As a horror writer, naturally I have an affinity for literature, as well as movies. But what I talk little about are video games, and the value they provide the horror genre.
Video games have been a significant and important part of my life. Ever since I had a Pong set, then moved to the Atari 2600, and on to the NES, I played and loved every gaming console since. I grew up on them, my kid grew up on them.
To me a good game is a work of art, much like a novel or movie. A video game combines multiple art forms into one piece. What’s compelling about horror games is they put you directly in the action. You control the character, and for first-person view games, you are the character. Suddenly, running from nightmarish monsters can be quite terrifying and if you’re really into the game, it actually gets your heart pumping. You feel the excitement and adrenaline rush of trying to stay alive.
Not all games are created equal. Just because you pick up a horror themed game doesn’t mean it’s going to scare the hell out of you. Games such as the Dead Rising series are great games, lots of fun to play, and even have nods to classic zombie movies, but they aren’t frightening.
I recently played a game called Outlast. Now that’s the kind of game I’m talking about! It’s a first-person view survival game, where you play the part of a journalist sneaking into an abandoned mental asylum for a story. There are no weapons. You can’t fight. You’re armed with only a video camera, luckily equipped with night vision when you need it. But the batteries can run out. When being chased by a psychopath with a machete or a mutated creature from beyond, all you can do is run, hide, and hope they don’t find you. Trying to navigate an enormous labyrinthian mental asylum in this manner was damn hard, it really got my blood pumping!
Alien: Isolation is another that comes to mind. Also a first-person survival game, it’s based on The Ridley Scott Alien movies. In this game, you’re on a ship with a Xenomorph. You do get a few measly weapons. But nothing worthy of actually trying to fight with. They’re mostly meant for distracting the Xenomorph so you can run the other way and hope it doesn’t kill you. The game plays a lot like Outlast, but in Alien: Isolation, the Xenomorph is highly sensitive to sound picked up by a microphone in the controller. Make too much noise, you’re dead. Also, unlike Outlast, the alien appears randomly rather than the specifically placed foes in the mental asylum. This makes for surprise attacks and increased uncertainty. You never know where it’s going to be.
Virtual Reality is the next great leap in horror gaming. If playing the game on a screen in your living room has allowed some games to incite actual anxiety, I look forward to seeing what the future of horror can do with a game where you really are in the middle of the action.