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The Psychology of Horror In Video Games and Movies 126

Posted by Soulskill
from the sometimes-a-zombie-is-just-a-zombie dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Jamie Madigan writes in GamePro that psychologists and experts on fear are trying to understand why so many gamers enjoy being terrified by horror-themed video games and movies. Researchers say some people are sensation-seekers attracted to any emotional high, be it from sky diving, shark-punching or horror films. Other personalities are drawn to situations showing the disruption of social norms in ways that will probably never happen in real life. But a more encompassing explanation of horror's inherent appeal is how it helps us master our fears. 'Watching a horror film gives us back some control,' says Dr. Andrew Weaver. 'We can experience an adverse event through film, and we know that it will end. We'll survive it. We'll go on with our lives.' Interestingly, horror only seems to work if the player or viewer knows that what they see is fake. In one famous experiment, researchers had subjects watch a movie featuring authentic scenes of live monkeys having their brains scooped out and of children — I kid you not — having their facial skin peeled away in preparation for surgery. 'The vast majority of the study's participants refused to finish watching the films despite that more grotesque movies playing at the theater down the street could outdo those scenes,' writes Madigan. 'We seem to need to know it's fake.'"
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The Psychology of Horror In Video Games and Movies

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  • News at eleven. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by inAbsurdum (1028514) <`moc.gahenart' `ta' `todhsals'> on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @07:39AM (#35288798) Homepage
    People are human, and react humanely when subjected to imagery consisting of people actually suffering.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by nicholas22 (1945330)
      I didn't realize the difference. This tells me that all the Dead Space, Aliens and other horrific stuff I've played/watched will not come in handy if I'm ever going to be tortured in a Clockwork Orange kind of way.
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Seumas (6865)

      It's like pointing out that women with rape fantasies don't actually want to be raped for real.

      If anyone approved some sort of government grants for this research, they deserved to be real-punched in the dick.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        If all you are doing is relying on intuition and "common sense" to keep on knowing what you already know, it's not science.

        Validating things that seem obvious is just as worthwhile as investigating mysteries. Often a mystery will turn out to have a boring explanation that fits in very easily with your existing theories. If you can demonstrate that something you previously believed was actually wrong all along, that's progress.

      • Do you prefer the government grants going to "studies" that "prove" how simulated violence leads to real violence?

        I consider the information important and relevant, after all those "studies" that led our politicians to beat the "ban violent games and we have no more school shootings" drum.

        • Do you prefer the government grants going to "studies" that "prove" how simulated violence leads to real violence?

          I actually prefer neither one.

      • by Tetsujin (103070)

        It's like pointing out that women with rape fantasies don't actually want to be raped for real.

        If anyone approved some sort of government grants for this research, they deserved to be real-punched in the dick.

        Right, 'cause as we all know there's no point to scientific research into questions we think we already know the answers to...

      • by NoSig (1919688)
        If this study had come out the opposite way you'd have been here telling us how pictures of violence aren't the same as violence so this study is obvious. On top of that, this kind of thinking is exactly why science didn't get anywhere historically. The Earth is flat, everyone says so, so what's the point of thinking more about it? So I'd say you're the one deserving of dick-punching, twice.
    • Right. But also, maybe we watch horror movies for a story, or to be frightened, rather than just to see something revolting.

      There's nothing at all frightening about monkey brains or kids being harmed. Just like there's nothing frightening about the maggot-eating in the show "Fear Factor" -- it's just yucky. I find it bizarre that people can't tell the difference.
      • by hairyfeet (841228)

        I'd say that is the biggest problem with what they call "horror" games today, they think spewing guts and blood equals horror when it just equals gore porn.

