What Makes a Truly Scary Horror Game?:

Total posts: [25]
Since October is almost here, I felt I would like to bring this topic up.

Horror in gaming is quite a hard topic to actually define, since there are many games that try to scare people, such as Resident Evil, Silent Hill, F.E.A.R., System Shock, Fatal Frame, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Dead Space, etc. However, what truly makes them scary, as not all seem to succeed?

Most horror games nowadays are focused on you killing enemies, which makes them more of an action-horror game than a survival-horror game. When your main concern is on defeating the enemies rather than surviving, I just feel as though this takes away from the atmosphere. The few attempts at being scary that they do have are jump scares, which do not really count.

Fear is described as "a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid". In these regards, jump scares do not qualify. Making someone jump out of their seats is basically a cheap tactic. It is the equivalent of sneaking up on someone and making a loud noise. This is not at all scary.

Truly scary games are definitely worthy of praise. Why else do you think games like Amnesia are regarded by many as having given them nightmares? Those games rely more on your ability to survive and use your wits. While there is a bit of combat, it is secondary to surviving.

This is what I think makes a truly scary horror game. To take away the knowledge that you can kill your enemies easily, suddenly, every encounter becomes an ordeal. By adding things such as taking away your sight via making the area dark, things get worse, as aside from sound, sight is the sense we require the most in these sorts of games.

What are your thoughts?
2 Cider27th Sep 2012 07:37:59 PM from Not New York , Relationship Status: They can't hide forever. We've got satellites.
The Final ECW Champion
There's more than just survivor horror. Horror isn't a genre anyone's going to come up with an objective what must work and what must not definition of, much less in the space of a forum post.

At best I could say to go with the unknown that usually scares people. That or common phobias known to scare people even though they should be able to rationalize them away.
Modified Ura-nage, Torture Rack
[up] I know. Horror is a genre that can easily be mixed with other ones. I just want to know what you think makes for a truly scary horror game.
Mighty No. 51345
Atmosphere and well-maintained suspense. They feed into each other and create a nice sense of dread, when executed correctly.
Mega Man fanatic extraordinaire
5 Alucard27th Sep 2012 07:43:40 PM from Vancouver, BC , Relationship Status: Showing feelings of an almost human nature
According to Extra Credits, the answer is tension:

Here's their answer on what happened to horror, where it's going and what creates true fear.

6 Bur27th Sep 2012 08:22:37 PM from Flyover Country , Relationship Status: Not war
Chaotic Neutral
Along with the above, paranoia. Not knowing if that sound is ambient noise or something that wants to eat your mind is good. Particularly if it's something innocent like a house settling or bushes rustling or, if the game has friendlies, not knowing if something/one is an enemy or not. Or if there's save areas few and far between and you have no idea what's in the next area, along with there being a very real danger of it being able to ruin your day.

If you play the game long enough that when you stop playing and, say, go out to get the mail and it's dark and gloomy and the wind makes a bush rustle near you and you freak out for a moment? Then the game has done something right.

edited 27th Sep '12 8:25:22 PM by Bur

i. hear. a. sound.
A feeling of helplessness. Amnesia: The Dark Descent has a protagonist who is unable to fight off anything (mostly), and when you combine that with the fact that your character can't look at any monsters directly without losing sanity, you get tension.

Clock Tower has a protagonist who can't fight Scissorboy (they look like hedge clippers to me), apart from a feel adrenaline-fueled moments. She can only run and hide. Then you get Rule of Scary and the fact that few things were ever really explained, and you have mystery that adds to the scariness.

Don't forget Nothing Is Scarier. You have a few hair-raising moments, followed by long periods of nothing happening. That might sound boring to some people, but it gives a feeling of being all alone, and even wishing to find something just around the corner.

