I wouldn’t say I’m a huge horror movie fan. Most of them are pretty predictable, and more importantly, I don’t find them scary. However, I am a fan of horror games. I feel that horror themed video games do a far better job of actually scaring you than horror movies do, and I believe that the genre of horror is generally done better through the medium of video games, due to certain elements that games have that movies do not.
My first real experience playing a horror video game was Amnesia: The Dark Descent. This is a first person game in which you have to solve puzzles, collect items and unlock new areas, all while trying to dodge the large-mouthed monsters that are chasing you. The story line of this game keeps it interesting, as well as providing a creepy backdrop to the already pretty creepy setting of the game. But what I found most interesting about this game is how well the atmosphere works in providing a pretty scary experience, even when no monsters are chasing you. I think the fact that in this game (and in games in general) you are controlling the protagonist, rather than watching them on a screen adds to the tension that you as a player experience. The element of agency means that you can decide how a scene will play out, which means that the typical horror movie moment of “why the hell did they go in there?” is cancelled out.
I’ve found that horror games do a pretty good job of immersing you in the experience, even if it’s a simple flash game. All of the common tropes of horror movies may still apply to these games, including the level of creepiness stairs reach when the house is silent and it’s dark (seriously, why would you go up or down stairs in a horror-like situation?). Horror games also tend to do a good job of story telling through game play, which I think is a better way to tell a horror story than through film. With horror films, you are aware that the characters on screen are just that, characters. They are people outside of you who are in that situation. But with games, you are the character, which makes it all the more creepy. It feels more like you are the one going through this situation, not some random person who you don’t know, and who you probably don’t care about (let’s face it, horror film characters aren’t exactly the most interesting bunch). But when it’s you who’s getting chased by monsters when you have nothing to defend yourself with, then you start to care a little bit more.
New technologies have also ramped up the creepiness level. There are several horror games that are compatible with the Oculus Rift, and some which have been specifically made with that technology in mind. Being fully visually immersed in a horror situation, not being able to turn away from the screen or get away from the noise means that the scariness of the game is inescapable (unless you take off the Oculus, which kind of defeats the purpose). I myself have not tried playing horror games with the Oculus Rift, but I have seen several videos of others playing with it and even watching somebody play these games is far more terrifying than watching pretty much any horror film. As the technology for virtual reality simulators gets better, I can only imagine that the horror games that go with it will get more and more scary. This technology really does create a whole new world for horror developers.
In my opinion, video games just do a far better job of delivering the genre of horror than any other medium. The element of agency and the level of immersion that happens when playing horror video games takes the genre to a new level, as it gives the player the chance to do what they have wanted the characters in the movies to do. We can now experience horror without the clueless characters opening doors that clearly have monsters behind them, or without running straight into the vicinity of the serial killer. But I would still avoid stairs at all costs.