        Yahtzee at Zero Punctuation [escapistmagazine.com] nailed the problem when reviewing Dead Space 2 I think. Instead of building tension with sound and glimpses of the monster the game gets two inches from your face right from the start and has some guy's face melt in front of you. That isn't horror that is just gross out. He said the game reminded him of a child that beats it

        • by enderjsv (1128541)

          Yahtzee is a gaming pessimist. He's hilarious, and I look forward to his reviews every week, but he's so negative it's hard to take his reviews seriously. Yes, Dead Space had a very grotesque, non-subtle opening. But that didn't mean the rest of the game followed suit. Dead Space 2 was one of the most intense games I've played in years. I ALWAYS felt vulnerable, almost to a fault. It seems I went through most of the game with only a bit of health, and only a few shots left in my gun. Those shock scar

          • by hairyfeet (841228)

            Oh I agree that old Yahtzee is a major pessimist (which if YOU had to review Kane & Lynch 2 you'd probably be kinda a bummer yourself) but I have to agree with him that while the Dead Space series is damned good it just wasn't that scary at least for me. it didn't have the "creep factor" for me that say the original Bioshock had where I would be crouched high on a ledge watching as some splicer descended into madness spouting bible passages while dragging a fricking pickaxe along the ground with that l

          • by X0563511 (793323)

            Gotta give them credit for the sound-in-vacuum bit. Both in it and the first one, the only sounds you heard came from/inside your suit, or transduced through the floor and boots (and sounded appropriate for all of this).

    • You're missing the point. The question is why people seek images of horror. Best answer I've heard so far: because after having their senses shocked by a horror movie, their real world feels more vivid. They feel awakened and *alive*.

      By contrast, people whose lives are already filled with vividness and intensity rarely watch horror movies. Imagine real-life James Bond coming home after a day of dealing with bad guys and turning on a horror flick. Doesn't make any sense.

    • Then why were public executions (often preceded by torture) so popular throughout Ancient, Medieval and even Early Modern times? Surely, not everyone attended them, but similarly not everyone enjoys watching horror movies now.
      I suppose that some people are just more violent than others.
    • by antdude (79039)

      I like to watch you suffer. :)

    • by _0xd0ad (1974778)

      People are human, and some people react humanely when subjected to imagery consisting of people actually suffering.

      There, fixed that.

    • by ladoga (931420)

      People are human, and react humanely when subjected to imagery consisting of people actually suffering.

      Sometimes humans are capable and not only capabable but actually enjoy killing and torturing people.

      Rounding up people in ditches and machine gunning them down. Raping people and forcing their family members to watch etc. (WW2, Vietnam...) All of this is and similar acts have been done many times in human history.

      People are very flexible. If you followed what happens in wars you would notice it quit

      • by kalirion (728907)

        "There are hardly any excesses of the most crazed psychopath that cannot easily be duplicated by a normal kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do." - Terry Pratchett, Small Gods

        But that's usually only in context (of following orders, etc.)

  • Gimme a grant - I'll also like to do some "water-is-wet" studies!

    (I suppose that its only these researchers who had no idea that people enjoy a thrill, no so much actual suffering. Sigh.)
  • by penguinchris (1020961) <penguinchris.gmail@com> on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @07:58AM (#35288872) Homepage

    I can relate to the "sensation-seeker" aspect. I don't feel very many emotional highs or lows in normal life, and enjoy actually feeling something... anything... sometimes. No, I'm not an emotionless robot, it just takes a lot to arouse my emotions :)

    However, I don't like horror games. I don't get really freaked out or anything (although particularly good games have occasionally had that effect), I just am discouraged from continuing from something inside me. For example, I played the demo of Dead Space 2 a few days ago... I played for about three or four minutes. Killed a couple of creatures and I had enough. Wasn't too scared to continue (the bit I played wasn't much different from any other shooter with scary monsters)... it was something else.

    I got the same feeling playing Half Life 2 - I think I got about 80% through that because the gameplay was great, but I also kind of lost interest in the story there. It has that horror atmosphere, though, that doesn't sit well with me. The Ravenclaw sequence didn't really bother me - I had heard it was supposed to be really scary - but most of the rest of the levels did.

