Can Horror Games Ever Be Too Scary?

I have a question for you. Have you ever been scared by a video game?

Of course, most of us have. Or at least we’ve jumped when we were supposed to, and maybe, just maybe, let out a little manly squeak when doing so. It’s natural, it’s fun and it keeps the adrenaline coursing.

Now, have you ever been so scared by a video game that you had to stop playing and vowed never, ever, to return to it again?

I have. In fact, I have on more than one occasion if true be known. And I also know that I’m not alone. The reason I know this is that one of the games that tipped me over the edge was given to me by a friend. This friend lived alone and had tackled the game one, probably stormy, night, before making the vow never to play it again. To make matters worse, or at least mildly more embarrassing, we were both in our mid-twenties and the game wasn’t actually all that scary. At least looking back in the comforting arms of broad daylight, it wasn’t.

The game in question, that made two grown men crumble like a rusk in a toddler’s palm, was Project Zero. A Japanese influenced horror story that involved taking photographs of lost spirits whilst creeping through an old house. As games went it was pretty good. Nice graphics, decent story, comfortable gameplay, and, absolutely bloody terrifying. Too terrifying. It took my fright to levels I hadn’t experienced in a game ever before, and it became an experience I couldn’t get away from quick enough.

It’s all about immersion. I’ve never felt the need to walk out of a scary film. But that’s a medium that allows for a little disconnect. It’s easy to quickly need to have a look at your watch, or glance elsewhere in the room, just as the tension in a horror film builds to a crescendo and you know something is about to make your heart skip a beat or two. It allows you to leave the action for a few seconds and gather your thoughts. But in video games there is a whole different level of immersion. The character may not have your name, or your face, but once the game begins it is most definitely you. Every triumph is felt, every defeat pinches, and every scare lands hard and true. And in some cases the tension becomes too much.

I’ve encountered two games that instantly spring to mind as reaching levels of horror tension that moved the game away from being enjoyable, and deep into the dark waters of ‘I hate this, why the hell am I even playing?’ lagoon. Those games are the aforementioned, Project Zero, and the Xbox 360 title, Condemned. One was about hunting ghosts, the other about hunting a serial killer, but both were games that I found too intense to be considered fun.

Needless to say I failed to finish either game. I’d go as far as to say, Condemned, was one of my least enjoyable gaming experiences that actually had nothing at all to do with the quality of the game itself, or the gameplay, and everything to do with the content.

As we move in to a new dawn for virtual reality the prospects for horror games are huge. When I consider how scary some games can be from the comfort of the armchair with a controller in hand and a lamp on in the corner, the potential for scares within a virtual reality setting is, well, it’s horrifying! I think I’m one of those gamers that can become completely lost in the game. I allow myself to become immersed, deeply immersed. I have fought in wars, flown spaceships, walked on distant planets, and, absolutely wet my pants when something jumps from behind the creaky door. Every time. To tackle the horror genre in first person is intense. To tackle it in virtual reality is insane.

Every year as we reach the end of October and Halloween nears, I get a little brave. I consider which games might entice me to embark on another trip down horror lane? And the only thing I can always say for certain, is that there are two that don’t have a chance in Hell.

How about you? Are there any horror games that pushed things to a point that was beyond fun and into genuine terror? Or do you relish every scare and long for the virtual reality horror that puts you right into the heart of the action?

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