What Makes A Good Horror Game

While there are a large number of horror video games that are produced, it seems only a few really have a lasting impact as being legitimately scary. I personally have a few ideas as to what makes a good horror game work and what does not. Herein, the various techniques that work to produce impressive horror games will be discussed.

Everyday Situations

Many of the better horror games do not centre on a powerful protagonist but rather an every day person. Furthermore, the situations they are in start out as being mundane, everyday situations. Take for example the first Silent Hill game, in which the protagonist Harry Mason was simply driving his daughter Cheryl along the highway when he suddenly crashed and she became lost. The horror in the game then goes on to take place in areas that at least start out very familiar to players, such as a classroom. The horror in this situation works well because it’s a situation that directly speaks to the experience of those playing the game rather than offering an abstract situation that is hard to relate to.

Silent Hill School Classroom

Another good example is the horror presented by the video game Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines. The interesting thing about this game is that all of the horror is directly related to the inner city and most specifically the night life and criminal world. By using night clubs, apartments and Chinatown as areas it allows the audience to easily relate and hence works specifically well as a horror game. The interesting thing is the way that a relatively mundane area, such as an internet cafe, can become an area of horror so quickly revealing that even areas that seem safe are in fact not.

Vampire Bloodlines Internet Cafe

The thing both of these games share in common is that they establish the setting as one that is common to most people’s experience. In Silent Hill it’s a country town, whereas in Vampire the Masquerade Bloodlines it is the inner city. As a result, any horror that follows is immediately more accessible.

Pacing

Pacing is highly important to horror video games, but the precise manner in which it is important is often misunderstood. It is one thing to have standard horror pacing, but another entirely to have a well paced horror game. Central to this appears to be breaking up with conventional or expected pacing. A good example of this in action is the film jaws, in which the threatening music is sometimes played when there is in fact no shark attack coming and is also not played at other times when there is an impending shark attack. The film thus breaks with expectancies, making the audience unsure when any shock may come.

The Silent Hill series of games are particularly adept at breaking free from expectancy by introducing a foreign plot structure to the horror genre. For example, Silent Hill 1 takes the form of a fairy tale and Silent Hill 2 of a romantic comedy. As a result of defying the genre’s conventions the designers have been able to break free from audience expectancies concerning the pace of the game and thus create a general feeling of uneasiness.

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