How Horror Games Give Us the Creeps


Since Le Manoir du Diable (1896), horror movies have made us paranoid of what lurks behind the closet when we put ourselves to bed at night. In today’s age, such films may still shock us, but what you may find even more shocking is that video games are far more effective at scaring us than movies. If you’re a long-time horror fanatic but not a gamer, 2018 might be a good year for you to hop on the bandwagon.

The past decade saw the release of several triple A horror titles such as Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Outlast, The Evil Within, Soma, and the Five Nights at Freddy’s series, each of which have their own unique method of striking fear into us. However, while the scare tactics in horror games are endlessly diverse, almost all of them spin off a central element: immersion. Unlike its film counterpart, horror games refuse to let you be a spectator while someone else runs for their life; instead, you’re the one in danger. Most horror games have you control a character from the first-person view. This is no coincidence; by making you see what the character sees for long enough, your brain is tricked into thinking it is that character. As empathetic as we are, our hearts couldn’t be bothered to beat at light speed while watching a masked chainsaw-wielding freak chase down some teenager who probably deserved what they had coming to them. A masked chainsaw-wielding freak chasing you­… quite different.

Immersion is crucial. After all, how else would we care about what’s going on? Nonetheless, our nervous system eventually adapts to having jump scares thrown at it left, right, and center, even if we’re fully immersed. What horror games do, beyond simply scaring us, is creeping us out. This is accomplished by incorporating ambiguity. You’ve probably heard the adage: “Seeing nothing is scarier than seeing something.” This is exactly how horror games use your own imagination as the engine for fear. As soon as the game shows you something, whether it be a demon, a killer, or a zombie, they’ve revealed their hand. All the cards are on the table and they’re betting it will scare you. If they’ve bet wrong, it’s game over for them. Instead, they’ll throw some hulking footsteps, a tall shadow, or a loud bang your way. Ambiguous sights and sounds like these force your mind to materialize the most terrifying thing imaginable. No game knows your fears like you do, but fortunately for them, they don’t have to.


Sam Gagnon

Sam's niche analytical style of writing spans across a plethora of passions. He's debunked high protein myths, offered us an objective deconstruction of the success of eSports, and has written several elegant reviews of best-selling movies. Sam now looks forward to offering his insights to the things that make us shiver.