Does any of this help?
Oh, Equestria, we stand on guard for thee!
Personally? Feeling like I'm in actual danger. All the atmosphere in the world isn't going to do much if I expect I'll be able to handle anything the game throws at me without too much of a problem. Or if I don't expect I'll lose much progress

...Though it should be noted that I'm basically immune to suspense and lack pretty much all common fears
9 Demongodofchaos228th Sep 2012 05:01:58 AM from Reality , Relationship Status: 700 wives and 300 concubines
Best Dad
Fatal Frame is pretty good at creating an atmosphere that even when you fight back, it still feels extremely scary to do so.

You are taking pictures of ghosts after all, and the stronger shots are you take the pictures of them when right in front of your first person view point.
I don't fight for good, and I don't fight for evil, I JUST FIGHT!

10 RJSavoy28th Sep 2012 05:33:47 AM from Edinburgh , Relationship Status: I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me
Fear comes above all from what we do not know or understand. The problem with games is that by their nature, they have a system of rules that we need to understand to be able to play. We quickly get a feel for what works and what to expect. Even if we can't be sure of winning, we know how we might lose and the best way to avoid it.

When I played Resident Evil 4, I found it was good at keeping up tension by limiting ammunition and health restores, but was only truly scary when a new type of enemy came along. Once I learned the pattern I saw them once more as pieces of AI code.I'm told that Silent Hill is built upon never knowing what happens next, and that is definitely the secret to real horror.

Notice that since games are more prone to this "patterning" than non-interactive fiction, they can actually pull off better moments of horror by subverting that very feel of "I know what this is". I remember when I was about level 35 in World of Warcraft, a game with predictable enemies if ever there was one, I was doing normal things in Hillsbrad when I was attacked out of the blue by a huge red dragon I could not solo. That was a moment of real awe and terror.
11 Cassie28th Sep 2012 06:44:43 AM from Malaysia, but where?
The armored raven
I don't think there's much that needs to be 'defined' as is, since we've been exposed to the genre for more than a decade as we are. No matter how much paranoia, fear-inducers or creeps the developers keep throwing at us, it's not appropriate for us to say 'This isn't horror because it's not fresh', since again, we've been exposed enough.

I have to agree however, that what makes a 'truly' scary horror game DEPENDS on whether or not player(s) experience(s) the scenario. Camera angles, situation, development, transpirance, etc. And the commendability of the effort determines the success, not our feelings.
What profit is it to a man, when he gains his money, but loses his internet? Anonymous 16:26 I believe...
Few weapons.

This follows on from the "making every battle an ordeal" post higher up; giving a player character a lot of weapons tends to lend a sense of empowerment. Even if the monsters are difficult, it's harder to feel scared when you're character's armed to the teeth.

Likewise smaller weapons. Even if the BFS/BFG is really weak, the mere sight of such a huge weapon tends to make the player feel better.

edited 28th Sep '12 9:22:40 AM by PhoenixAct

"If you are going through hell, keep going." - Winston Churchill
Jonah Falcon
A truly horrifying game will have explicit images of The Golden Girls in a four way. That would scare anyone.
Jonah Falcon
14 Recon528th Sep 2012 04:28:02 PM from Southeast Asia
Avvie-free for life!
[up][up] Some degree of horror might still be maintained if even the strongest weapons in the player's arsenal do jack against the enemy of the day (or night as the case usually is).
15 Ryuhza28th Sep 2012 04:48:19 PM from San Diego, California
Alligator Season
16 AStrayBard29th Sep 2012 08:32:55 PM from 867-5309 , Relationship Status: Pining for the fjords
Sega's Last Hope
[up] This. Good pacing, soundtrack, and atmosphere will go miles if a game has enough self restraint to not shove a horrible multi-fanged demon/alien in your face every five minutes.
Why would I write that?
Unease. That's it. That's real horror. Jump scare's aren't horror, games like Dead space and Left 4 Dead, and frankly Resident Evil aren't truly scary. Maybe you get frightened, but that's the extent of it. Real, true horror makes you uncomfortable. It removes the wall between the game and you, and makes you afraid to walk around your own house. That's real horror.
Remember! Hyperbole is an exaggeration made for comedic effect, and shouldn't be taken literally!
18 Cassie29th Sep 2012 10:33:09 PM from Malaysia, but where?
The armored raven
[up]I disagree. Perhaps for you the measurement of 'truly scary horror game' equals to removing the fourth wall between the minds of players and their surroundings, but I mean really, trauma-inducing isn't required.

