I’m about to tell you a tale so twisted, so horrifying, that it isn’t for the squeamish or the weak of heart. Now switch off the lights, lock the door, and get real close to your computer screen. Yeah, just like that. Now imagine it’s Halloween and you’re in the mood for something a little scary. Maybe you’ve watched and re-watched your selection of horror flicks enough times that you’re a little tired of them, but you’re not quite willing to leave the house to satiate your hunger for horror. There’s another option available though: video games.
So you start to sift through your collection of horror games, trying to find the one that suits what type of scares you’re in the mood for, when you start to notice something: all your horror games are missing. Now that’s a real nightmare, and one I’d much rather not find myself in, but it does bring up an important question: What if the horror genre never existed?
I’m an avid horror fan, and have been ever since I watched Candyman at the ripe age of six and played Silent Hill shortly after that. I grew up with this genre, so it was always a part of my life. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that I came out of the womb with a video game controller in one hand, a knife in the other, and Michael Myers’ mask wrapped tightly around my chubby little face. The idea of a video games industry without the thrills, chills, and scares that only the horror genre can provide is one I’d rather not think about, because it’s far more terrifying than any Necromorph, ghost, zombie, alien, Shibito, or Ganado I’ve come across during my time with the genre. In fact, though it may not be immediately obvious, horror games have had a very big impact on the industry as a whole. For one, back when games were still trying to find a way to balance the visuals and gameplay with an interesting story and cast of characters, games like Silent Hill and System Shock were paving the way. A decade later, the genre is still finding ways to up their game, with titles like Resident Evil 4 revolutionizing a genre while spawning the third-person over-the-shoulder perspective that’s used in many games today. One of the most noteworthy examples is Gears of War. Epic’s testosterone-and-chainsaw-fueled series has been influenced by RE4 in more ways than just its control style; some of the more memorable sections, like the mine cart area, were also heavily influenced by similar parts of RE4.
Making a two-hour movie that keeps you on the edge of your seat for its duration is already insanely difficult, so you can imagine how much more difficult it is to have to extend that feeling to last 8-12 hours. When you look at games like Fatal Frame II, Dead Space 2, and Condemned, they all managed to remain pretty intense for most of the time you spend with them. Finding new ways to scare and/or surprise an audience that’s seen many of the more commonly used tricks of the trade (i.e. distant sounds, moving shadows, monster closets, loud sudden sounds, etc.) is a challenge, but there are plenty of games that have managed to rise to it. The horror genre has been a fantastic source of ideas and techniques for developers working on titles outside of the genre, the Resident Evil and Dead Space series serving as creative inspiration for maintaining a tense atmosphere over a long period of time. Speaking of Resident Evil, if that particular series didn’t exist, there would be a whole lot less awesome female leads out there. This series alone is responsible for some of the most iconic females in gaming, including Jill Valentine, Claire Redfield, and the more recent addition, Resident Evil 5’s Sheva Alomar. Oh, and though this could go either way depending on your tastes, without the horror genre there would be a lot less watchable video game movies. Sure, the Resident Evil and Silent Hill film series aren’t winning any Academy Awards, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still be fun to watch. I’d pick the 2006 Silent Hill film over those awful Tomb Raider, Max Payne, Hitman, or Street Fighter flicks any day. Other genres could learn a lot from horror, because it evolves and adapts so much over time. The audience changes quickly, and this genre has proven itself adept at evolving to fit these ever-changing demands, providing a fantastic example for other developers. Series like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Alone in the Dark have had to remix their formulas over time, albeit to varying results. Horror games have been around for a very long time and aren’t likely to be going anywhere soon. The genre’s responsible for some of the best games out there (Resident Evil 4, Silent Hill 2, BioShock, Left 4 Dead, Dead Space, etc.) as well as some of the more memorable characters like Pyramid Head and Albert Wesker. Without it, the world would be a far more terrifying place, and I don’t mean that in a good way. So please, don’t go outside and be social next Halloween; instead spend it like the rest of us, playing our horror games with the lights off, the doors locked, and the volume cranked as loud as possible.