Thursday, October 30, 2014

Why Is It So Difficult to Find Fear in Video Games?

That better be a shadow puppet...
This week’s PopMatters column is about scary games.  Tis the season, after all.  More accurately, it’s about why scary games are hard to pull off.

I think most of it comes down to familiarity.  A huge part of fear is not knowing how things work or what is going to happen in a given situation.  Games purposely acquaint you with systems and teach you the rules that govern a world.  It’s also much easier to take it upon yourself to peek behind the curtain in a video game.  Whereas a novelist or film director can forcibly obscure or highlight details, it’s very hard for a designer to prevent a player from poking around the inner workings of things.  Taking note of spawn points, observing scripted enemy behavior, and seeing the seams that hold the game together.

I find this familiarity is mostly thanks to the length and repetition most games exhibit.  A little unscientific searching reveals that The Shining was 146 minutes long.  Silence of the Lambs was 118 minutes.  Alien was 117.  The movie-to-video game comparison is perilous, but I think its telling that the time it takes to get to a movie’s credits is roughly the same time it takes get out of the tutorial and get access to all the mechanics of many mainstream games.

I’m sure part of this is my growing predilection for games that get to the point.  Maybe its just a function of not having much free time or perhaps its because I’ve grown used to genre conventions, but one of the best things a game can do is know when to quit.  I see this in The Walking Dead, in P.T. and in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, all games that maintain tension, inspire fear, and build a cohesive world in the span of a few hours.

Of course this leaves developers open to the perennial time/content/replay vs. money criticisms that come from both players and investors.  Honestly it surprises me that we get the number of horror games we do.  Trying to make things scary contradicts some of the medium’s most entrenched tropes and expectations.


  1. Something I've found helps, at least for me, is limiting my exposure period to 'scary' games.

    Part of the reason I suspect that horror movies are short, and have strong changes in tone and "break" periods, is because your body physically cannot maintain a high level of fear for a very long time.

    AAA scary games tend to be long, or tend not to have changes in tone. Short scary games can work (I feel like I've played some short indie games that were scary, but I'm having trouble coming up with an example), but with the longer ones, I find them much scarier if I limit my exposure to 45 - 60 minutes. Anything past that, and it just becomes about action and reaction.

  2. One of the?reasons of buying Rolex watchis its excellent durability. Breguet Heritage With so many useful features and outstanding quality, it is popular with public all over the world.Ulysse Nardin San Marco Watches rhymed with innovation and independence by its unrivalled creativity and brand value.Santos 100 Its replica watches obviously follow the same specifications as authentic ones.Rolex Masterpiece Breiting Replica Watches are the same comfortable as original. Like all replica watches from our site. The watch is extremely elegant, reliable and useful. Take a juicy our of life with the most admirable rolex wahches from our online shop,[KEY] we are always dedicated to satisfy all your fashion needs by providing the most affordable bags and professional customer service.

  3. Do you desire an amazing, unique bag to get in a good snuggle on your daily life on public? Here on our site, 1:1 Hermes Garden Party Retail must be your competitive alternative. Have ever been in trouble of finding one handbag that could perfectly fit your needs without overwhelming your outfit? Stylish, AAA Louis Vuitton Monogram Blocks For Sale colorful and functional, Louis Vuitton Handbags are the perfect handbags for you to store everyday essentials and wants while help you flaunt everyday style! AAA Bubble Bags Shop You should not go wrong with our online store, a place where you can find all kinds of beautiful bags at reasonable price.