The Value of Horror Video Games, a Brief Overview of the Genre

    Juneau, AK (KINY) - While many can look at horror films and written literature as valuable pieces of entertainment that play with allegory, symbolism, and more, horror video games are an often forgotten source of literary merit.

    Horror games have been fairly popular throughout the short history of gaming with monstrously popular titles like Resident Evil and Silent Hill spawning multi-media franchises, and lesser known horrors like Among the Sleep and White Day being obligatory for die-hard fans of the genre. What makes these different from films though is that the scares are interactive, shifting from a mere observer to an active, and terrified participant.

    Ever watch a scary movie and yell at the screen, “Don’t go in the basement!” or “Why didn’t they fight back?” In video games, those questions are typically put in the hands of the player, giving them the power to react to the situation at hand.

    Violence isn’t always the answer either. In some horror games, it's more beneficial to run away.  It might even be the only way to survive. There was actually a trend of games that encouraged running and hiding, most of which were likely inspired by Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem and later catapulted to popularity by Amnesia: The Dark Descent. These sort of games are still being developed, with some of the most widely discussed being Allison Road or Agony. PT, a demo for the cancelled Silent Hills, is also worth mentioning as a trendsetter for these projects.  

    Horror games have also become insanely popular lately among youth due to major YouTube personalities making videos about them. Game Theory, one of the more well-known YouTube gaming shows, practically built its entire  empire on Five Nights at Freddy’s theories. If it wasn’t for playing scary games on the internet, Pewdiepie likely wouldn’t be the most subscribed-to channel on YouTube. One look around youth clothing segments in almost any department store will likely find some of these horror-based franchises.

    These games also have a strong draw in that they tend to inject rich narratives, ones that often leave a few holes for the player to discover later on or to speculate over. As gaming culture demands more and more purposeful and story driven gaming, Horror games are taking a VIP seat in video game lineups. Recently Bendy and the Ink Machine, the twisted story of an animation studio gone wrong, has fascinated the world with its 1930s Disney-inspired tale not because of its stunning graphics or realism, but because of its captivating storyline. This is also why quite a few horror games have been turned into novels or even films in the last two decades.

    These days horror games are going to new lengths to scare their players on all consoles, with some notable titles hitting the Virtual Reality market. Resident Evil 7 is one of these games, also playable on console and PC, that takes on a whole new feeling when played on a PSVR headset.

    Local owner of the Game On store in Juneau, Casey Harris, explains the value he sees in scary games

    It’s no secret that we have a biological imperative to survive. What a lot of people don’t realize is that we also get some pretty potent biochemical rewards for doing it. You get a shot of oxytocin, the love hormone, when you successfully don’t die after a harrowing encounter. In real life stressful situations, your brain worries about how close that was and keeps you stressed. In video games and other good horror literature, when you know your body is safe even as you ramp up for fight or flight, you can experience that fear and victory without the “holy cow life is fragile and I almost died” stress afterward. Horror games just get you a little closer to the action, sort of like the next step above 3D glasses at a slasher film.

    The Game On store is actually where I’ve been browsing horror games through the ages, as they specialize in all console generations like PlayStation One, Atari 2600, or the Super Nintendo. It’s also the only store in Juneau that carries these treasures of the past.  

    Oddly enough, having that level of interactivity makes horror a little more palpable for me. I’m the type of person that loathes gore-filled movies like “SAW” or “Hostel,” but am fascinated by the Alien and Purge franchises. However, I pursue some of the most terrifying experiences in gaming like it's a fever I can’t seem to break.

    It will be interesting to see if the horror genre finds new ground in the VR space, but until those become a bit more widespread, I’ll continue searching for gems in the genre.

    Fans of horror media, if they haven’t already, should try out a horror video game. It’s a distinct and rewarding experience that you can’t get any other way, and Halloween is the perfect excuse to try one out.


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