    The thing is that I really, really love movies that can evoke emotion. I don't generally watch a lot of horror films (they don't evoke anything in me unless they're really excellent), but I love suspense films and dramas (and even good romances). When I do watch films that are supposed to be scary, I never get that negative feeling I get when playing scary games. I'll watch the film, possibly be genuinely scared by it (and maybe even jump when the killer pops up), but I don't get that desire to shut it off (unless it's just a bad film, which is often the case). The horror films I like are mostly Asian ones, for what it's worth.

    So, being interactive or not is a major factor I think. Naturally I didn't read TFA, but the summary seems to make it sound like they're interchanging the experience of playing a game and watching a scary movie. I think it's fundamentally different, and hope that further studies look into it.

    Also, the study where people were shown gory films seems a bit odd to bring in to this. It's about context... a video game where you brutally kill hundreds of people, with blood and guts flying everywhere, is not particularly disturbing. But a video game where you scoop out monkey brains and peel the skin off of childrens' faces, with no reason for doing either thing, would certainly disturb a lot of people.

    • by ArAgost (853804)

      [...]it just takes a lot to arouse my e[...]

      TMI TMI TMI TMI TMI TMI TMI TMI

    • by daid303 (843777) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @08:13AM (#35288928)

      I don't see HalfLife2, or DeadSpace2 as a horror game. They just try to shock you. If you want a true horror game, try amnesia, http://www.amnesiagame.com/ [amnesiagame.com]
      Play it at night, in the settings they recommend (lights off, no distracting sounds, headphones)

      I stopped playing the first time after 1 hour and 20 minutes, because I was just to freaked out.

      Zero punctuation says it better then me:
      http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/zero-punctuation/2092-Amnesia-The-Dark-Descent [escapistmagazine.com]

      • by KozmoStevnNaut (630146) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {nvetskirneh}> on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @09:41AM (#35289360)

        I absolutely love Amnesia and the Penumbra series, they're some of the most well-executed horror games out there, precisely because they don't rely on shock value for horror. They have a very well done air of menace and dread and desperation that just works, rather than having monsters jump out of every closet going "BOOGA-BOOGA-BOOGA!". The total number of enemies between all three of them is probably less than 20, but you still feel endangered every step of the way through.

        Although they're completely different games, the STALKER series has scared me shitless multiple times. A thunderstorm late at night in a swamp infested with bloodsuckers is quite an experience. I swear those invisible fuckers are just toying with me. The headlamp is wide but short-ranged and true to real life, night vision goggles are tricky at best and you know there's at least one of those monsters out there, but you have no idea where it is until you hear its ragged breathing and try to pinpoint its location from the sound alone.

        But the underground labs are what really got me. The first time you go to each of them you have absolutely no idea what to expect other than you have to find some information or switch off some machine that's causing your friends to turn into mindless zombies. One of them seems fairly quiet for a while until you let you guard down and venture further in. That's when you notice a wooden box floating in a corner. After a few seconds it flies towards you and smacks you right in the face. Suddenly every single loose object in the room starts to float menacingly for no apparent reason. That's when I had to take a break.

        It's tough to convey the sense of horror in words, but those games are the only ones that have really gotten to me as proper horror in a computer game. They're also damn good games in every other respect.

        • Re:Interactive or no (Score:5, Interesting)

          by GameboyRMH (1153867) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {hmryobemag}> on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @10:22AM (#35289732) Journal

          Yep STALKER is a truly scary game at times. Some of the scariest moments are in the first game.

          The first is when you run into the first Controller. This is a humanoid creature with psychic powers, and the first psychic hazard you'll run into in the game, but you don't know that. You're just walking in a dark, silent underground tunnel when the lights flicker and you hear a noise behind you. And this thing comes slowly walking around the corner, you can't see it too well because of where the light is, and you think:

          "What is that? Is it a person? It doesn't have a gun. Something looks wrong about it. It's moving pretty slow."

