Published on February 18th, 2013 | by Michaela Buckley0
Following on from last week’s post about horror in games, this week I wanted to go into more depth about the subject, so we can broach the exact nature of the change in horror games throughout the history of the genre.
Firstly as established before, horror is different in games than in other media, as you are asked to interact with the situation rather than merely be a receptor in a one way show. It’s due to this that the way fear is expressed is intrinsically different, so parameters of our generalisation of it must also therefore be different.
In books horror is made into subgenres based on subject matter and writing style (gothic horror, mystery thriller particularly in first person etc) and in film it is the visual representation and subject matter (paranormal horror, slasher horror, etc). Subgenres are based on the subject matter and the way you perceive them, the writing or what is on screen, in which case games would be how you experience them and subject matter, games also have the extra benefit of also using writing and visuals.
Based on the the way the horror interacts with its audience, there are then 3 subgenres that can be distinguished as styles of horror in videogames. Games under these categories can mix and match elements from each other, but for them to be under any one, they have to focus mostly on the subject as their main source of horror, the other aspects complement merely as atmosphere building or setting the scene.
Shock horror are games like Bioshock, FEAR and Dead Space. Stuff jumps out or there are things that are meant to get your heart racing, this is especially effective in games over films as you are meant to react and do things in game while in the middle of being scared shitless.
Newer games are often shock games as these are more effective in action games which are more popular these days.
Suspense Horror are games like Resident Evil, Project Zero and Clocktower, slower paced games where the most terror is from the waiting and expecting. Suspense horrors tend to be older games as these require the least amount of technological power, with text and atmosphere that makes up for the lack of action and high spec graphics.
Psychological Horror are games like Eternal Darkness, Silent Hill and the Mother series, reality is warped and insanity and confusion take its place.
Western games have a leaning towards shock style horror games where Eastern games are more suspenseful and psychological, probably due to the influence of the respective cinemas with American horror being very spills and thrills slasher style and Japanese being slower paced like Ring and Grudge.
Visceral and gory horror was not included as there isn’t a gameplay element to it. Games like Splatterhouse and Manhunt use shock as the primary fear, with blood, the guts and all the other stuff smeared down the walls acting as atmosphere. Madworld although not a horror game does use glorification of killing as a gameplay aspect but that’s about it.
Whilst writing this I couldn’t help but notice how many gory toilets there are in games. With all the weird connotations of the various (often hilarious) situations that could result in a bloody bog I am surprised by how many games have them in. The first image in this post is of a bloody corpse in Silent Hill on PS1 which you find in a toilet in the school where you get your shotgun, then there’s that image of a splattered urinal in Corpse Party and there’s also a toilet with a blood trail from it in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Really what is the obsession?
Identifying the different types of horror in games helps us understand some of the changes that have happened within the genre and it also helps us define what it is about horror that we enjoy so much. We can easier find games that we are more likely to like and in turn recommend in future. Whilst I haven’t played lots of horror games (like Resident Evil! which is shocking) I have kept a close eye on the newer titles and the developments and will be looking at those and the origins of horror in my next post.
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