To me, a game should ultimately be a game. And the 'truly' part of the question is a subjective form of measurement, hinging on the amount of indulgence. What's important is that players can indulge in a setting that's very awful and courage-inhibiting, and able to get back to real life when things are over.
What profit is it to a man, when he gains his money, but loses his internet? Anonymous 16:26 I believe...
19 BearyScary29th Sep 2012 11:39:16 PM , Relationship Status: I've got a total eclipse of the heart
I think that both Resident Evil and Silent Hill capitalized on Primal Fears early on. With RE, there was a primal fear of the mutated animals. Lots of people are instinctively afraid of spiders, snakes, and dogs, especially when they're mutated. RE 1 also had the advantage of capitalizing on a new genre with new tech at the time. I never played RE 1 in its original context, but I would imagine that there would be a lot more tension and paranoia about what came next for those who played the original version in 1996.

Now, Silent Hill is a bit different; it focuses more on what the characters' deepest, darkest fears are, and exploits them. It could be that the reason why each game is so different, and causes such division of opinion depends on the worlds presented by the characters. I think that Silent Hill 3 is the scariest game of all time, and that game was made to exploit the fears of teenage girls, so it was more horrifying for me as a girl to play it.

How about Splatterhouse? That's a game that is loaded with Body Horror and creatures right out of H.P. Lovecraft. Fortunately, looking at the monsters does not cause Rick to lose his sanity! smile
Oh, Equestria, we stand on guard for thee!
21 BlueNinja01st Oct 2012 07:19:24 PM from Lost in a desert oasis , Relationship Status: In my bunk
Chronically Sleep Deprived
One thing that truly cannot be underestimated is the sound effects. One of the scariest moments in my gaming experience is playing through the mission Robbing The Cradle from Thief 3 - hell, it's still scary even now, years later and still knowing what to expect from it! A large part of that is the sound effects, both atmospheric and musical.

The in-game atmosphere also plays a large part. Unfortunately this is hit-or-miss depending on the player, but there are some types of buildings and placements that nearly everyone will agree are just creepy.
TBH, his ego doesn't need more stroking. Nor does any other part of him. - M84
Sound is definitely important; remember that big, dark room in Silent Hill 2, where you heard scuttling sounds but couldn't find their source? That room was empty. You couldn't die in it, but it was still one of the scariest parts of the game. The less you know about an enemy, the scarier it is. So any game where there's something hunting you that you can't see, or can't see well, but can hear, and can't defend yourself against, will almost undoubtedly freak people out.
Slender seemed to succeed quite well for a game that merely uses fogs and a single enemy that abuses offscreen teleportation (No fighting)
I just remembered that Surprise Creepy is a big factor. That's why the Kirby games and a lot of Nintendo games are so memorable. Sure, they're not supposed to be horror games, but you get final bosses that are frightening or disturbing, and that can punch you in the gut pretty hard there! surprised
Oh, Equestria, we stand on guard for thee!
25 MrMallard4th Oct 2012 09:48:48 PM from Australia, mate
As rare as dolphin's teeth
I agree that tension and surprise horror are the best ways to really add that scary atmosphere to a game.

Look at SCP Containment Breach. That shit is scary.
And I can't think of one thing in this whole wide blessed world
That's more dangerous and frightening than you when you get bored
The system doesn't know you right now, so no post button for you.
You need to Get Known to get one of those.

Total posts: 25