Editorial Notebook

Power of horror games

Why do people enjoy horror movies? As a genre, horror is very unappreciated. No one covers their eyes when watching a comedy or backs out last minute from watching an action film, all common practices that horror movies are victim to. The main attraction to horror is that it scares the audience, but why would someone want to be scared?

Horror games have it even harder. With a movie, there is a definite end in sight—the runtime is known to the audience, or the movie is probably under three hours. Horror games have no defined end. A playthrough of Little Nightmares could take one person three hours and another person eight hours. Moreover, the audience is in the driver’s seat in a horror game. In Saw, you might be watching other people die gruesome deaths, but you yourself are not the one in those traps. In most horror games, you play as the tragic victim first-hand.

To compensate for the hesitancy to play horror games, these games make up for it with another aspect—story. Horror games have some of the most emotional and complex stories out of any genre. The Five Nights at Freddy series probably comes to mind for many people right away, but I want to focus on less popular horror games.

Horror games are made for one of three reasons: 1) a game jam, 2) to share a story, or 3) to pay bills. In any case, this results in these games being no longer than twenty minutes to play, but in that time, they convey a message about love, hardship, or some other emotional struggle. I believe game creators use horror as their medium because it allows them to show a less filtered version of their emotions. With horror, anything is possible. This allows these creators to make a game that can adapt to whatever story they want to tell, and the audience playing a horror game is willing to listen.

Many of these stories don’t have happy endings. Commonly, the main character dies in the end, or loses a loved one. That being said, there is still value in the journey they made. The audience normally learns about the troubles they are facing and why they (deserved or not) are facing them. You can feel the emotion put into these games, and the degree of helplessness felt after some of these games can give a sense of perspective I have not felt with any other genre.

One classic example which I really enjoy is The Witch’s House. If you would not like to be spoiled on an 11-year-old game, feel free to skip this paragraph. In this game, you play as a teenage girl traversing through an old manor. The house is filled with traps at every turn, each of which kills the girl instantly, yet the player progresses through, eventually making it all the way to the top floor. There, you meet a bed-ridden, legless girl. That girl begins quickly crawling after you, forcing you to quickly leave the manor with her right on your tail. In the forest where the manor resides, you meet your father, a farmer, who shoots the crawling girl, saving you. While you end up safe, this is not the True Ending. In the True Ending, the player and the crawling girl have a talk before meeting the father. The player is revealed to have been the witch, the owner of that manor. The witch reveals to the player that she can swap bodies, that the legless body is her own, and that she had tricked some teenage girl into being her friend to take her body. Even in this ending, the father shoots the legless girl—meaning the girl is being shot by her own father. I love this story since it brings a type of despair that comes with nice intentions being used against you. Afterall, the teenage girl just wanted to be friends with the witch; she had no idea of the downfall that would come with it.

Horror games are an outlet for stories. Every person has a story to tell. That problem becomes finding a medium to tell it. If you are ever in the mood of hearing their story, I recommend giving horror games a try. If you want to get into playing the games yourself, I recommend the free game TARTARUS ENGINE. If you want to see how deep the rabbit hole can go, try watching some videos on Petscop.