watch Let’s Players on youtube who play scary games, mainly because I’m too scared to play them myself. I watched a couple people play through Amnesia: The Dark Descent, and I tried out the demo. I ended up running out of oil (crucial to being able to see), and since I knew what was coming up, I couldn’t even finish the demo. It’s so scary how, as you wrote, you can’t close your eyes, you can’t really stop (well, with the exception of pausing or hitting the menu button), but you have to go back to it no matter what in order to continue the game. It’s really scary.

  7. Personally I actually think scary video games are less scary than many horror movies. I think this is because I view scary video games as really cool. Also I think it is because I feel more in control. While there is no “shut your eyes” during the scary part, you also have more control over the imminent death of your character. If your strategic and good at video games (and don’t forget you can always start over!) then you can escape any situation.

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