          Then it turns towards you and starts raising its hand.

          "I can't see it's face! What the hell is it doing? Its hands look messed up. I better point my gun at it, I don't trust this thing. If it gets any closer or does anything funny I'm gonna shoot it."

          But it doesn't get any closer. It just starts messing with your mind. You can suddenly see its face and ITS SOME KIND OF MONSTER OHGODOHGODOHGOD AND WHAT IS IT DOING TO ME!?!?!??

          Now you're seeing double and every time you try to shoot it, it messes with your mind some more and your vision becomes even more messed up. Also now it IS getting closer.

          You'll probably be killed the first time you run into it, until you figure out you have to take cover behind a tiny metal partition so that it can't see you, and then pop out and shoot it in short bursts. After this you'll learn to hoard grenades for the next one you run into.

          The other scary part is running into the first poltergeists as you described. That underground lab is mostly pitch-black and painfully silent, and then when you get deep into the guts of it, objects starts floating and crashing into your head, and they hurt like hell, so there's no time to think. There's no place to hide. You just have to run. Running really pisses the poltergeists off, and now every object in the room is flying at you. It's scary as hell until you figure out what the hell is hurting you and how to kill them.

          Stalker SoC is a masterpiece, too bad the sequels brought technical/gameplay improvements, and had some scary parts, but fell flat on their ass where the story was concerned.

          • Clear Sky was definitely a letdown, but apart from not being quite as scary as the original, Call of Pripyat is a very worthy sequel.

            Especially if you're playing on Master difficulty (absolutely mandatory) with Ceano's Call from Pripyat* mod, which makes the game much more intense. It slims down the HUD, so no more ammo counter, no more easy-mode radar with enemies pointed out and color coded for your convenience. It also makes enemies, anomalies and mutants much deadlier, makes the bullet physics more real

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        I found the Phantasmagoria games pretty freaky. Having your character raped was pretty edgy, as much as I hate that word being used in this way. Was that the sequel? And the various extremely graphic cutscenes put it firmly into the horror category.

      • Question, do you know if the version you can buy from Frictional Games is DRM-free? If so, I'll buy it.

      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        I think the asylum in Thief 3 was one of the best horror areas. The first half had no enemies at all and yet my heart was racing the whole time. Of course the Thief series is good at this sort of thing since it's not a "kill it if it moves" game but the point is to be undetected at all times; plus you're trained to listen for small sounds and stay in the shadows, which makes even non-horror areas a bit suspenseful.

        • much agreed. The thing that made the level in Thief so scary, in my opinion, was contrast. It was in a game not focused on horror and surrounded by levels not focused on horror. The gameplay expectactions in The Cradle level were also significantly different than others: like you said, the entire first half didn't have any enemies, but you expected them so you were scared shitless at all the noises. Horror games desentitize you after about 2 hours to their implementation, as well as the fact that mos

    • by Rexdude (747457)

      The Ravenclaw sequence didn't really bother me - I had heard it was supposed to be really scary - but most of the rest of the levels did.

      Yeah, Ravenclaw [wikia.com] is quite tame. Now Slytherin, that's a scary level! Unless you meant Ravenholm [wikimedia.org].

    • Dead Space mostly scares you with monsters suddenly jumping out at you, like Doom 3. The only consistently scary thing about the game is how short you are on resources all the time. I hear Dead Space 2 gives you more than enough resources so I don't see how it could be any scarier.

