We all have our own fears and phobias. Whether we’re frightened of the dark or can’t cope with enclosed spaces, many of our scares have been translated into books, film, television, and of course, video games. From 1985’s Friday the 13th Commodore debut and classics like Resident Evil and Silent Hill to recent hits such as Outlast and The Evil Within, horror in gaming is alive, well, and continually adapting to change elsewhere in the industry.
As we’re about to establish, it’s not always these horror games that frighten us the most. Interested to hear their thoughts on the subject, the team here at TheSixthAxis took a moment to discuss their thoughts on what they find scary in the games they play.
Being a massive horror film buff, for me, there’s little in today’s video games that can truly scare me. Just like anyone else, I’ll flinch at jump scares but aside from that, nothing. No, what has always scared me the most when playing games is stumbling upon underwater sections. Since a young age I’ve always had a fear of what lurks beneath the surface; a primal fear of not being able to clearly see things that could be directly beneath you. This, of course, wasn’t helped after being exposed to films like Jaws and Deep Blue Sea. That isn’t to say I was completely irrational: as a kid I still enjoyed swimming in the ocean (even after a terrifying encounter with sea lions in Cornwall).
What I find interesting is how this fear affected the way I play video games. Underwater sections are fairly common, especially in the platforming and action genres. I can still remember sitting down to play Star Wars: The Phantom Menace on PlayStation One only to find myself scared witless by the huge fish-like creatures stalking the swamps of Naboo. Similarly, when playing Jak & Daxter, I always steered clear of the water. Infested by giant piranhas, they were there to make sure you didn’t stray from the beaten path.
The most recent encounter with my childhood fear came when playing Tomb Raider: Underworld. It was the first game in the series I had played properly and managed to beat, despite a scare-inducing battle against a Kraken and, even worse, sharks in open water.
Strangely enough, Blair feels exactly the same way:
There’s something in the water. Even when there’s not, there is, and I’m afraid of it. I seem to be better nowadays, and I’ve never been afraid of swimming, but there’s something about water in the games I grew up with – the drowning sound from Sonic, which is playing my head as I type these words still haunts me. The worst, though, is those unkillable monsters that are there so you don’t go out of bounds. The shark in Banjo-Kazooie’s treasure trove, the fish in Super Mario 64… there’s just something about them being faster than you, and then grabbing and killing you instantly.
It’s a feeling that Alien: Isolation has replicated well; while you’re not underwater in that game, the Alien has the same basic AI as those monsters of the deep which chase you out of their domain. Only, in this game there’s no water to escape from – you’re always invading its space, and it yours.
Peter also mentioned Alien: Isolation when talking horror in video games as well as the superb Dead Space:
I think the closest a game gets to inciting fear is when it conjures an atmosphere. Alien: Isolation was great at this, as was the first Dead Space game. The moments that are the most tense are the moments when nothing is happening – when the game tricks you into thinking that something is about to happen. This moment of silence could be enjoyed but you’ve been taught to expect something nasty to crash in at any moment so you can’t enjoy it. I think that psychological trickery is much more powerful than any rotting zombie face or gory, blood-soaked hospital can be.
Aside from that, there’s nothing else that scares him, not even Resident Evil, which he puts down as “only ever mildly worrying”.
Someone else who rarely finds them-self scared when playing games is Tuffcub:
I’m not particularly afraid of anything thanks to having an ego the size of a house. However in terms if ickyness, anything that involves human torture digsusts me, so films like SAW and indeed The Evil Within which I had to review the other week.
Also chainsaws, because I saw The Running Man when I was about 13 and there is a scene where Arnie slams a chainsaw inbetween someones legs and minces his gentleman’s parts. That always makes me wince.
However I think my biggest fear is someone I know will catch me playing Final Fantasy X-2 on my Vita on the bus, and notice I’m enjoying making pretty girls dance and change costumes.
Sam on the other hand has a couple of interesting fears, also referencing the old Goosebumps games, one of which forced him to evacuate his room:
My nightmares usually revolve around home invasions. Homes only feel safe as long as they’re secure, and as soon as that’s gone, you have nowhere to hide. In the same vein, I’m terrified by games where there’s no relief from the horror. If you can’t pause for breath or hide in a room, then there’s no way to gauge how long until the inevitable.
Similarly, Dan isn’t afraid to admit that games can often catch him off guard, expanding on this with quite a funny anecdote:
Well I’m still scared of the dark at 20 (who isn’t?!), and I really really hate cheap jump scares. There was this one night a fw years ago when a few of my mates came around for a drink as my parents were away for the week. We somehow ended up playing Slender until 2 in the morning. Being slightly drunk, I was screaming like a little girl every time the Slenderman got me, but it wasn’t until after everyone left that I got the biggest fright.
As I walked downstairs in the dark I decided to turn the light on in the living room…only for the bulbs to explode. I almost died in terror. My heart rate must of jumped by at least 200. It’s safe to say I slept with the lights on that night.
Do you find horror games scary? If not, which games do a good job of portraying the things you are scared of in real life?