My dad never ‘got’ the horror genre. ‘Why would you pay money to scare yourself?’ were his exact words, if I remember right. Fear is supposed to be a largely negative emotion, something you avoid if you can help it. But at the end of the day, it’s still an emotion and as humans, we tend to have a fascination with it, and as far as options go, experiencing thrills through media is definitely one of the safer ways to go about it.
Thus, the appeal of Poe, Lovecraft, Giallo cinema, darkwave music, slasher movies, and of course, horror games. Now, games have been trying to scare players in a number of ways other than with ridiculous price tags. Seriously, close to `4000 for Diablo 3? Dream on. Back to the topic, I can remember first getting the jitters from playing Doom; traversing increasingly scary surroundings as I descended further into its hellish mouth, and feeling my skin crawl while hearing the inhuman sounds coming from around the next corner.
Doom had a healthy shooter component as well (considering the game is commonly regarded as the grandfather of the FPS genre, it had better) and it definitely paved the way for the horror shooter subgenre, and in years to come, there would be solid entries in the field like Blood, Clive Barker’s Undying, FEAR and Dead Space. Now that you think about it, it’s a bit of a no-brainer that tying the element of horror to the challenge of survival would be an effective combo.
Occasionally, it’s thought that the shooting parts distract from the creepy parts, and different games tackle this in different ways. Undying and FEAR pace themselves so that the scares and the shootouts usually happen at different times. Other games go ahead and curtail your shooting abilities, most often by limiting the amount of ammo you find in the game. Resident Evil was famous for this tactic. Ok, it was more famous for having a ridiculously bad script, but this too. I remember counting bullets in single digits while playing Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth and swearing like an irate sailor every time I missed a single shot. And if you thought inventory scrounging was a fad that was dying out, Ubisoft’s recent post-apocalyptic survival game I Am Alive begs to differ. If you want another example, just take a look at the massive popularity of Day Z — turns out some gamers like it rough. Other games go all the way and take the guns out of the equation entirely. Fatal Frame has a mechanic that banishes ghosts once you take a photo of them. Technically, that’s also a kind of ‘shooting’, I suppose.
The horror theme is being well represented these days by the indies as well. Amnesia got solid reviews all around, and a lot of people consider it one of the most well-designed scarefests of recent times, staying away from cheap scares like ‘loud sound at quiet times’, ‘monster in the closet’ and other cliches.
Hey, as long as you’re paying money to scare yourself, you might as well make sure to get it done by the experts.