Why Horror’s Future Is Bright (Or It’s Totally Doomed)

It was not so long ago that our own Adam “Murder Maestro” Smith lamented the lack of imagination in horror stories. Implausibly trap-laden asylums, spoooooky forests, and hastily cobbled-together castles dominate, while more interesting locales and subject matters are few and far-between. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that horror’s stuck in a full-blown rut, it could certainly end up there if it keeps wandering down the same predictable trail. I’ve been thinking about it, though (largely while replaying Amnesia: The Dark Descent as Halloween nightmare fuel), and I’ve come to realize that there are some amazing avenues ahead for stomach-lurching scares in gaming. Problem is, there are a few major, perhaps even primeval forces that could slip a dangling noose around possibility’s all-too-exposed neck.

Back when I was in grade school, my friends and I got into the habit of pranking one another by waiting around corners – muscles clenched with anticipation, bodies coiled like awful little snakes – and then, just when the moment was right, leaping out and screaming. The sounds we made weren’t really words. That wasn’t the point. It was all about shock, surprise. At first, I was everyone’s favorite target because I went sheet-white and shrieked bloody murder. But because the tactic was so effective, my friends wouldn’t stop using it. Every day, every corner. “BOO!”

Diminishing returns set in. Eventually, you wouldn’t have been able to get a rise out of me even if you’d sprang forth from a nailed-shut coffin in a claustrophobically confined mausoleum while chanting the ending monologue from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” I wasn’t fearless (and I’ll admit that jump scares in games still occasionally get me to this day), but the gag had become painfully predictable. I’d learned the underlying system. I’d figured out where people thought I’d least expect them. That’s where I expected them most.

Haunted houses, scary movies, and things of that nature are similar. Once you see the strings dangling just behind the curtain, the illusion breaks. There’s always a formula, a method to the madness. In their own way, games may have it worse than anyone else given that they’re entirely systemic. Learn the rigid string of commands guiding the boogie man who’s always right behind youuuuuuu, and he becomes no more threatening than an especially sophisticated Roomba. When sequels congeal and series swipe still-warm ideas from each other’s cold, lifeless bodies, this can render entire swathes of games impotent. Not only do tired, implausible settings rob horror of its power, but well-worn mechanics provide a cradle of comfort, a barrier of knowledge against the supposed terrors that lie in wait. “Sure, this all seems frightening,” you might say, ” but what can these monsters really do? And why should I care? I’ll just respawn and keep going, just like I always do.”

But games also have so many more tools available. Old system failing? Put a new one on top of it or replace it outright. Rethink, rewire. It’s an incredible shame, then, that we’re still mostly playing by horror’s old rules. Sure, more recent games like Amnesia and Outlast have taken away our ability to fight back, but it’s still all about old-school horror’s puzzles and film’s settings and jump scares. Expectation is the antithesis of horror, and yet many games are still being guided by it. “Horror must be X, Y, and Z. It must be paced this way and that.” If we just abandon the generi-scare checklists, we open up a whole new range of options like…

Physical Terror

Oh goodness, games could be so, so, so great at this. I mean, when we play games we embody characters. And yet, most first-person games don’t even bother to show our avatars’ feet when we look down. Death may not be able to hold us, but permanent loss and slow, creeping degradation could take arguably worse tolls. It’s one thing to be a big, tough hero man – or even a regular, whimpering man of extraordinary ordinary-ness – but to see such characters beaten and broken and nakedly human? And moreover, to feel it in the way they move and flee? It’s essentially the reverse of the typical game power structure, but I’m surprised by how rarely it’s used.

Sure, some games might make you limp or crawl in climactic/pivotal/scripted moments, but they rarely explore complete physical breakdown. Powerlessness. Binding of Isaac, oddly, is one of my favorite examples, if only because its randomness often made you less formidable, and many abilities grotesquely disfigured your character. Far Cry 2 also took interesting steps in the right direction with malaria, weapon malfunctions, and things of the like – essentially riddling the typical, idealized first-person shooter “body” with flaws and weaknesses – but it also had to cater to the demands of a high-octane triple-A FPS. Those constraints meant that Far Cry simply wasn’t able to take the idea far enough.

