247: Girl, Don't Open That Door

Girl, Don't Open That Door

Characters in horror movies make all the wrong decisions, from splitting up to cover more ground to opening the door that we all know the killer lies behind. But in horror games, players must make those choices themselves. How do developers force them to do it? John Constantine mines a few classic Japanese horror games for examples.

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interesting read and i concur: the horrorgame genre is not what it should be. It could be so much more. I hope some developers think this as well.

Pablo Francisco said it best when he said "Kids today in horror movies, you could strangle them with a cordless phone!"

If you play a horror game or watch a scary movie, you already know whats going to happen, the idea is to make you scared and nervous. Trapping a 20-something co-ed and her sorority sisters in an old delapidated house off some misty interstate road while a man in a mask with a knife takes his time killing them all isnt a horror movie. Your paying $12 to watch a man murder a group of girls.

It might sound like a commentary on the way the horror industry moves, but they also used to make movies where the fear was part of building the suspense. Games were like this but rare now is a good genuinely scary horror game. What happened? Did the game/movie makers become affraid that if people thought too much during a movie that they would notice all the gaping plot holes? So they degenerated and dumbed them down to the same "Survive the zombie wave attacks" in the hope that we would be scared because we werent thinking?

I maintain that there's a difference between true horror and simple shock value. Horror with good pacing and atmosphere is hard to come by these days, but when you do find it, often I find that I have to make in-game decisions to go looking for trouble to satisfy the end goal of getting to the bottom of current events, or to get the hell out. Or both.

That said, as opposed to shock value games, I play like I'm a very frustrated guy with a gun who's bad day started off with the first zombie/demon/corporatedickforhire knocking over his cup of coffee, and now he just wants everything freaking dead and over with.

A tired, exasperated man with a shotgun and hordes of demons he's forced to gun down on the way out to get more coffee.

I can't express from a strict horror perspective how disappointed I was with RE4. So much so that I never played RE5. I also haven't tried any of the newer Silent Hill games. The last I played was SH4. What I find myself doing now is playing through some older horror based titles.

Every Saturday night I invite people over to watch as I play through the Fatal Frame series. We are almost done with the 2nd, then onto the 3rd. After that I think I am going to play F.E.A.R, which I am told has a few good scares although more action based. I was also thinking of trying the Clock Tower series.

I enjoy the slower pacing and building tension of horror games. Everything is quiet, the room is dark (both IRL and in game) you haven't seen anything in a while, you walk past a shelf and boom something falls off it. Cue jumping and entering a cold sweat..

Hmm, good article but I was never into fear games like that. The only kind of fear type game I ever liked was Dead Space, made me jump a few times but then I can turn around and blow to hell whatever snuck up on me.

I think there is a fine distinction between 'Creepy' games and 'Scary' games. The former category uses psychology to disrupt the players sense of security and really tweaks their mind. This is my favourite form of horror and it really feels immersive and genuinely scary enough to prevent you from getting a comfortable sleep that night. Then you get the latter category which merely uses horribly mutated beasts jumping out at you from cupboards, all but yelling BOO, and getting blown away by the nearest twelve-gauge. This to me isn't horror, it's just making you jump. You know what else makes me jump? Someone running up behind me and poking me. But you don't see a game about that.

A classic example I can cite is the F.E.A.R series. The original F.E.A.R remains my favourite horror game so far because it does the 'creepy' thing so well. At any point the Antagonist, Alma, could pop up and scare the socks off you. The fact that she's just a little girl with no clear deformities makes it all the more creepy that she'll be standing in a pool of blood. One memorable event was when you're crawling through a vent and your torch will flicker. It'll come on briefly and you'll see Alma crawling towards you, then it'll go out again and it takes a little while to come back on again. Then... There's nothing. You're in the vent alone. That creeped me out.

