Fright Night Fun | Games, Gamers, & Gaming

Horror games may be some of the most fully realized narrative works in gaming, taking the experience of a ghost story, slasher thriller, or demon hunt to the next level. Players are no longer the passive observers of someone else’s frightful journey, they encounter the terror ­firsthand.

Horror games may be some of the most fully realized narrative works in gaming, taking the experience of a ghost story, slasher thriller, or demon hunt to the next level. Players are no longer the passive observers of someone else’s frightful journey, they encounter the terror ­firsthand.

Blood, guts, and glory

Early examples of horror video games were founded in visceral combat, loads of gore, and demonic body-horror enemies. Splatter­house was many gamers’ earliest experience with the genre. It featured a classic slasher movie setup—two teens get lost in a haunted mansion and the hero has to save the girl.

It’s impossible to talk about horror games without mentioning Doom. While today the game is seen as more campy than chilling, PC players can download and install a modification for it called “Brutal Doom,” which adds modern mechanics and introduces an adjustable gore factor. Also, last year’s reboot is faster paced and with its increased number of weapons, it has players literally ripping demons apart in intricately designed environments in some of the most fever-pitched combat ever seen in a video game.

Quake was another major flag-bearer in the horror genre. Fast-paced and loaded with explosive fighting, it features intelligent enemies that allow for a more tactical approach to game play. Fueled by a raw industrial sound track composed by Trent Reznor, it was a pure horror experience.

There are loads more great action-­horror games out there, including Painkiller, which sees players blasting through arenas populated by vicious ghosts and demons in a desperate attempt to escape Hell, and Chakan: The Forever Man, an otherworldly journey of a cursed swordsman’s redemption.

The world of survival horror

The original Resident Evil introduced horror to a new generation of gamers. With its B movie scares and bizarre sf monsters, it was a love letter to 1950s cinema as much as a modern horror masterpiece. The most recent release, Resident Evil 7, is a return to form, with a creepy backwoods setting seen from a first-person point of view.

Alien: Isolation is a recent title that many consider the scariest game ever made. Fans of the movie franchise will be familiar with the setup: players are on a space station that is in a state of distress, and the dreaded xenomorph is on the loose. The alien relentlessly stalks through the game environment; without warning, it can come crashing through a grate or burst through a door. Players must react quickly to survive, and even if they find a place to hide, there’s still a chance it will find them. Fighting won’t save them; the creature is all but invincible.

Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem focuses on characters’ sanity instead of their physical health, making an effort to torment players, pulling dirty tricks such as erasing their game saves without their input. Amnesia: Dark Descent also plays with the idea of sanity. Players wake up in a mansion haunted by fantastic beings and need to find a way to safety while answering questions about their own past. Players will see things that aren’t really there, hear noises from things that can’t be seen, and otherwise experience their environment being manipulated, all with no capacity to engage.

Probably the best example of pure horror in a game, however, has to be the “­Silent Hill” series, which leans on the idea of the player-character being ordinary persons who find themselves somehow dragged into a nightmarish world. With story lines that focus on emotional trauma and enemies that embody fears and faults, this series is a master class in bone-­jarring psychological horror.

Castles, curses, and corsets

Gothic horror is a popular motif for video games, with that aesthetic dating back to the original 1986 Castlevania. An old-school tale of vampire slaying, the game had all of the spooky trappings of a classic haunted house tale. The series at its peak, for many gamers, is Symphony of the Night, an engrossing side-scrolling RPG (role-playing game) that casts players in the role of Alucard, Dracula’s rebellious son, on a quest to kill his father.

The “Dark Souls” series and its offshoot, Bloodborne, tick several of the gothic fantasy boxes: set in oppressive environments featuring fantastical enemies, the games include rich costumes and sprawling settings. Bloodborne, especially, has a Victorian flavor, set in a world where were-beasts, vampires, and cursed warriors serve as the enemies.

Finally, the “Witcher” series is first and foremost a dark fantasy series but has more than a few horror elements. The titular hero Geralt is a monster hunter for hire, and he often finds himself wandering into deep, dark woods and unexplored caves to fight unholy terrors. Curses, hallucinations, and abominations born of dark magic are key elements, making the series a true horror staple.

So, with the weather getting chilly and ghouls on the prowl, give some of these games a try, and don’t be afraid to explore further.

Until next time, keep telling yourself: just one more level!

M. Brandon Robbins is Media Coordinator, Goldsboro High School, NC, and a member of the 2011 class of the American Library Association’s Emerging Leaders

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