Buried beneath all this, there’s also the notion of “fun” – the idea that taking away power and control will leave players annoyed or bored. Maybe, maybe not. It’s all in execution. Plus, it’s that sort of thinking that turned Resident Evil and Dead Space into all-out action franchises. Bleh. No thank you. Horror is a rollercoaster. Yes, you can have highs, but you can’t just skip over the lows.

Physical terror is about to gain a pretty serious secret weapon, too: virtual reality. While demos like Dreadhalls show immense promise by keeping track of where you’re looking and spawning creatures in optimally terrifying positions, I feel like that’s only the beginning. Sensation is a powerful, er, sense, and devices like the Oculus Rift are extremely capable of imitating it. I touched on this in my piece about EVE Valkyrie, but tumbling end over end in the endless vacuum of space was equal parts exhilarating and exhausting. And that was when I mostly had full control. Imagine something like Gravity, but in game form. Moments where your body flips, twists, and drifts, and all you can do is look around, utterly helpless and microscopically small. Maybe there are monsters, maybe there aren’t. Regardless, your own frail form is your greatest enemy.

Character Relationships

What do people care about? I’ll give you three options: is it a) puppies, b) the unrelenting specter of mortality, or c) people? Technically, the answer is d) all of the above, but people take top billing. Why do you think we’re all addicted to Facebook even though it’s largely just snooze-worthy ramblings and pictures of our friends’ hideous children? We’re built to empathize, form tribes, and fret over what everybody else thinks of us.

The scariest gaming experience I’ve had in years was the prospect that The Walking Dead‘s Clementine might get hurt. Or I might neglect her. Or I might misguide her in a confusing, fucked up world that I only understood marginally better than she did. She was paying attention, and the game never stopped reminding me of that. The rest, meanwhile, played out in my head. She was taking my words, tugging at every slip of tongue, learning all the wrong lessons. And that’s the thing about other humans, whether real or fictional: we don’t know what they’re thinking. We can only speculate, assume the worst, let toxic thoughts gnaw at our brains like worms squirming around in a rotten apple. People are terrifying, and our imaginations only make them more so.

I kind of regret not adding a separate category for imagination actually (though I will use this space to say GO PLAY CATACHRESIS), but I think it ties in with well-written characters especially well. More often than not, it’s less about what characters say and more about what they don’t. Lone Survivor’s main character was a triumph of minimalism. He wasn’t a silent protagonist. Rather, he piped up just often enough to be believable, but left enough dead air for my own qualities and experiences to manifest on top of his – to slough out in his brief, wearied comments and rest in the bags under his eyes as I let him go a few too many steps without food or sleep.

Initially, I kind of hated him.

But as I explained in an Advent Calendar entry last year, our experiences aligned. I started taking better care of my character, and he perked up. He regained hope. I realized I’d seen him at his lowest low, and everybody’s unbearable when they hit rock bottom. I didn’t want him to have to suffer through that again. Then we found a kitty. In Lone Survivor, it was the little things that made me care, and those same things made me terrified of running low on supplies or taking damage (and, as a result, losing morale and sanity). Creepy crawly beastie baddies are scary, but they’re far worse when you’ve got something (or someone) to lose.


Here’s an interesting one. What do you do when your AI monsters run out of tricks? Why, put them under the spell of the greatest monster of all (hint: IT IS MAN), of course. Left 4 Dead and – to an extent – Natural Selection popularized this idea, but Damned is really trying to hone in on the horror aspect of it. Sadly, I haven’t actually tried it, so I don’t know how well it works, but the idea is fantastic on paper. Four survivors try desperately to flee from one player-controlled monster, all the while fumbling about dark, randomized levels. It is, then, to the monster’s advantage to rattle the survivors or otherwise unhinge them – to make them work less efficiently as a unit and then pick them off one-by-one.

Beyond games like Damned, The Hidden, and co-op “horror” like Dead Space 3 and Resident Evil, multiplayer is sadly under-explored in this area. So is random generation, for that matter. Developers, perhaps you should get on this.