      The Ravenholm level in HL2 was pretty scary to me. The rotten zombies are insanely agile and they really hurt. The venomous headcrabs really hurt. The sequence also starves you for ammo and health, so you're forced to throw sawbla

      • The Ravenholm level in HL2 was pretty scary to me. The rotten zombies are insanely agile and they really hurt. The venomous headcrabs really hurt. The sequence also starves you for ammo and health, so you're forced to throw sawblades with the gravity gun, and if you throw a sawblade and miss, you have to resort to whatever bits of ammo you have left to kill the rotten zombie that's zipping towards you at 50mph before it takes off your last bit of health. The scariest parts though have to be sneaking around when you can hear things moving nearby. The place is infested with zombies and headcrabs and you're poorly armed and low on health so you try to avoid them. But you can hear something big moving upstairs, something crawling outside the building and some venomous headcrabs that could be just about anywhere.

        If you go into Ravenholm well-stocked (somehow) I could see how it could be a lot less scary. It relies on resource starvation and an overwhelming number of especially dangerous bad guys to create fear. If you have lots of resources, then you don't have to worry about running out and the number of bad guys isn't so overwhelming.

        There's an achievement now for playing through Ravenholm and the mines after it with just the gravity gun.

        Took me a while to do that one.

  • In looking at people suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Freud surmised from their compulsive re-living of a life-threatening event that they were trying to somehow "master" it and make it no longer a danger to them. Human beings have a strong desire to only die on their own terms. You can extend the same feeling to people who watch scary movies or seek out disturbing news stories. They are defusing these things as potential threats to them, either by convincing themselves they wouldn't get into
    • I think it's unlikely that Freud commented on PTSD per se, given that the term was coined thirty years after he died.

      • He wrote at the end of the first world war, when it was still called "Shell Shock". He probably would have written about it in German too. That doesn't mean he wasn't talking about what we'd eventually come to know as PTSD.
      • It went through a few names to make it more "agreeable". But a much greater man than me analyzed it, so I will yield the floor to him [youtube.com].

    • I think that is true. One thing I learned after getting my pilot's license was that almost all pilots have a morbid fascination for NTSB reports of air accidents. They compulsively read them in an effort to find out what caused them and how they could have been avoided. The idea that it may have simply been dumb luck is anathema to them, despite the fact that many air accidents fall into this category.

  • "...of children â" I kid you not â" having their facial skin peeled away"

    I see what you did there.

    But seriously... there's a lot of people that hate horror movies and video games, myself included, with a few exceptions.

      I liked Shaun of the Dead, and will play Left 4 Dead, but they're zombies, so it's okay. But I won't play Silent Hill or Watch the Hills Have Eyes. I have better things to do with my life than watch horrible things happen to people.

    • by Seumas (6865)

      I don't want this to be a shock to your system, but . . . the people in Hills Have Eyes are merely actors and not really having horrible things done to them (though the visuals may be disgusting to watch). And the people in Silent Hill aren't even real *people*!

      I find it fucking sick that these jackholes would even think of using footage of those things for some sort of a study. It sounds like they're the real psychopaths, here. Also, if you said "do you want to see real video of monkeys have their brains

      • Re:Bravo. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by slim (1652) <john AT hartnup DOT net> on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @09:37AM (#35289338) Homepage

        I don't want this to be a shock to your system, but . . . the people in Hills Have Eyes are merely actors and not really having horrible things done to them (though the visuals may be disgusting to watch). And the people in Silent Hill aren't even real *people*!

        Mmm, but in many forms of theatre, film and videogame, the actor (or animator's) job (and that of the director, editor, etc.) is to make you forget that, so that you engage emotionally with what you're seeing. You watch a romance in order to have your heartstrings tugged; that won't happen if you keep reminding yourself they're only actors. Depending on the kind of horror, you watch to either empathise with the victim, or revel in the violence, or perhaps a bit of both, and again, you won't get the full emotional impact unless you suspend disbelief for the duration.

        Poor acting, ropey sets, continuity errors, etc. all remind us we're watching a movie, and that's why they're frowned upon. And look at the fairly recent trend of using shaky cameras to make choreographed and/or computer animated scenes look like reality TV. You're *mean* to forget you're watching a fiction.

