Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Horror Video Games vs. Horror-Themed Video Games

 As is well documented by my friends, and my therapist, and the authorities, I love horror. As is also well documented I love video games. So naturally people will ask me if I love horror video games, and unnaturally I have to answer them with a "Eeehhhhhhhh... Not really". 

Because of course I have to have a complicated opinion about everything. 

Jump Scares

My issue with most video games with the horror genre attached to them is that they rely almost exclusively on jump scares. That's the thing where the character is wandering around a dark house and then BAM! Scary clown. In good horror films jump scares act as a way to startle the audience, make them jump and then lead into some action, thus they are used infrequently. They're like adding cheese to give the meal that extra touch. In horror video games, jump scares are all they're is as far as scaring the player, so it's like handing someone a plate with a pile of shredded cheese and telling them bon appetite. 

Plenty of people love these types of scares, hence why Five Nights at Freddy's is now a massive multi-media empire and why we got like 5 Grudge movies, but for me jump scares aren't fun, they're anxiety inducing. I'm already an anxious person, so after 5 or 6 jump scares in the course of 20 minutes I'm a wreck, and that's not what I want to be when I'm doing anything, so hence why I'm not into horror video games. 

What I am into is horror THEMED video games. 


Does anyone remember those old typing tutor games you'd play in school to increase your typing skills? Do they still have those anymore or our kids today born with the innane skill to type 60 WPM like how cats are sometimes born knowing how to crap in a litter box? Anyway there's a version where the words are used to kill zombies so the faster you can rattle off a sentence the faster the hoards go down. That's what I mean by theming. The gameplay is still the same as the one's on the old school computers, but there's gore and zombies so I have it in my Steam library. 

I love a game where the horror genre is there but it's not trying to scare you, it's there because it's cool. Another example is the game V Rising. It's a standard hack-and-slash-loot-craft-boss affair but the twist is that you're playing as a vampire out to become the next Dracula by turning the entire countryside into a 7/11 Slurpee buffet. You build your castle with all gothic architecture and you terrify the peasants as you plough through them looking for supplies. It's fun not just because the core gameplay is fun but because you get to actually BE a vampire. You're the big bad guy at the end of a quest. You're the guy in the giant cape spouting long monologues to damsels in gauzy dresses. That's fun because you get to be the big bad in the horror movie rather than the victim (Until you go up against some of those bosses, in which case just call me Daphne). 

Another one is the terribly named Project Zomboid where you are a dude who wakes up on day one of the zombie apocalypse and you have to see how long you survive before succumbing to the elements, starvation or the hoards. That's it, there's no story, no NPCs no victory state. Your character will die at one point, the goal is to see how long you can last by building a bunker, finding and then growing your own food and water, and picking up abilities on the fly to make your new world work. They're are people who have made it years in game without dying (My personal record is two weeks). The fear is subtle if at all, because it's not from "Surprise there's a zombie!" but in "I need food but what if that house has a whole ton of zombies in it?" That's interesting. 

To Scare or To Be Scared

Horror to me isn't just about fear. Horror to me is the exploration of the forbidden, of the unknowable, and asking the questions humanity should not ask. The invocation of fear is a subjective one, since I literally can't remember the last time a horror film actually scared me beyond some annoying jump scares, yet I am always finding new ones to love because of how fascinating the questions they ask or the worlds they create are. I'm the same with video games. I don't necessarily want to be scared (though if you do find a video game that's scary without leaning entirely on jump scares hook a brother up) but I revel in being the bad guy having to take down heroes en masse, or seeing how long I can survive as the side character in someone else's epic zombie drama. I want to be part of the horror, not sitting outside of it waiting to be jumped at. 


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