Asylums! Castles! Secret Nazi laboratories! I have been to none of those places, though I walked around the outside of a castle once. Also, I licked an asylum. While certainly rooted in real-world-ish events, these settings verge on fantastical, and the events that occur within are all the more telegraphed as a result.

Gone Home was by no means a horror game, but incredibly strong atmosphere nearly drowned its setting in pitter-pattering droplets of dread. One Late Night, meanwhile, took that idea a step further, introducing overtly supernatural elements to an average, ordinary office. And then it became Slender, because aaaaarggggh. But I do think it was onto something.

Horror is most powerful when it sidles up right next to you, slides an arm around your shoulder, and begins to slowly, gently worm its fingers right under your skin. Good horror is intimate. It knows you even though you have no idea what to expect from it. A lived-in home or an office that seems like it’s been inhabited by actual humans, then, makes for an excellent setting because we’ve been there before – and odds are, we’ll be there again.

There’s also the option of depicting so-called “normal” life events in abstracted, horrifying ways, conveying less of the literal content and more of the feeling. I really liked how Auti-Sim approached auditory hypersensitivity disorder, puncturing eardrums with the whaling-harpoon-like grace of a thousand child shrieks. Vision blurred, colors blended. I thought I was going to be sick. It was a short, singular experience, but it got the job done.

Moreover, Auti-Sim treated mental illness not as an exaggerated object of external fear, but as something to experience, identify with, and – on some level – understand. By and large, horror’s relationship with some of the most prevalent problems of our day can be described as anything but that, so approaches like that of Auti-Sim are needed. Fear has its place, but not when the “monsters” aren’t monsters at all.

Sheer, Unrelenting Weirdness

Horror games don’t need to be out to shock us trouser-less every second of every hour of every day. Some of the games that recently left me the most unsettled were just downright… strange. The mere act of existing inside them was distinctly uncomfortable. Bizarre, almost primally affecting imagery, unnatural gurgles and yelps, creatures that exist only in these fractured realities or the mind of Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan. Semi-recently, I thought The 4th Wall leveraged this screaming alien nightmarescape style of horror quite well – even without its wild (though gimmicky) ending.

And, in fairness, there’s a lot of this type of horror emerging from various indie scenes’ oozing crevices, much of which I’ve yet to play. Some of it is complete randomness, sure, but the best games are the ones that sandwich a kernel of something familiar yet ever-so-slightly off between all the layers of howling insanity. Like a painting that won’t hang properly no matter how many times you tilt it. And also, your hand is made of eyeballs and you’re crucifying a slug monster, mucousy skin fold by skin fold, who won’t stop staring at you with come-hither eyes.

OK, But Here’s The Problem…

Expectation is, in some ways, more of a force than ever – even as the above examples show that creativity is flourishing if you know where to look. Horror is becoming an echo chamber, with otherwise wildly inventive indies stacking their trays tenuously tall with tropes so that they might attract the roving eyes of, say, Steam Greenlight‘s masses. Moreover, horror has become synonymous with immediate terror. Despite a markedly more fascinating tale, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs was decried as “not scary enough” compared to The Dark Descent. And maybe it wasn’t as “ooga-booga” scary by traditional definitions, but in assessing its quality along such narrow lines, we run the risk of conflating “different” with “worse.”

More frighteningly, horror’s biggest asset for exposure, YouTube, preys on quick, hammed-up reaction videos and cheap thrills. Slow-burn psychological approaches or character-driven journeys simply aren’t as viewer-friendly as, er, screaming 14-year-olds. Some horror games, like Daylight with its fully randomized approach, are being developed with YouTube as their target audience. Admittedly, Daylight actually sounds fairly interesting, but I worry that horror’s current environment is most conducive to well-timed jump scares and Slender clones (though thankfully, The Preternaturally Boring One’s influence seems to finally be receding) over variety and experimentation.

On the upside, I doubt “YouTube sensation of the week” will prove to be a viable long-term business model. It gets your name out there, sure, but staying power demands substance. Or at least, I like to think so, but then again: Slender.

So we’ll see where all of this ends up. I have high hopes, game developers. Don’t let my high-powered spotlight, collection of self-changing bulbs, and timeshare on the sun go to waste.