Then F.E.A.R 2 went the opposite and, in my opinion, worse route. It went into the 'scary' category with horribly mutated and deformed people jumping at you, forcing you to blow them away with a shotgun. Oh dear. It all but turned into a grotesque form of Whack-A-Mole. It started off being 'Creepy' but rapidly crashed and burned.

Maybe I'm just biased because I enjoyed F.E.A.R so much but modern Horror games just don't scare me as much anymore. Maybe Metro 2033 will relight the spark, who knows?

One of these days, I would just LOVE to see a ResEvil style game pull the ultimate gag. A simple quick-time event midway through the intro sequence, where you can make the choice to proceed into the probably dangerous city, or go home. If clicking home, you get a short alternate end-of-game video, game over. Congrats, you survived and beat the game in under five minutes, don't you feel smart...

Great article, very true for most of it, but I must disagree with the "why" we open the next door. It's not for the weapons we might find, it's to make sure the thing we're hiding from isn't just 1 1/4 inches of flimsy wood door away from us.

Two things;
First the title; I can't help but think of the movie theatre scene from Scary Movie when I read that.

Second, and more to the point; I was reminded when I was reading this, particularly the last enlarged comment, of some of the better supense movies out there. Signs for example, particularly the scene in the basement. And then of Alfred Hitchcock; who managed to make the shower scene from Psycho memorable despite even showing the violence, as well as dozens of other equally fantastic things.

An excellent article; Well worth the read.

I remember that moment in Silent Hill 3 that you mention. And I remember that it scared the bajaysus out of me and right back into me.

Howlingwolf214:
I think there is a fine distinction between 'Creepy' games and 'Scary' games. The former category uses psychology to disrupt the players sense of security and really tweaks their mind. This is my favourite form of horror and it really feels immersive and genuinely scary enough to prevent you from getting a comfortable sleep that night. Then you get the latter category which merely uses horribly mutated beasts jumping out at you from cupboards, all but yelling BOO, and getting blown away by the nearest twelve-gauge. This to me isn't horror, it's just making you jump. You know what else makes me jump? Someone running up behind me and poking me. But you don't see a game about that.

A classic example I can cite is the F.E.A.R series. The original F.E.A.R remains my favourite horror game so far because it does the 'creepy' thing so well. At any point the Antagonist, Alma, could pop up and scare the socks off you. The fact that she's just a little girl with no clear deformities makes it all the more creepy that she'll be standing in a pool of blood. One memorable event was when you're crawling through a vent and your torch will flicker. It'll come on briefly and you'll see Alma crawling towards you, then it'll go out again and it takes a little while to come back on again. Then... There's nothing. You're in the vent alone. That creeped me out.

F.E.A.R. gave me a different reaction. Once I found out that the "creepy" bits are never actually hazardous, I just kind of shrugged every time Alma tried to scare me. Sure, I might have flinched reflexively, but I never really felt the jolt of a good jump scare. In Perseus Mandate they finally forced you to contend with some of the things that jump out at you (or pull you unexpectedly to them) and as a result I found it creepier.

This is an area that I think interactive entertainment can surpass non-interactive entertainment in delivering scares, and it's part of this article: you, the player, are responsible for handling whatever the game throws at you. I say "can surpass" because it seems rare that games actually live up to this potential. Nevertheless, the potential is there.

Realizing it, I think, will require throwing out the idea of making an action-horror game. Despite the number of titles that fit that genre moniker, I don't think the two fit together particularly well. An action game usually wants to make you feel empowered, stoic, capable. A horror game usually wants you to feel vulnerable, edgy, frightened. If not altogether incongruous, these goals are at least inconsistent.

I also think it's important to distinguish "horror" from "terror." Although they're often used interchangeably, these words can mean quite different things: "horror" refering to the shock or revulsion felt upon seeing something disturbing, "terror" refering to the feeling of dread for an upcoming event. By these definitions, games are already very good at "horror," since that's mostly up to the audio and visuals. "Terror" though, often remains elusive.

