Open Thread – Games: A Scarier Format Than Film?

condemnedLauren: With Halloween coming up just around the corner, now is the time to up your yearly dose of horror infused entertainment.  Personally I love the genre, but films are one thing, while video games are something else.  They are the killer sharpening his blade in my closet while he softly, albeit menacingly, whispers my name in a promise that the covers I hide under provide no protection from what is to come.  That may seem like quite the elaboration on the terror level provided by games, but anyone who has played these games can tell you that there is just something about them that will haunt you hours after you have set the controller down.

Film VS Games

Lauren:  I have always had a special place in my heart for horror films.  The campy, the psychological, the creature features, I love it all.  Well, maybe not the torture porn.  The entire floor of my freshman dorm can tell you that I almost hyperventilated when watching an Achilles get sliced in Hostel.  Minus this subcategory, I am more than willing to watch this genre by myself, whether in a theater or at home with lights out, with plenty of space for murderers to creep up behind me.

The last time I was scared by a film was when I watched The Blair Witch Project by myself, so much so that I had to get up and turn the lights on before film’s end so I could better see the reflection of what was behind me in the glass of our entertainment system (I might add that this was within the last 2 years).  There was just something about this style of filmmaking that was able to effectively get under my skin more so than any other films of the genre.

As far as I can tell, it is that by using a handheld camera like this film does (which Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity, etc. use as well), the viewer is forced into the position of the camera, so that instead of being a viewer safe from everything that is happening on screen, we are a part of the action as it takes place.  However, we are still in the hands of the director.  If he doesn’t want to listen to our screams to turn the camera because we fear something might be stalking us in our blind spots he doesn’t have to.  If he wants to stare off into darkness while flicking the flashlight around so that we don’t really get a clear view of anything, then he is more than allowed to.  Sure, he can throw us a bone with night vision, but this usually ends up being as hair-raising as not being able to see at all.  Take a scene from 28 Weeks Later as an example.  When the remaining survivors are moving through a pitch-black subway station, they only have one item with night vision, and my eyes would not movie from the blackness behind the characters who were relying on this one individual to lead them to safety for fear of being surprised by something moving in from the shadows.  This night vision effect is also used in [Rec] (as well as the English remake, Quarantine) and Cloverfield, all equally effective in my opinion.  The point is, even with the knowledge that it is a camera, this style still creates a feel that we are viewing these worlds through our own point of view, yet we are unable to control our own fate.

Which is where video games come in.  As far as films go, the use of the handheld camera is the closest they will come to horror games, and it is my personal opinion that horror films have nothing on the games of the same genre.  No matter the game, the player is forced into the position of the character, thus making everything that happens more important and more intense.  There is no director to blame this time, but your fate is in your hands.  Don’t get me wrong, films can bring terror to me and have plenty of times, but usually this is after watching it when I am alone in a dark room trying to go to sleep.  Unless I have turned the lights on that is.  But personally, games can deliver in-the-moment terror that films just can’t match.

How We Deal With The Fear

Lauren:  After years and years of simply avoiding the genre, I finally gave in by dipping my toe in the shallow end, starting with Alan Wake.  As far as coping mechanisms go, I am a fan of the basics.  I turn all the lights on in my room, turn the volume of the TV down (though not far enough that I won’t hear the creepers sneaking up), and pray.  Now that I think about it, I also subconsciously I have a tendency to squint, as well as push my body back into the chair I am sitting in, in order to put as much space between myself and the TV screen as possible.  Another thing that I often find works is the safety in numbers approach, though this has backfired on many occasions.  When it works:  when a friend, or seven, is sitting in the room with you.  When it doesn’t:  Back when Dead Space 2 was released I agreed to play it if my friend would get on XBOX Live and play her copy of the game simultaneously.  A good idea at first, as we could live through the terror together, slowly turned into something that might have actually made the situation worse when our pacing was no longer in sync.  For whatever reason, my safety buddy somehow managed to get about 10 or so minutes deeper into the game than I was, so I had to listen to her reactions as what is to come.  What is worse:  Going into a room with no idea of what is in store, or going into a room knowing that there is something in there that made her scream bloody murder?  For once, I go with the unknown.