  1. GameCat says:

    Character relationships are probably the best for horror games. TWD scared the shit out of me, because I knew that every character can die at any moment. When Lee was dying because I failed at QTE the whole tension was disapearing, because I had to reload last few seconds of gameplay. It’s a terrible thing for horror game.

    • Bedeage says:

      I find it hard to sympathise with people who save-scum. Accept the consequences of your actions and that 100% is not always achievable.

      It’s like the end of ME2, where dozens of guides were written to cater to those who couldn’t accept that sometimes people you care about have to die.

      • Kitsunin says:

        I think he was referring to the bits where Lee (Being the main character) would die due to failing a QTE, which forces you to restart and ruins the tension. Not save scumming.

      • DRoseDARs says:

        And I find it hard not to hate people who have to moan and whine about how other people choose to enjoy their own single-player experiences. What business is it of yours? I can totally see you burning a pile of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books. How vain your need to let everyone know how they should only play games the way YOU would play them and how dare they not follow your example. There’s a real-world consequence for such mentality: Straight politicians passing legislation denying gays equal rights and men restricting abortions.

        • Bedeage says:

          Sorry to break it to you sweetheart, but the link between disdain for save-scumming and anti-equality legislation has not yet been proven. If you make it to Doncaster to do Sociology next year you can be the first to prove that the subset of WASPs that dislike save-scumming also go on to political careers in the Conservative party.

          On a serious note, I apologise for hurting your feelings. No adult should have to have their views disagreed with on the internet.

          • jrodman says:

            Disagreeing with views? Can’t see that in your post.

            I *can* see the following: smug, snarky, arrogant, completely off the mark, and self-satisfied.

          • DRoseDARs says:

            @jrodman Sanctimonious. You forgot that one. There always has to be that one sanctimonious dick who has to let it be known that everyone MUST play the way he or she (let’s be real, it’s *always* a he) plays single-player. Dude couldn’t even get his own argument right in his rush to put out his pithy words. TWD uses QTEs and as noted that has nothing to do with save-scumming, never mind anything to do with HIM.

          • jrodman says:

            Eh, I’m not sure all forms of “Your way of doing things is wrong WRONG WRONG” are sanctimonious. Tedious, sure.

          • Dave Tosser says:

            “The fact remains that I, as a better person than you, have the moral authority to choose whether you are allowed to play video games as you wish. Me. I also mandate that Elven paladins are banned on account of being silly, and you must use the cover system 80% of the time. You cannot disagree with me or do something else. You have no agency, I read it in an article once.”

            As for horror proper, I dare say we should return to when X-Com was a horror tactics game and not a board game with bullet sponge enemies.

          • jrodman says:

            I missed xcom entirely. I was in the gaming world playing games and people were telling me it was the best thing ever, but I thought “hm, a squad game? I was shit at laser squad, and I bet I’ll be shit at this too.”

            Did it really evoke horror in many players? Or fear at least. I want to hear more about this.

          • Bedeage says:

            Remember kiddies, if I’m wrong, you must be right. There is no alternative.

    • facebook34 says:

      I quit working at shop rite and now I make $35th – $8th…how? I’m working online! My work didn’t exactly make me happy so I decided to take a chance on something new… after 4 years it was so hard to quit my day job but now I couldn’t be happier. He res what I do======


  2. BLACKOUT-MK2 says:

    I hope Frictional Games do a good job of SOMA. It’s just a shame that it’s sooo far away.

    • Stochastic says:

      The live action trailers for SOMA make me wish some director gained rights to the license and turns it into a feature-length movie.

      • GameCat says:

        That one with dismembered robot was probably the best sci-fi short I’ve ever watched.
        I’m worried that game itself will be as bland as Amnesia. :x

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      Sadly the short videos were not an indicator of what the game will be like. The SCP vibe was something the developers asked the small media firm to go for in the advertising, but which a devblog stated would not underpin gameplay or story. What little we have seen of it does look interesting however, in an existential what-the-hell-is-consciousness-anyway type way.

      • Stochastic says:

        Metaphysical horror is the most frightening horror of all.

      • Shooop says:

        Sadly what we have seen so far for in-game footage looks like the typical body-horror stuff.

