Jump scares arenít the kind of fear I enjoy. Amnesia, which I love, does things with a lot more subtlety, giving the player an atmospheric playground puzzler where psychological fears: of the big unknown, of a machine that is bigger than us and that we donít understand, of being chased by something terrible, of being hurt by something we donít see, get the time to settle in and diffuse through our spongy brains.
Jump scares, on the other hand, play on pure biological base reflexes triggered by loud noises and unsettling imagery flashing for just a moment: a lightning bolt of pure contrast sending waves of frenetic firing through our synapses. They are efficient at generating fear, but are dangerous as game tools because once you use them once ó at least in my case ó the fourth wall is broken: from that point on Iím going to expect a new jump scare at every corner. Iím going to wonder, by the looks of the level design and the time that has elapsed since the last event, whether it is likely that the developer put another one at the end of this or that hall or after climbing this or that ladder.
Dear developer, of course Iím afraid while playing, but donít claim ďmission accomplishedĒ too soon, because what Iím afraid of is not your game, but a biological reaction I canít control, and which I donít want to happen again. Yet it will, at some point and I wonít be able to avoid it. It feels awful and cheap to be terrified, not by the game contents, but by the prospect of a new uncontrolled discharge at a random time.
You see, there are three kinds of horror games. First, there's the kind where you're in a dark room and a guy in a spooky mask jumps out of a cupboard going "abloogy woogy woo!" - that would be your Doom 3. Then there's the kind where the guy in the spooky mask isn't in a cupboard but standing right behind you and you just know he's going to go "abloogy woogy woo" at some point but he doesn't and you're getting more and more tense but you don't want to turn around because he might stick his cock in your eye - that would be your Silent Hill 2. And then there are horror games where the guy in the spooky mask goes "abloogy woogy woo" while standing on the far side of a brightly lit room before walking slowly over to you plucking a violin and then slapping you in the face with a t-bone steak - that would be your Dead Space. See, the second one is best, because your imagination is doing all the work.