Horror games. Some people can handle them. Some people can not even look at them without getting nightmares. For me though… well, if I had to explain how I feel about horror games, I would probably need to write a book instead. Not because I hate horror games, but because I love the horror game genre with all my heart.
In order to conserve time though, I will use three examples of horror game monsters each from separate horror franchises that I feel encapsulate what draws me into this genre so much.
Before I continue, I should probably warn that this article may contain spoilers for the following game series: Silent Hill, Little Nightmares and Amnesia.
Let’s start off in the town covered in fog that calls to those with deep feelings of guilt. A town that can be seen even within restless dreams. The town of Silent Hill.
The enemy I wish to cover in this game is the monster known as the Red Pyramid Thing, or more commonly known as Pyramid Head. First encountered by James Sullivan in Silent Hill 2 we are forced to fight it two different times to no avail. At the end of the game it is only killed as a result of two of them killing themselves.
Pyramid Head, as well as practically every Silent Hill monster, captures my first reason for my love of horror games. Representations and manifestations of the inner mind. To explain, while Pyramid Head on the outside is a man wielding a large knife and sporting a giant, metal pyramid like structure for a head, on the inside he is a representation of James’s guilt for having murdered his hospitalized, sick wife.
In the game, Pyramid Head has been shown to kill a fake manifestation of James’s dead wife twice. This represented and promoted the guilt that James felt for his actions. It is not only till the end of the game when James faces two of them that they die as, at this point, James has acknowledged that he is the one who killed his wife and is trying to face his own guilt.
The concept of just taking the main character’s inner mindset and reflecting it onto the world around them and even the enemies themselves is my favorite thing to see incorporated into horror games as it is just so interesting and it makes the player wish to observe even further the world of the game.
Now onto the next concept, building tension through visuals and audio. I chose the first monster encountered in the game Little Nightmares 2, the Hunter, for this concept. The game builds up his appearance by having the player traverse a forest filled with traps, and a cabin containing taxidermied people.
The intrigue of what the thing responsible for all this looks like builds up so much fear in the player’s heart, and then when you finally encounter him it is terrifying as you have no way to fight back as he chases and tries to find and kill you and your friend.
I should point out though this feeling would all be for not if it wasn’t for his design being terrifying to match. The Hunter is shown to be a man in a hunting outfit covered in stitches and cotton as if he is nothing more than a doll like all of his taxidermied victims. As for his face it cannot be seen as it is covered by a potato sack with one large, black hole where his right eye is. In a way his design manages to create a sense of mystery as well.
This all makes it so much more worth it when you finally get your payback and shoot him in the chest with a shotgun, never to be seen again. Though he doesn’t represent much in terms of the mind he still is such a great example of my love of horror.
Even though I love looking into the mind through designs, the Hunter shows that this isn’t always required and that building up tension and showing off the things an enemy is capable of also can make the player feel a part of the world.
Now, for the final thing that draws me into horror games. The feeling of powerlessness and the dread that comes from it.
For this I chose Amnesia: The Bunker and its core monster known as the Beast. In this game you are trapped in a bunker during World War I with amnesia. All you have at your disposal is an old lantern that requires you to turn a crank to light it and a revolver. Over the course of the game you get a shotgun and grenades as well.
Although you have access to all these weapons, they are limited and they don’t even do anything as the Beast is invincible. All they are for is for clearing obstacles, and in the event the beast is after you and you need to scare it off.
With this mechanic it manages to make the player feel so powerless even with all the firepower they are provided. It also doesn’t help that the Beast is attracted to sound and all the weapons, including the lantern can be incredibly loud. I have had many times I just refused to use my weapons to proceed through an area out of fear of the Beast showing up.
Through this feeling that there is not much I can do to protect myself it manages to give the player a rush of adrenaline that they need to conserve every piece of ammo and listen closely for the Beast at all times. It’s this feeling that makes situations like this in horror games so much fun.