        I really hope they’re going to use more of the concepts in the live action teasers.

    • Shooop says:

      I really hope they’re going to dive into some metaphysical territory with it and not just make Pneumbra in space like they made Amnesia Pneumbra in the middle ages.

      The possibilities to not scare or shock, but horribly disturb and unsettle with that that concept are nearly endless.

  3. Faxanadu says:

    There’s one thing horror has got going for it – the increasing ease of creating good, new content. Which is why we’re seeing this immense wave of new indie horror.

    Also, two words: Oculus Rift.

    • Stochastic says:

      Occult rift.

      • CookPassBabtridge says:

        I made that joke two weeks ago and was very saddened when no one posted a ‘lol’. SO I will give you a courtesy lol

        LOL :)

        • Stochastic says:

          Thank you. I’ll give you a lol for pioneering the joke.

          LOL : )

  4. Guvornator says:

    Nathan, what in the name of good gravey has happened to your hands?!

    • Napalm Sushi says:

      The late necrotic stages of RSI are a secret that the gaming community has withheld from all but its inner circle for generations. Clearly Nathan has finally dropped the ball. I suppose we should have expected this.

    • Gap Gen says:

      That’s what happens when you buy a Mac, people.

      • Contrafibularity says:

        And to the people who make the mac.

      • jrodman says:

        It’s the buying that does it? I hope so because I have to use one for work. I sure hope the thing isn’t producing some gasses that rot the flesh.

        On second thought, we’ve had a lot of turnover in accounting/procurement. By jove you’re right!

  5. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    One of the most effective horror moments in memory for me was when Neo woke up after taking the pill in The Matrix. The slow burning reveal that the world is not as he thought followed by a sudden totally disorienting shift to something alien and the realisation that the door does not swing both ways was a moment where anyone might have second thoughts. – Although the world was a lie he sought to escape, it might be infinitely more palatable than the harsh truth, and the truth not only sets you free, it chains you in its own way.

  6. Bent Wooden Spoon says:

    Wow, this is a really long article. Could you all please stop writing such long articles, reading makes my head hurt. There isn’t even a score out of 5/10/100 at the end for fuck’s sake, how am I meant to TL;DR?

    I’d also rather you didn’t talk about horror all the time. As someone who doesn’t like horror games in general, cause I’m a massively big wuss, I’d prefer you didn’t write about them because I don’t like them and this website should really just be aimed at me, and me alone, because I’m reading it and my Mum tells me I’m special. Next thing I know you lot will all be talking about egalitarian values or some shit, and then I’ll have to take to Reddit so I can let everyone know you have some kind of weird, sick, twisted agenda of covering stuff other people might like.

    It makes me sick.

    • Gap Gen says:

      If you want short, concise articles, I can’t recommend Tim Rogers enough. Always brief and to the point.

    • Ninja Foodstuff says:

      Yeah! I remember when RPS used to be about games, not trying to write about skeletons all the time! Now I can’t go a single article without being reminded that there are skeletons! So what if there are skeletons, what do they have to do with my game! These horror fans are ruining gaming for everyone else.

      I like jump scares and don’t see a problem with them. Anyone who thinks otherwise is just chronically weird. I personally know plenty of skeletons who enjoy jump scares, and most people I know are fine with jump scares even if there aren’t any skeletons. Those skeletons that have an issue with jump scares are just trolling everyday normal people like me, If you need proof you can just read a tabloid newspaper.

      Not only this, but I will also be sure to thoroughly read every RPS article, no matter how obscure and not to my taste, so I can comment and warn others about this awful agenda RPS has towards horror.

      (with apologies to Fred S.)

      • JFS says:

        You must confuse RPS with another site. While I as well don’t like skeleton overexposure, I believe RPS only ever covers skellingtons, which is not to my liking either, but according to common knowledge is a totally different topic.

  7. DrScuttles says:

    Some excellent words, Nathan. I’m imagining an Oculus Rift game with the chillingly unnerving tone of Lost Highway and I’m scared and won’t someone hold me.
    Also Silent Hill: Shattered Memories was one of the first modern horror games I’ve played to make to player purely defensive against boogeywoogies. Though it was fairly obvious in how it split exploration and action, it’s the kind of thing I’d really like to see more of.

