I was only 11 when Amnesia: The Dark Descent first appeared. It was also during that time when my brother gave me permission to be in full control of the fearsome 17-rated game with the curtains closed and no light on. In complete darkness, I (a formerly uncultured horror disciple) played to my heart’s content one of the most frightening games ever created.
Surprisingly, my brother’s intention to get a good laugh out of me being scared (which I undeniably was) turned out to become an all-consuming passion for the gruesome horror genre.
What made Amnesia such a colossal reference for following horror games was not the ‘ghosts’ or creatures lurking around, which to be honest had no grotesque characteristics that made them too frightening to look at. No, it was the realism of how experiences of loneliness in an unimaginably huge fortress played with sanity, as well as how the tension of opening passages, and hiding in closets from potential dangers, formed a vicarious thrill of excitement. All of that formed what we now call ‘a good horror’.
Ever since then, I started enjoying more of the genre; Slenderman, Outlast, The Walking Dead, The Last of Us and Until Dawn being some that brought the most pleasure. I can say I reached a point where a horror game doesn’t fascinate me if it only has jump scares every two seconds, or the villain of the story simply has an appalling appearance. The storyline matters so much more. For example, the whole plot of Outlast is so immersive that by the end of every section, you feel the exact same disgust the main character feels; it is a depressingly good playthrough that exhilarates through conversations with psychiatrists or patients with mental health issues.
Other games such as The Walking Dead offer the possibility of choosing where you want the story to go. It overuses the concept of the survivalist world filled with zombies that attack and infect humans, but in an imaginative manner, with moments of tension where you must wait to make your choice. The entire series is interactive and provoking, with scary intense moments.
In the exact same manner, my brother let me play Slenderman when I was around 12; to my own pride, I found five of the seven papers before succumbing to the never-ending fear that something was behind me. I gave in to that fear of not knowing what was following me in the game and turned around to understand what was happening (and therefore killed my character in the middle of the game). If at any point when playing a horror, you feel as if you can’t take it anymore, it means the game is well made and thought through.
What’s more, Slenderman revolutionised the world of horror after only showing the most simplistic background and storyline. All the creators did was use an amazing soundtrack to induce tension and fear of the unknown. This gets to my second point; the background songs which are continually intensified to set up a ghostly atmosphere – that combined with walking alone in the woods during the dark can only bring tension.
However, there are some instances where sound effects are overused to create jump scares. For example, Five Nights at Freddy’s is a simple yet undeniably popular game amongst the general public. It revolves around pressing buttons to avoid creatures designed as toys, knowing very well that they are still going to appear at some point. The thrill of this game relies upon the moments of surprise. Once you turn down the sound, the scare is non-existent.
Overall, a well-made horror game focuses on tension before scaring the player, or on soundtracks which amplify the feeling of desolation. To be honest, the worst horror I’ve played this year was not Layers of Fear 2 – no matter how highly anticipated and acclaimed it was – but Rides with Strangers really creeped me out.
For a very plausible reason, I find real-life situations so much scarier than ghosts or zombies – especially because I am a student of journalism, the same profession as most of the characters in horrors (Outlast and Rides with Strangers, for example).
Hopefully that’s just a coincidence.