Does horror need to be shoved in your face to scare you?
October is a popular time of the year for developers to release their spooky scary games for us consumers to enjoy. In more recent years, the horror genre has had a huge resurgence. Propelled by the popularity of Let’s Plays on YouTube and new ways to scare the audience, the horror library has heavily expanded with each passing year. There are many different ways to tackle the horror genre though–it can be cheap jump scares that give you a quick dosage of loud noise, or it can be the small subtle ambiance of an abandoned home with no explanation for its current state. Of course there is still the argument that different players will have various thresholds for what truly scares them. Some will be down right terrified by Five Nights at Freddy’s while others need something more extreme and graphic like Outlast in order to send a chill going down their spine. In this modern age though, what is it that defines the horror genre in video games? Is it the graphical onslaught of blood and guts, or is it the story that is the truly terrifying aspect?
One sub genre of horror that heavily depends on storytelling are RPG Maker titles, also known as Pixel Horror. These games are usually created by only one person with the assets available to them through the quirky RPG Maker program. Since you can only display so much with little pixels on a screen, sometimes it is the story telling that truly brings the chills down your spine. These include the terrifying games like The Witch’s House or The Crooked Man, both of which are short but rely heavily on puzzle mechanics to weave together their twisted little tales. They reflect what most people want in a clever horror film. They want the threat to be foreboding, but not obvious. They want clever writing and nothing cliche, and they want a satisfying conclusion. This style of game leaves a lot to the interpretation of the player, which can be more terrifying than having everything visually spelled out for them. Some say there is nothing more horrifying than what our own imagination can create from the smallest piece of influence. With enough of the right keywords provided by a small little horror game, we can see the story unfolding before us without the need for fancy graphics or buckets of blood to disturb and unnerve us.
On the other hand, some people do not want subtle, and would rather have something that is in their face. Not necessarily jump scares, but they want to be repulsed by some grotesque monster or be shown what gruesome end awaiting their character if they fail to achieve what they set out to do. These players want onscreen deaths, they want to see the consequences of their actions. For example, Until Dawn showed you the error of your ways without any censoring at all. From being shot to being decapitated, there were numerous ways you could be killed with no punches being pulled within the changing narrative of this horror game. An older example of the guts and gore method of horror is the coveted Amnesia: The Dark Descent, the game which arguably attracted many people to the concept of watching YouTubers play horror video games. Controlling the character of Daniel from a first person perspective, the player witnessed everything through Daniel’s eyes as they go deeper and deeper into the madness that was Castle Brennenburg. Players are left to discover the twisted remains of various torture sessions as well as being haunted by the memories of these events, all the while trying to hide from the hideously crafted monsters that lurk within the lower levels. While graphics in gaming have certainly improved since that game’s release, it remains a pioneer in pushing the boundaries of what could be shown in a horror game. It showed nudity, mass murder, torture devices and more.
What happens on the occasion when both gore and suspense are blended together to create a concoction of squeamish delight that actually has narrative purpose? For those looking to delve into a bit of both this Halloween season, the Corpse Party series just might be up your alley. What started out as a small project using RPG Maker software, it gained a giant cult following that spawned various remakes and sequels, each one upping itself on the amount of gore and the depth of the story. The horrid tale of a class of unlucky students finding themselves trapped in a demonic school that literally wants to kill them may sound like your cliche slasher horror film. However, its quirky anime style and cast of very conflicting characters makes it a very different kind of horror game. There are various ways that the beloved characters meet their end, just like Until Dawn. But at the same time, there is a mystery that keeps the audiences engaged on tender hooks. The various puzzles that make up the main challenge in the game become ten times more challenging when you know you are being chased by something that wants you buried six feet under the school. Despite its cute looking characters, there is still that undertone of threat and the feeling of never being safe that resonates profoundly for this series of games.
Of course, what is truly terrifying to you is a subjective matter. There are many avenues for players to explore now. The horror genre evolves continuously, with VR horror games starting to become a reality. Developers are at the ready, trying to push boundaries. Whether you are spooked by a cleverly woven tale of bloodshed, or you get the chills at seeing a rotting pile of flesh and human remains, there is a huge library of haunting games to satisfy you this spooky time of year.