        I find it fucking sick that these jackholes would even think of using footage of those things for some sort of a study. It sounds like they're the real psychopaths, here. Also, if you said "do you want to see real video of monkeys have their brains scooped out and children having flesh ripped off their faces". I wouldn't refuse to watch more. I would refuse to watch it to begin with, just based on the description of it. Fucking sick.

        I empathise with you, but let's examine that. The footage exists, and whether you watch it or not won't undo that. So what difference does it make whether you watch the "real" footage, or a very convincing fake of the same scene?

        • by Hatta (162192)

          Mmm, but in many forms of theatre, film and videogame, the actor (or animator's) job (and that of the director, editor, etc.) is to make you forget that, so that you engage emotionally with what you're seeing. You watch a romance in order to have your heartstrings tugged; that won't happen if you keep reminding yourself they're only actors.

          Must be why I don't like a lot of fiction. I never forget, even for a second, that it's not real. I enjoyed Tron and Avatar, because they were pretty. I enjoy farces

          • by bhagwad (1426855)
            I read fiction (even fantasy fiction) because I like to hear a good story. Whether the actors are real or not is irrelevant. We're not studying history.
      • by denzacar (181829)

        I wouldn't refuse to watch more. I would refuse to watch it to begin with, just based on the description of it. Fucking sick.

        Not even for science?

        As for "It has to be real" claim, that they then compare to the movies... I call bullshit.
        Cause... I'm not really into torture-porn movies, I like when a movie has a story and not just, how did the summary put it... "more grotesque".
        But, from what I've seen, movies in general tend to be edited, so that those moments of "more grotesque" are short jabs of extreme moments - not continuous shots, as those would either point out the fakeness of the makeup/acting/effects or just make the whol

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by somersault (912633)

      I liked Shaun of the Dead, and will play Left 4 Dead, but they're zombies, so it's okay. But I won't play Silent Hill or Watch the Hills Have Eyes. I have better things to do with my life than watch horrible things happen to people.

      My thoughts exactly. I enjoyed the Silent Hill movie okay actually, but things like The Hills Have Eyes just looked sadistic for the sake of being sadistic. I don't get how anyone but goth vampire wannabee types can enjoy that kind of thing. I can be a very morbid person sometimes, and probably wouldn't even be too shocked by the stuff I'd see in that movie, but I simply wouldn't find it entertaining.

      • by slim (1652)

        My thoughts exactly. I enjoyed the Silent Hill movie okay actually, but things like The Hills Have Eyes just looked sadistic for the sake of being sadistic

        I don't know whether you're talking about the 1977 Hills Have Eyes or the 2006 remake, but I'm going to talk about the original. It's tough to watch, and I personally wouldn't like to watch it again -- but it has artistic merit. We are supposed to be horrified by the hillbillies' attack, and find ourselves rooting for the WASPish tourists -- but when they they take their violent revenge, there comes a point where we (or at least, I) wonder whether they've become as bad as what they're fighting.

        See also the

        • That sounds a bit better than what I expected, kind of a "Lord of the Flies" type tale I suppose. Still, the way the new version was advertised (I didn't know it was a remake), it didn't appeal to me at all. Even the advert creeped me out, which is pretty rare.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      But seriously... there's a lot of people that hate horror movies and video games, myself included, with a few exceptions.

      Myself also included. Further, there's a class of people who want to see real stuff, which is why we have a whole channel full of surgery.

  • Surgery & Prep (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Onuma (947856) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @08:24AM (#35288970)

    having their facial skin peeled away in preparation for surgery

    I used to watch stuff like that on PBS and TLC/Discovery (back when those two channels ran more than just "reality" shows -- though I do love Dirty Jobs). I remember them literally having the face of a baby removed because he had some kind of deformation in his skull which needed to be surgically corrected, and I couldn't stop watching. Creepy as all get out, but also unequally interesting. