Horror In Games: What Scares You?

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).

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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.

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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?

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27 Comments

  1. I don’t like being properly freaked out too much, I think the first few Resident Evil games and the first two Dead Space games did a good job. Resident Evil 4 was good, as they would put opponents against you here and there who could instantly kill you if you put a foot wrong, that was more than enough of a scare for me. Death mere moments away often keeps things fun and exciting if done right. They have to keep things fair of course.

    The story and atmosphere that went with RE and DS games were great as well, always did a good job of keeping you on edge a bit, knowing there was probably something around the next corner that would jump on you or set up an ambush.

  2. Anything with Miley Cyrus in it is enough to make me not play it.

  3. I agree with Peter, it’s all about the atmosphere created. Dead space, Outlast and most recently PT all did this quite well to make them scary. It’s stupid really because it’s a game, we all know it’s just a game, yet I’d like to be hooked up to heart rate monitors, blood pressure monitors and brain wave monitors while playing these games to see how I’m responding physiologically.

  4. Pt demo was by far the scariest one I’ve played, but the thing that really gets me is giant spiders. It caused me huge problems in legend of grimlock (I’m waiting until someone patches them out of grimlock 2 before I buy it) and theres a whole area of skyrim I’ve avoided because of them.

    • Oh, and Ravenholm. There’s a reason we don’t go there… Those black headcrabs still give me the willies.

  5. “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”

    or do you mean evacuate in his room? lol

    doom was a good scare as it was a good mix of atmosphere,jumps and some great sound effects.
    saying that i just played the unfinished swan on ps4 and the bit where it goes all dark and the bat type creatures attack you,the screech comes out of the pad speaker and rumbles.it scared the crap out of me the first time…

  6. The PT game/demo scared the living crap out of me. I’ve definitely become easier to scare as I’ve gotten older. Not sure why though. Although, I do now live on my own for the first time and it’s quite amazing how many bumps and groans your house lives. Doesn’t help that I’m basically the last house before endless moors for miles.

    On the underwater part, I totally agree. The game that terrified me the most for that was Tomb Raider too, but I think it was TR2. You’re in a submerged ship and at one point have to go out into the ocean to collect something. Absolutely terrifying.

  7. For me i gauge a great horror game or film by its atmosphere and not by the cheap jump scares and recently Outlast and P.T had stunning atmospheres. The atmosphere was so constant and oppresive that i could only manage an hour play time for both games.

    The fact that your helpless in both games adds to the atmosphere. I loved how the music in outlast would build to a screeching cresendo and then nothing but silence.

  8. Sound in games can really just cause a complete ‘headphones off, lights on, everything’s OK, nothing behind me’ moment for me. In Alan Wake the constant screeches and contrapuntal music really just creeped me out, not to mention the vulnerability to enemies that couldn’t just be killed, but needed a certain tactic to kill.

    Diversion is another one. In some games it can never be simple as getting from A – B. No, something crazy has to happen to the main and only the main character, so the player has to trudge through that creepy cave, dark woods or old building with no lights. I remember Dead Space 1 embodied this a lot. There was always a problem with the ship. Getting off the damn thing took hours.

  9. My scariest about horror gaming is the hardcore difficulty, these includes Resident Evil, Dead Space, The Last of Us and now The Evil Within which I am currently playing. You put all your focus on surviving and trying to watch health/ammo and that will always jump on you knowing you have to face these things again from the previous save/checkpoint! Alien Isolation is also great with no deaths and the atmosphere itself. When I was young Tyrant/Nemesis always scare the hell out of me whenever I come across them. Dead Space also scared me with just nobody around the sound of static and clunking objects and the big scare for me is the breathing sound when wearing a suit in Space. I also hate the sound of the clock ticking and the door sounds in Resident Evil and The Evil Within.
    I love horror and these games I mentioned are my fave. The Evil Within is brilliant!

  10. I quite like slow brooding horror that builds atmosphere personally. I feel like the early resident evils and silent hill titles did this. There was something about the weirdly heavy atmospheres, closely compacted space to limit escape routes and limited resources that I found unnerving, albeit not necessarily scary. Resident evil revelations kind brought that atmosphere back but I’d have liked to see more conservation going on. Silent hills main scare factor was entirely in your head but not which is brilliant. There was something about walking round places not being able to see past the light of your pocket torch, not knowing what was lurking – often nothing but just as often something – round every rust stained corner. The music in both added to the tension too. I feel these days horror titles rely too much on predictable tropes of freaky character and jump scares. The evil within is all to much a symbol of this being seemingly every modern, memorable horror enemy and setting smashed together. Outlast gave me a semi decent experience. At times they got the brooding atmosphere right, the ear of the unknown but it often being nothing. I was genuinely firightened to turn round a corner or turn on my night vision for fear of what I might see. But I feel for everything it did right it did the same amount wrong. There’s something to be said for hiding in the dark waiting for an enemy to go somewhere else so you can get to the switch you need… But when you’re did it for the 6th time it loses it’s fear and becomes an annoyance snd detracts a lot from the game, for example. Also, some horror titles tend to drag things out which ruins the fear, making it seem more of the same and losing its effect quickly. There was a point in outlast where the player could probably have escaped but instead he doesn’t and chooses to go back in and repeat more of the same stuff he did before which was both ludicrous and, by that point, boring. I wasn’t appreciating the horror that point, I wasn’t precariously peeping round corners but rather hurling myself down them, not caring if I ran into the same monster that I had met 4 times before and somehow managed to get into a place fully locked down apart from the way I came in apparently. I just wanted to finish. The fear had gone. So I guess all things in moderation is a good mentality of horror and being scared too.

    • Excuse the spelling and grammar errors. Typing on a phone isn’t the best way to post lengthy replies :/

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