    • GameCat says:

      Boogeywoogies wasn’t the scariest things in this game.
      The horror part and brilliance of this game comes from plot which is rather rare in this genre.
      Also this is probably the only horror game where you see blood in maybe 3 scenes.

      For me Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is the best horror game ever.

  8. shagohad says:

    dayZ is the scariest game Ive ever played. The zombies arent scary at all, its whole “holy shit there are people lurking everywhere that are out to kill me and take my stuff” atmosphere

    • HadToLogin says:

      That’s why DayZ is … hmm, a failure? not sure what’s the right word is.
      It’s not a game about zombies, it’s just Deathmatch game taken to extreme realism levels (just like in Quake’s, you start with shit stuff, you need to run around map finding good guns, but because realism also food, water etc.), with Zombies added because you’d die of boredom looking for that other camping sniper who is on the other side of map.
      I’m not saying it’s bad game. But it just doesn’t really work as Zombie game. Take them away and you’ll be still playing same game.

      • The Random One says:

        A zombie game in which zombies aren’t the worst threat isn’t a bad zombie game, it’s a zombie game that gets it.

        • HadToLogin says:

          But ONLY if zombie existence is “game-play-wise justified” (I’m pretty sure I’m looking for some other words here, again).
          In DayZ, they are just to disturb your camping with sniper rifle while you hunt other people. DayZ without zombies is same game, just will less to do/kill.
          In Dead Rising, it’s the other survivors that are worst threat, and game is still about zombies.
          In The Walking Dead, it’s humans who are evil and real threat, but without zombies there wouldn’t be scene with kid in the attic.
          Those two games would become different if you’d change zombies into aliens/mutated-clones/wild animals. DayZ would still be same game.

    • Deadly Habit says:

      Early on zombies actually were a threat and even a few patches back they were again.
      Zombies could come close to one shotting you, knock you down easily, infect you easily with barely any medical supplies available.
      They actually forced players to use stealth tactics again and think twice about shooting when near zombies.
      Then the PvP360noscope kiddies raised such a stink they nerfed zombies to not be any kind of threat again, and medical supplies are as easy to find as high end military gear everywhere, so the game is just back to PvP with zombies being nothing more than a slight inconvenience.

    • Eldritch says:

      Yep, DayZ is the scariest game I’ve played. It amazes me that a year and a half after I first played it, an encounter with other players still give me an adrenalised fight or flight dilemma.

  9. CookPassBabtridge says:

    Played that SCP game recently. With The Statue and all his escaped abomination friends. Holy crap what an intro to modern horror games. Pants. Shat.

  10. DiamondDog says:

    Interesting read, Nathan. Patrick Klepek on Giant Bomb has done a few interesting pieces on the horror genre recently, and touched on the Youtube aspect of all this too. Made interesting reading over the last few weeks.

    To some extent, I think we’re seeing similar thing’s happening with games as we’ve seen with the rise of found footage horror films. They’re cheap and easy to make, and repetition doesn’t really matter because the rest of the film/game is there as a vehicle to make people jump. It doesn’t matter about setting, plot or the characters, it’s all about word of mouth, people telling friends about “that one bit!” and “I screamed THIS loudly!” It’s creating a quick thrill that doesn’t take any investment from the audience.

    A film critic called Mark Kermode has talked about this a few times recently on his radio show. A friend of his used the term “cattle prod cinema” and I think it’s become applicable to games. You’re going in to get those few kicks, and there are games and films lining up to provide you with the jumps. Making you jump isn’t a bad thing, either. Plenty of great horror films do it. But when that’s all there is, it becomes very hollow very quickly. Despite loving horror, I barely touch the genre in gaming because so often they use jump scares as a crutch, and it becomes such a slog to get through them.

    As ever it’s just a case of picking out the good ones among the churn, I guess, and hoping they can have enough influence to get others to try new things. Gone Home is definitely one that stands out for me, because it had a fantastically unnerving atmosphere, but it wasn’t designed around being a traditional horror game. And yes I think the mundane aspect of it is something that often gets lost. I’d like to see more of that, along with the kind of tension the Walking Dead managed to create by having characters you actually care about.

