The "Horror" of Today
Horror games weren't always about scaring people.
By Konstantinos Christakis
Time and again we find ourselves aching to find a certain type of game that we want to play. We usually make use of the genres and categories that games are put into and we start our search from there. Are categorized games though the best way to go and how is that really affecting the newer titles that are coming out? Well that's a question that has been answered a lot of times in the music industry, but we are here today to talk about the "horror" genre.
Horror fiction was a genre of literature that basically started around the 18th century with the intention of making people feel scared, frightened or even disgusted through the words that were put on paper. The introduction of horror and terror through book fiction was something extraordinary and it very fast acquired a following. Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelley and even later writers such as H.P. Lovecraft all brought their own special touch to the genre by giving it a distinct feeling that no other type of fiction had. The eerie atmosphere that was created through the metaphors of the words within those writers' works was not necessarily one to scare though.
To make a connection to today's recognition of the horror genre, one must indeed look at the very thematic gothic settings that are full of vampires, werewolves and all things related. The horror genre started as a fiction full of mystical and somewhat disgusting things and ended up being something that is meant to scare you as much as possible. Categorizing surely isn't the greatest thing to do when talking about art and I personally hate it, but through the centuries, if you want to look back and find something, the easiest way to do that is through genre and categories.
On to horror games then. Horror games have nothing to do with the horror fiction of ye olde times. A good horror game now is not one that has a great gothic setting with good music or well drawn graphics. Rather, a good horror game is one that scares the sh*t out of you. How well it does that also determines how well it is made. I am not saying that to make the assumption that the horror genre is somewhat "deteriorating" though. It is quite astonishing how fans of horror fiction grew up to become video game developers and create such art.
The creation of bad cheesy jump scares is a very delicate process and that is why 90% of them are not even the least bit scary. Ever since the first Resident Evil games though, we've been seeing a bunch of games that make use of the horror setting in the best way they can. The 1989 NES classic "Sweet Home" managed to very successfully introduce a very eerie horror-like atmosphere through its 8bit graphics and sounds. It was a survival game and the beginning of an era where survival would be the main goal of horror games that would come from there.
There came a bunch of other games that tried to play with the psychology of players and many of them failed. The result of that was having the horror genre have a sort of ambiguous reputation. Some journalists didn't even consider it art since they said "it's only trying to scare you, there's nothing artful about it." Those beliefs and write-ups died out right after some developers made some extraordinary efforts in creating certain horror games. Silent Hill was one of those and many other notable names came after it.
Programming a game to create a very distinct feeling of terror was becoming harder and harder since players were getting way too used to the older scare tricks. Horror games started becoming a true form of art in the eyes of everyone and now they are just as famous as any other well known title if they manage to scare their players adequately. Even more thematic games like Bioshock and the latest Batman games, that don't really have the goal of scaring you, showcase very startling and atmospheric environments that suck the player into the action.
The best part about good horror games is that you get scared because you feel you are part of it, not because someone is trying to scare you.