Don’t Move: A New Take on Horror in Video Games

By: Brianna Autrey

Like horror? Great. Like video games? Perfect. Like horror video games that force you to choose a characters unpredictable (but surely gruesome) death? Even better! A PlayStation 4 exclusive game, Until Dawn, might catch your interest.

Many people question horror in video games as a duo; they’re typically more hit or miss than horror movies are. There are some well-known horror games that have broken the mold, such as Amnesia and Outlast (which by the way, Outlast is definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already – but that’s another blog post for another time). These games were more than just cheap jump scares, the gripping plot and well executed elements of horror made them stand out. Until Dawn deserves a part of that spotlight, too.

The plot of the game revolves around eight friends who return to a cabin in the mountains (typical but bear with me) where two of their former friends have tragically died. Boring? Turns out there are supernatural creatures that live in the mountains and, long story short, things hit the fan and they have to wait until dawn for help to come and rescue them. What makes Until Dawn stand out is that it’s an interactive horror game with a butterfly effect system. As you play as different characters, you will make the dialogue choices in the game you are presented with, find clues about future deaths that can be prevented; that’s where the butterfly effect comes in. Whatever choice you make will change the course of the game. You also don’t have much time to make that choice (maybe twenty seconds?) until the game makes the choice for you.

For example, let’s say a wolf aggressively approached you in the mountains, would you attack it before it attacked you or would you stand still to let it know you’re defenseless? Keep in mind, you don’t know how this decision will affect the game later and now you have about ten seconds left to pick because the countdown starts immediately. If you chose to stand defenseless, then the wolf will return later in the game to help you fight off one of the creatures. If you chose to attack it, the wolf will injure your leg before running off, the commotion attracted the attention of the creatures, and because your leg is injured you can’t outrun them so they capture you and your eyes are gouged out before the creature decides to eat your head whole. That kind of stuff.

The butterfly affect in the game isn’t the only noteworthy feature. The PlayStation 4 uses a motion sensor controller, and some video games take advantage of that. Until Dawn is, to much approval, one of those games. When your character is hiding from the creature, the words “DON’T MOVE!” will spontaneously pop up on your screen and damn it, you better not move because the creature will hear you and you will die. Your job as the player is to keep the controller as still as possible while you watch the ugly, blood dripping from their teeth and claws creatures sniff around looking for you. Needless to say, those are some of the most intense moments of the game. I also find the fact that you can’t tell what decisions you make will affect everyone’s mortality incredibly tense and pressuring.

Until Dawn is willing to make fun of itself, which makes the game even more enjoyable. The game and plot are purposely using cliché horror movie themes. There’s the classic teens who can’t control their hormones, some dumbass who insists on using a Ouija board and the dumbasses that agree to it, the one or two characters that you like and hope make it to the end (which is totally in your hands if they do), and those characters that insist on investigating every single weird noise even though they know there’s death around every corner. Those are the best. The silver lining is, even though that character was stupid and went to investigate the deathly sound, you as the player can still make choices that can get them out of that situation alive (or not if you really hate a character and want to kill them, I’ve done that).

I’ve refrained from going too into detail about the plot and characters of the game but I highly suggest watching a gameplay video or two of the game on YouTube, or read spoilers about it if you’d prefer. Until Dawn is steadily becoming one of those video games you just have to talk about.


6 thoughts on “Don’t Move: A New Take on Horror in Video Games

  1. As an avid horror gamer I also highly recommend this game not only for it’s story line but for the amazing graphics. I find the price a bit high, but because of its replay value and the quality, it very well might be worth the buy. This post exemplifies it perfectly and shows how “choose your own adventure” games are coming back with a bang and a scream. Catherine, a video game I may post about, is another example of this, although not quite as scary.

  2. This was a great recommendation that I am going to check out. I agree with Cassidy on how its awesome that “Choose Your Own Adventure” games are making a comeback, and that this is a great new twist on it. I would also like to add onto that. One of the things that makes horror games so scary is because they are usually in first person, so a player is more immersed and it really feels like you are experiencing everything coming at you, for example, Pyramid Head in the hallway of an asylum. With this game, its cinematography is the same as a horror film, which makes the jump scares more fun and less nerve wracking, while still deciding the plot of the “movie”. Once again, great recommendation and I am for sure checking this out. Thanks!