  11. Enfold says:

    When did the robots hordes begin attacking RPS?

  12. Gap Gen says:

    How about the existential horror of the bigot, doomed to see their walls dividing society crumble to nothing, their very world slipping inexorably from beneath them? I thought that a good game about social conservatism could capture the existential horror of a world that must change, that cannot stay still, and yet they cling to the flotsam that is their world view, once a proud ship, adrift in a churning ocean that they can never force themselves to learn to swim, and instead must drown, angry and alone?

    Or indeed, if you want to make a game about the liberal, about how fragile social progress is in the face of geopolitical forces that can crush cultures with the trickle of the hourglass, a vibrant, open societies one year feeding its citizens into gulags and furnaces the next? That democracies can crush democracies, that the free world can hire torturers and secret police, its free press debauching itself for pennies dropped from the hands of service station masturbators and suburban blackshirts, while social democrats scrabble to disavow their core beliefs for a handful of votes? That Europe dreamed a utopia, but that the dream was just a brittle shell over a heart of fear and hatred, a shell made of bureaucracy and neoliberalism, destined to crumble as soon as the weather changed while the bureaucrats demanded policies that would only tear their creation asunder in a fetid bubble of trade imbalances and vast unemployment?

  13. The Random One says:

    Speaking of horror, Nathan, didn’t you post half an interview with Black Crown’s creator and then the second one vanished? (Not to mention there was a spot missing in the first interview?) I hope I don’t have to go digging in a full body suit to find the rest of that.

  14. Stochastic says:

    They breached the moats and walls of Castle Shotgun quite some time ago. All we can do now is learn to live with them.

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      Sometimes it is pretty funny when they drop in half way through an argument. It tends to deflate the internet rage when someone’s 13-paragraph diatribe is replied to with “I agree Whitney, but my aunt made $1230 dollars working from her laptop last month”

  15. Lars Westergren says:

    Character horror – one of the most effective devices I know of is when characters you think you know suddenly act strangely. A gap has opened between what you thought the world was, and what it is. Have they been replaced by someone or something? Did you never really know them? Or are you going crazy?

    The problem with using that in games is that it would require slowly building up a relationship and a belief in the characters. This would be expensive, and the impatient type of gamer will move on before the story really starts. Also you must be careful not to telegraph this plot twist ahead. Horror is effectively defused if the viewer can anticipate what will happen.

    • Niko says:

      It would be really interesting to see a horror game inspired by Thomas Ligotti, and not, say, horror movies. Something that slowly builds tension and doesn’t use jump-scares.

      • Jake says:

        The Stanley Parable has a faint sense of Thomas Ligotti about it at times. Although I am yet to find a room where you find all your co-workers slaughtered horrendously at their workstations with a flickering screen saying ‘GREETINGS FROM THE NIGHTMARE NETWORK’.

        But yeah, in a nutshell what is wrong with horror games is that they don’t involve create a sense of horror, they just scare you. Scares created by things jumping out at you rather than horror created by writing that stays with you when you are alone in your room long after turning off the computer.

  16. Ayam says:

    Playing through Outlast recently quite a few sections just reeked of ‘hide from the boogeyman’ which is a reasonable approach to a horror game but that format is starting to feel very samey to me. I still screamed my butt off and captured it for the world to see but due to scripted jump scares mainly as opposed to the way the situations developed while playing.

    • GameCat says:

      These hide’n’seek horror games are like slightly more sophisticated Pac-Man without abillity to kill enemies and with unlimited lives.

  17. InternetBatman says:

    I think the writer completely missed perhaps the most potent horror games can offer, mechanical horror. My fiancee and I were playing Lone Survivor on Halloween night, and neither of use have played it before and the part where [spoiler] a seemingly normal zombie flipped up onto the roof scared the shit out of us.[end spoiler]

    Games can break their own rules (if practiced with a deft hand), or even worse the people telling you the rules can lie. The Void is the most terrifying game I have ever played for this reason. The slowly sinking realization that you always need to be harvesting and moving on, that there is no safety, and that every action has a reaction by the game is absolutely terrifying. I hear Knock Knock matches up to it to.