Alan: For me, there are two things that I have done to reduce the stress and fear while playing a horror video game. The first one is letting someone else play the game before me, and for me to just watch in a corner or something along those lines. It’s not that I would follow their paths and win the game faster, but to laugh at the person playing the game, which would make me feel better about playing myself. For example, I went to my friend’s house to watch him play Doom 3 for the XBOX. Let’s just say that all of his small fidgets and jumps during a level where little to nothing happened was incredibly entertaining for myself. Any loud noise (from the game or in real life) would put him on edge, and gave me a laugh. Secondly, whenever I play, I turn the lighting in the game all the way to max. With the exception to Alan Wake, turning the lighting to max not only helps me navigate the game better (or what I tell myself) but keeps me aware of anything coming for me. When I first played Resident Evil 4 for the Gamecube, I kept the lighting all the way down to it’s normal level. Of course, it would scare the crap out of me whenever a dog would jump at my face, or walking through the sewers and running into the needle-faced things. From that point on, the in-game lights have to be up, just so I know what I’m in for during my pixelated adventures.

Nate: I have to say right off the bat that I do not play scary video games.  I flat out don’t do it.  I get stressed out enough playing non-horror games and the added level of stress and anxiety a horror game brings with it just isn’t for me.  I do enjoy horror films though.  Even though those movies terrified me as a kid, they generally don’t scare me now unless I see them in the theaters and even then it doesn’t provoke even half as much anxiety as a game.  Games can still scare me now as much as movies did when I was a kid and personally I just don’t enjoy it.  I do have to agree with Alan though about watching people play horror games, this I have done several times.  It’s pretty remarkable when you think about it, the way a game can be so horrifying for the person playing it, and down right hilarious for the person watching.

Alan Wake EnviroScariest Game Ever Played

Lauren:  Because I have played so few games of the genre, I would say that each game was scary in its own right because of how effectively they work on creating the perfectly creepy atmosphere.  The first game like this I played was Alan Wake, which made me sleep with the lights on for days because of how they manipulate the shadows of the world through the use of Alan’s flashlight.  Dead Space 2 does this as well, adding in an incredibly eerie soundtrack.  However, it was during the moments of silence that I sat on edge the most because the fear of what was to come rose within.  I never played the first game of the series, but the scariest moment of this game for me was going back to the ship featured in the first game.  It is dead, but going in we know that nothing is as safe as we think it is.  And as I slowly walked around this ship for a good 10 minutes without being attacked by anything, I thought I was going to go insane with the anticipation of what was to come.

With that said, the scariest moment in a game for me would have to be in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.  Following chapter after chapter of shooting everyday squishy humans, suddenly a new enemy is thrown in deep into the game.  We had already been haunted by flashes of these guys as they toy with us inside a large chamber of puzzles, only to be attacked in mass upon getting through it.  With that finished, I could wipe the sweat off my brow.  But then things go from bad to worse as Drake has to go into this unlit mass of hallways with these cave creatures (resembling the creatures from The Descent).  When we finally get to the room in which we have to flip some switches and what not, suddenly they attack with strong numbers again, and I ended up backing Drake into a corner as they continued to attack me over and over again, shotgunning my way to survival.  I had mowed down so many of them for the better part of 10 minutes that I had drained my supply of ammo, so now the fight option of fight or flight was taken out of the equation.  I paused the game to gather my courage and to figure out what I had to do to get out of this nightmare.  Turns out all I had to do was run out the door.  Oops.

Alan: I have two, for very different reasons. Twisted Metal: Black‘s cutscenes were absolutely terrifying to me, since I was only twelve at the time. The scenes of torture and violence, mixed in with a story that just sent shivers down my spine, created one of the most evil pictures that I still cannot get out of my mind. I don’t remember which character it was, but when he won the competition, he got to fly an airplane into a man who was tied to a fence. Talk about disturbing. The scariest game I’ve ever played…probably the Condemned series. They screw with you so much in that game, in spots that you have to do to progress through the game. Either when I’m getting stalked by mannequins, or when bottles fall off of shelves for no reason, or when my chief tells me to take a picture of a dead body, waiting for it to jump out at you (only for it to not do so). That game made me so tense that once I beat a level, I had to walk away for a day or two before jumping back in. It’s one of the unsung gems of the current generation of consoles, but still one of the creepiest games of all time.