  3. I am really into horror games, and this one seems really crazy. The post mentioned “Outlast,” a horror game that I am a big fan of. It uses first-person mode, like Amateis mentioned above, to really immerse you into the setting of the asylum. Similarly, because you play from the point of view of a journalist investigating the asylum, the game presents some of the world through a video camera (which has Night Vision so you can use this to see in the dark), so it almost gives the feel of some horror movies that use found footage. Until Dawn also reminds me of the children’s horror book series “Goosebumps,” which had a “Choose Your Own Adventure” subset where the decisions you made affected how your story ended in a similar (and scary) way!

  4. I was hoping that someone would decide to review this game on the blog, so thank you. I too, have experienced “Until Dawn,” and various other video games in the horror genre and also feel that one of the most noteworthy features of the game was the player involvement in “quicktime” events such as the “Don’t Move!” moments. Building further onto why videogames are a fantastic medium for horror; I feel as though the interactivity involved with playing a horror game and the idea that characters one controls are easier to empathize with and add a great deal more to experiencing a horror story. Particularly in “Until Dawn,” aside from the “Don’t Move!” moments there are a multitude of moments in the game where you (or rather, you character who you have come to deeply care about regardless of whether you wanted to or not) are made to trigger certain events. This in itself is a key element in horror games; but “Until Dawn” does more by using exquisite camera angles and unique mish-mashing of both various gameplay and plot elements to create a storytelling experience that is perhaps more experience than story. Once again, thanks for covering this game. It is comforting to know that there are others in the class that share an appreciation for this interpretation of horror.

  5. While I don’t play any horror video games, I’m actually surprised to find that they are not considered as a serious medium for the genre. I’ve seen a trailer for this game before and it’s terrifying! So I’m forced to wonder why people aren’t actively looking towards this medium for horror.
    Perhaps some of it is the stigma of video games. The medium is still new and only a generation or so before us associates games with quarters and Pac-Man. But we are slowly (or perhaps rapidly) witnessing an evolution. People always talk about improvements in video games via a scale of their “graphics.” How “real” does the game look? But I believe it’s more than that. While graphics are improving, there are other, more important changes coming about. Take a look at the cinematography in video games today. Pac-Man involved a stationary camera. More recent games, such as (though non-horror) “Batman: Arkham Knight,” have a more cinematic quality to them. The camera can pan, turn, (un)focus, zoom in and, zoom out.
    The ability to utilize some of the elements of the film medium (which are really exemplified in the video game’s “cutscene,” where the player does nothing more than watch events transpire across the screen) is advantageous. Video games are associating with the film medium but in some ways surpass it with the game’s interactivity. Not only does the player watch events play across the screen, but they also must play an active role in them.
    In order for horror to be successful, we must not only sympathize with the characters in danger, but we must also empathize with them. What happens when we go a level deeper- when we put the viewer/player in the character’s shoes. When we force them to be “completely still” or else the monster will eat them. Personally, I see a lot of crappy video games in the future. But horror has always been an exploited genre. But give it some time, and a few more games such as “Until Dawn” and we may see a switch, where video games become the preferred medium of horror.

    (I appreciate anyone who actually read this entire comment. In retrospect, this might have been better as its own blog post.)

  6. I know I’m a bit late on this but: Until Dawn is my jam. Like you mentioned, horror games can be pretty hit or miss, but this one hits it for me. Sort of in line with our narration graph, there’s enough distance as a player to have “what is going on” moments, but enough agency to see how your decisions might have a butterfly effect. I watched a gameplay of it on Youtube and found myself immediately texting my brother that we had to buy the game, simply to find all the other ways the story can play out. SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! [the fact that any number of people can survive based on your decisions is something that’s totally intriguing to me–you’re totally in control of their lives!] !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! END SPOILER ALERT. For me, the best, creepiest part was the psychological horror over the monster horror. That therapist…that pig head…that scene deep in the mines…totally had me hooked and weirded out (aka the best combo for a horror video game). There’s nothing like being forced to make snap decisions in a horror setting to make you rethink the “dumb” actions of horror story protags!

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