  18. mrwonko says:

    Here, have some unsettling images.

    Yes, there’s a lot of potential for horror games.

  19. Turkey says:

    If the horror movie industry is any indication: it’s only going to get schlockier and hackier from here on out.

    I’m actually kind of surprised that AAA publishers haven’t seen the potential of the no-weapons FP horror sub-genre yet. All they need to do is to throw a little production value on it like the Outlast guys did, and they practically have a license to print money.

  20. Wedge says:

    Mmmmm… I’d say Kentucky Route Zero (or the two episodes of it) is the most unsettling thing I’ve played all year. The way it teeters on the edge of sanity and makes things feel like they could totally fall apart at any moment is incredibly unnerving. Were I not certain of it’s total linearity I might even be scared, but since I know nothing I do will actually matter, that’s not really possible.

    Something that was more of a game and less linear, that takes cues from some of the ideas in that would be truly terrifying though.

  21. Shooop says:

    It’s hard for me to say how the future of horror games will pan out, but as usual I slant towards pessimism because horror is only coming back into the majority of gamers’ focus because of YouTube clowns who make videos of them horribly overreacting to them.

    Jump scares barely phase me now, in movies and games. I’ve gotten too jaded for them, I’ve not only learned to expect them but to even mock them (mentally and out loud).

    What horror needs is less reliance on the visceral and more emphasis on the unsettling. Silent Hill 1-4 are still my favorite horror games because as gruesome as the images got, the writers and designers knew it was the nagging questions and what you could just barely see or hear that really got to you.

    They did this mostly by making juxtapositions of the mundane and completely alien – in the subway of the third game (my personal favorite) you come across a very normal-looking staircase, well lit too. Not scary right? But at the base of it there’s a pile of trash. And in that pile you can see a pair of human legs wearing men’s pants sticking out of it. That single little thing is so much more worrying than a whole blood-splattered hallway because its restraint not only makes it seem so much more believable but turns your comfort of familiarity on its head. It made me feel comfortable and safe being able to recognize something completely ordinary, but just a single little detail completely shattered that sense of safety and comfort. The subway is the one area of that game I wanted to get the hell out of as fast as possible. It creeped me out worse than even the amusement park near the end.

    As most know, Team Silent was disbanded after the fourth game and the series has never managed to recover as it turned into a more traditional horror BLOOD! GUTS! TORTURE! kind of affair. Which is extremely upsetting for a completely different reason.

    The Half-Life 2 Episode 2 mod Nightmare House 2 flirted with brilliance when it came to a particular scene involving mannequins. The beginning of Codemned 2 played a similar chord with its city streets turning into something completely warped and alien.

    And Just like Silent Hill, the Penumbra games and Amenisa: DD’s best ideas were the less blatant ones – Red, Clarence, and the otherworldly things slowing making their way into the castle. All three of Frictional games’ weakest links were the monsters. Making it dangerous to look at them helps prevent you from getting used to them quickly, but they’re still just boogeymen out to grab you. And the settings work against the games in a way – empty laboratories in the arctic and old dark castles are obviously places you won’t be comfortable in. You never really begin feeling safe in your surroundings only to notice something horribly, horribly wrong because everything everywhere feels that way. Eventually, you just get used to it and the tension evaporates. I bought A Machine For Pigs after reading the RPS verdict because it seems to be more reliant on Silent Hill-style “Whattheeverlovingsweetfuck WAS THAT NOISE?!” than Clive Barker’s rejected art collection shambling after you. But I know it won’t have a subway level where I grab a walkthrough to get the hell through it as fast as possible because my skin can only crawl so much before it detaches itself.

    I’m still waiting for some kind of spiritual successor to my beloved Silent Hill games. But the YouTubers can’t make videos of themselves screaming like abducted children playing them. And the market always goes for the lowest common denominator. So unless that denominator decides to grow the hell up, we’re not likely to see anything truly horrifying on our monitors.

    • jrodman says:

      I certainly enjoyed watching my roommate play silent hill over his shoulder, and the reactions both of us had were a significant part of the fun. Sure we weren’t screaming etc, but we were unsettled.

      I couldn’t have played the game myself.