One of my favorite genres is horror. For the past 13 years, I’ve been obsessed with horror. It all started when my dad showed me Wes Craven’s masterpiece, Scream. That film featured the perfect blend of comedy and horror. After my first viewing, I went to my local Blockbuster Video and rented a handful of classics. I picked up the essentials: Halloween, Friday The 13th, The Shining, The Exorcist, and some modern films at the time like The Ring. I quickly found myself consumed with the genre. From slasher flicks to creature features, I was craving every subgenre available.
After watching an obscene number of films, I decided to start playing horror video games. The first two scary games that I got my hands on were Clock Tower: The Struggle Within for Sony PlayStation (I borrowed it from a friend) and Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem for the Nintendo Gamecube. Each of these games are entirely different, but they both terrified me. In Clock Tower: The Struggle Within, the character basically played hide and seek with a variety of antagonists. I’ll never forget the first time that the main character Alyssa, confronts her possessed cousin Stephanie. I spent hours screaming while trying to avoid her. Later on, a man in a devil mask starts to stalk you in a hospital. That section was one of my most stress-inducing moments as a teenager. I’ll never forget playing this game in the same room with my friends. We would laugh, scream, and pass the controller after each death. Being new to horror games, each encounter terrified me to no end. 15 years later, and I still think about my first time opening the refrigerator, only to see Stephanie lunge at me.
When I rented Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, I immediately felt a sense of dread. I didn’t know much about the game (outside of a few blurbs from magazines) and was excited to start playing. I was accustomed to Nintendo being such a friendly company, so playing an original, dark, M-Rated game on the console was something so enticing for me. In Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, players control Alexandra Rovias as she returns to her family’s estate to uncover the mystery surrounding her grandfather’s murder. It’s an ambitious video game with a story that spanned hundreds of years. There are around ten playable characters with unique personalities and storylines that intersect each other. What made Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem such a memorable game is the fantastic sanity meter.
The sanity meter is a stellar gameplay mechanic that makes the experience unforgettable. Being spotted and attacked by an enemy lowers your sanity meter. As the bar starts to decrease, your character’s actual sanity begins to change the game. Here are a few sanity effects found in the game.
- Hallways keep extending, so it appears as if you’re no longer progressing
- Rooms are filled with ammo. All the bullets are blanks.
- Photorealistic Bugs crawl across the screen
- The game pretends to delete your progress
- the game messes with your TV’s volume
- Your character’s body parts may explode
- Various terrifying noises can be heard around the environments.
Sanity Effects were unlike anything I had ever seen in a video game before. It not only immersed me into the game, but it terrified me. In fact, I rented Eternal Darkness multiple times because I was scared to pick up the controller after a few of those sanity effects.
Over the past decade or so I’ve tried to immerse myself in horror films. A love gory movies like the Saw franchise, Hostel, and Evil Dead, supernatural films like Paranormal Activity, modern classics like It Follows, and The Babadook, as well as fan favorites like Rosemary’s Baby, Psycho, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I think all of the films I mentioned above are fantastic, but there is a problem. None of these films are particularly scary. While I find them highly entertaining, they all fail to terrify me. Horror films follow a similar formula that becomes predictable after a while. Most modern horror films rely on jump scares. Whenever the music picks up, some creepy doll moves into the frame, or someone is closing a medicine cabinet, I expect something to “pop” out. It’s a trend that I wish would die, but mainstream audiences love it, and that’s what sells tickets.
Video games, on the other hand, seem to master the horror genre. There’s a different feeling when playing a video game that doesn’t exist while watching a film. During movies, we’re watching characters make stupid decisions, run away from a threat, and ultimately get killed. Playing a video game puts us in the shoes of the main character. Every single action that they do is controlled by the player. This amplifies the scare factor in the game. When you walk down a hallway, the tension grows stronger, when you’re being chased by a villain (like the butcher from the opening of The Evil Within), your heart beats fast from the anxiety. When a door starts to creak open, it’s normal to be scared to walk in that direction.
Although you control a character in a horror game, it’s basically like you’re the star. One of my favorite horror games is the masterful Until Dawn for PlayStation 4. Supermassive Games created one of the most unique experiences I have ever played. One of the reasons why it’s so memorable is because there’s a personalized touch for each person’s playthrough. In between each chapter, a psychologist asks the player a series of questions. These inquiries test the players on the likes, dislikes, and fears. I’m someone who hates rats. Guess what? Because of that fear, Until Dawn featured a section where there was an abundance of rats. Little touches like that made Until Dawn an unforgettable, terrifying experience.
As brave as I like to believe I am, horror games scare me way more than films do. Games put me in worlds I could never imagine experiencing. With the use of virtual reality, horror has become an even more intimidating genre. I played through some of Resident Evil VII on PlayStation VR. The result was something that rocked me to my core. Walking around the Baker Estate without virtual reality was one of the scariest experiences of my horror career. With VR, that terror was amplified. The opening moments with Mia scared me, but once Jack Baker was free to roam the estate, I almost wanted to stop playing. It’s easy to close my eyes without a VR unit attached, but playing in this aspect made me face my fears head-on.
With the Halloween season approaching, I’m drenching myself in horror. I’m watching one movie in the genre each night, and I’m playing a handful of video games. While I enjoy horror films, like I said, they don’t scare me. The immersion that comes with actually controlling a character will always outweigh watching actors on a screen. I’d like to think that I’m a brave man, but playing horror video games has proven otherwise. You should watch me play Resident Evil VII, Outlast 2, and even Friday The 13th: The Game. I scream like there’s no tomorrow, curse on occasion, and start to sweat in panic. Some people criticize the horror genre, but I think that a style of media that brings out so many different emotions is excellent.
The horror genre has helped me broaden my horizons, but it’s also helped me become less sensitive to scary things. Do I still get scared playing video games? Sure, but it’s also helped me play and watch things that I would never have years ago. I’ve made new friends, joined in on various discussions, and I’ve also become excited about games like The Evil Within 2, which launches later this week. I’m an advocate for horror, and I hope that other people embrace the genre. People may have different opinions of the horror genre, but I think games are more terrifying than the films. Regardless of your stance, I believe that people can find some common ground this Halloween season, thanks to horror.
What are your views on the horror genre? Do you think horror movies are scarier than games? If so, what movies are the scariest? If you think horror games are better than films, what are some of the scariest games you’ve ever played? Leave a comment below.