In Dead Space there's a shambling pregnant woman with spikes for arms and a foetus bursting out to claw at you. It's a horrifying monster design. But it's not terrifying because I never dread it: if it jumps out, I'm always ready to dismember it with high-powered weapons. To be terrified by a game, I need to feel overwhelmed, vulnerable, and nearly powerless. Do any of those things sound like they'd make for a good action game?

What makes Fatal Frame more scary (to me) than Resident Evil or Silent Hill are two-fold:

1. Weapons. Sure, anyone can feel safe and secure with a rocket launcher or even a lead pipe, but what happens when you take away all conventional weapons and leave the player with something totally unconventional? If familiarity of the weapon is lost, in comes the horror.

2. The enemies. Thanks to the movie "Predator", we all know that if it bleeds, we can kill it. Zombies need special attention in shooting for the brain, but they fall like any other creature, and a couple whacks with the lead pipe can bring down a crawler in Silent Hill. But what happens when you are facing something that has no lore in mythology on how to kill? Ghosts are already fully dead and have no bodies, thus they cannot bleed or give us any indication on how to destroy them. Combined with the unconventional weapon given, Fatal Frame is definitely a fine choice for scares and thrills.

As for getting the player to make the wrong decisions, outside of the logical choice of "I have to do this to make the game go", my favorite memories in gaming have happened while watching a friend play Condemned:

In the first game, you walk into a T intersection (going forwards is a cliff). Turn one way, find it is blocked by cardboard police, so you turn the other way, and find more police ("were they there before?"), finally you turn to go back, but you're blocked by more police ("ohshitohshitohshit"). My friend panicked so badly that he ran his character right off the cliff without thinking. It was beautiful.

Me, I walked into Ravenholm, pausing to check my surroundings, and saw a headcrab zombie lurch harmlessly out of an alley in front of me. The game's designers no doubt expected me to get hit from the side or behind. Which is my experience with action horror in a nutshell (in F.E.A.R. I was more concerned with the guys shooting at me, with real bullets! ahhh!). I'll stick with Silent Hill and the like, thanks.

Nice to see Fatal Frame get some of the recognition it so fully deserves yet so rarely receives. It and the SH series are far and away the best examples of more mainstream horror games because they *gasp* are actually about the horror and not just the cheap scares. Even the RE series has been more about the jumps than the real scares for a long time now, and it's a very disappointing state for a fan of the horror game genre such as myself.

Basically, after reading the horror articles, the producers don't have design problems but script problems when it comes to inducing fear.

Khell_Sennet:
One of these days, I would just LOVE to see a ResEvil style game pull the ultimate gag. A simple quick-time event midway through the intro sequence, where you can make the choice to proceed into the probably dangerous city, or go home. If clicking home, you get a short alternate end-of-game video, game over. Congrats, you survived and beat the game in under five minutes, don't you feel smart...

ohhhhh that would be sweet!

Kind of depends on the monster your facing. Yeah I think alot of gamers miss the point on that one and seem to judge all horror games the same. Really can't compare Dead Space to Silent Hill, or even to Resident Evil. Got a town that wants to punish the main character and thats the focus with Silent Hill. Of course in Dead Space it's all about spreading the infection and having a ton of monsters running around. Not really much of a threat when their is just two of them in a room. All about uncovering some kind of virus related plot in Resident Evil and getting to the bottom of it. Loathe it when gamers compare Survival games with others in the genre, it doesn't work that way.

Monshroud:
I can't express from a strict horror perspective how disappointed I was with RE4.

I loved playing the game, but I was never "scared" by it. As compared to Amnesia or Penumbra, where I ran in terror from dogs that I'd shoot down by the dozens in Resident Evil 4/5. I guess that was deliberate, but I'm hoping Resident Evil 6 manages to bring back a bit more of that fear.

I've found myself proceeding into Nightkin infested basements while low on healing items, and wading through poisoned swamps with only a single purple moss left, so I suppose I wouldn't do much better than those horror movie protagonists after all.

 

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