Zac:  I will say that Bioshock freaked me the @#$% out on more than one occasion and for extended periods of time.  I can’t even imagine playing that game in surround sound; it was so creepy and perfectly put together sound wise.  The imagery of the game was also wonderful, and the use of ghosts mixed with gross out imagery provided a fright, or few, for sure. Resident Evil 4 also brought a number of good scares to the table as well, but off the top of my head, Bioshock takes the cake.  The game was so messed up and scary, my girlfriend Amy would leave the room if I was playing it.

Eternal Darkness also managed to freak me out and @#$% with me to quite good affect, but made things very fun at the same time.  Whether it was the screen going black, imaginary items popping up, or the game messing with your controls, it was a weird and ambitious game far few people played.

Most Ridiculously Scary Moment in a Non-Horror Game

Lauren:  I don’t know what it is, but I have always had a fear of water in games.  The Zelda series (starting on the N64 and going forward) were always a challenge for me as a kid considering there was always a water temple, and Tomb Raider: Underworld was going to be the death of me considering how often a shark swam into my camera view behind Lara, leaving me only enough time to jump in response rather than defend the character.  However, this fear all started in Super Mario 64.  I don’t know what it was, but there was this one painting in the beginning that contained a room in which we had to swim straight down through circling sharks.  They didn’t even really make any moves to get me, but I was terrified.

More Recently, I would say that Portal: Still Alive scared me far more than it should have.  It is already a messed up situation to find yourself in as an emotionless voice leads you around with the promises of cake, but then add hints of a possibly psychotic man living in the walls and I was in full scale paranoia mode.

Alan: For me, it would have to be whenever I’m last left to die in a multiplayer game. It doesn’t matter if it’s between friends or if it’s with some random kids online, I tend to freak out whenever I’m the “last man standing.” Just recently, Gears of War 3 has made this fact abundantly clear. It would be one-on-five, where every move I did was heavily watched by five strangers, and unless they were really terrible at the game, I would soon die. I’ll try running, hiding, setting traps. Everytime I see an enemy, my mind freaks out at me and I go into all panic mode, which means jump whenever I hear someone (anyone). But 99.99% of the time, I will make a bad move and die before I do something really embarrassing. Sorry to any future players that happen to be paired with me, but I will crumble.

Nate:  As I stated earlier I do not play games that are in the horror genre, but non-horror games are a very different story.  I definitely share the fear of water with Lauren, but maybe not as intensely.  I can remember playing Sonic on the Genesis when I was five or six and anytime he had to go into water I was instantly a nervous wreck.  The noise that the game used to make when Sonic was running out of oxygen was the worst thing I had ever heard in my life.  It was stress inducing and terrifying at the same time.  Even in Devil May Cry where the underwater part was extremely brief I can remember being very stressed.  That game was creepy enough and being underwater just waiting for something to happen was so stressful.

The most ridiculous scary moment for me though had to be from when I was in high school playing Half Life 2 for my PC.  I remember at one point you have to make the journey to Raven Holm, which has been completely taken over by zombies thanks to infestations of head humpers.  This was supposed to be the fun part of the game where you get to play with the gravity gun and enjoy the beautiful physics the source engine had provided for us.  To me this was a horrifying experience, I can remember being on the edge of my chair through the entire map and at points just wanting to give up and forget about beating Half Life 2 forever.  Luckily I didn’t, I pushed through it and I think if anything it just made me love the Half Life series that much more.

Final Thoughts

Lauren:  Though Zac made it abundantly clear during the writing of this post that he would stand up in the defense of horror films in this argument pitting them against horror games, I think it is safe to say that we have all fallen victim to being freaking out while gaming.  What are the games that had you on edge?  Any suggestions for how we can survive these games without having heart-attacks at an early age?  Let us know your thoughts!


Hey look! Lauren’s on Twitter!


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