Horror video games continue to produce new content as developers find new ways to deliver powerful stories and frightening scares.
The horror genre is nothing new as games like Resident Evil, Silent Hill and DOOM date back to some of the earliest consoles. A question some gamers get asked is: “If you play games to relax, why play something to scare you?”
Sociologist Dr. Margee Kerr said the context of choice is what allures people to horror games.
“When we’re scared, our sympathetic nervous system increases the circulation of chemicals that, in the context of choice, can contribute to making us feel good,” Kerr said.
“Basically, we’re not thinking about what we have to do the next day, we’re not worrying about school or work or money, we’re totally grounded in our body and in the present moment, and that can feel pretty good,” she said.
Kerr believes the sense of accomplishment from completing something gamers find frightening is a contributing factor.
“I think it’s the opportunity to challenge ourselves within a safe environment. We can test our skills, confront our fears, defeat the monsters and even though we rationally know the threat is not real, we still can feel a sense of accomplishment,” she said.
One of the more recent horror games played among YouTubers and Twitch streamers is Phasmophobia, a game that places the player in the shoes of a paranormal investigator. Adding to the immersion of the game is the option to play in virtual reality.
Players can select from a number of tools such as EMF (electric magnetic filed) readers, thermometers, UV flashlights and cameras to slowly uncover the mystery behind which paranormal entity the team is dealing with. How players find out which being is haunting the location is all based on meticulous choices which can lead to some truly scary encounters.
Games editor Evan Millar of Rue Morgue Magazine agrees the element of choice and experience is what adds to the enjoyment.
“Just due to the more interactive nature of the medium, you’re kind of the one steering the action, you’re the one actually physically turning that corner, and that really elevates the elements,” Millar said.
“All sorts of things are possible with games. You can really craft very, very personal stories or things that are more wide-reaching and really speak to other people’s experiences,” he said.
Tarsier Studios based in Malmö, Sweden, created Little Nightmares as well as the sequel Little Nightmares 2. Both games were critically praised for gorgeous visuals, engaging gameplay and horrifying monsters.
Six the main protagonist of Little Nightmares, and Mono the main protagonist of Little Nightmares 2, live in worlds that are much larger than them, trying to survive among creatures like a teacher whose neck extends to no end or a blind janitor with arms three times the size of its body.
Horror games showcase the creativity and fears of the mind, but looking to the future is always important.
Gianluca Rizzo, whose favourite horror game is Dead Space 2, said what’s to come is hard to predict, but as a long-time consumer of horror games, there are ideas.
“It feels like the genre has slowed down in the last generation but there seems to be a desire to fix that recently,” Rizzo said.
“I’d like to see more games that do ideas that have proven to be not only unique but easy and exciting to replicate, like messing with the player’s console and game, like PT or Eternal Darkness, or trying out 2D more,” they said.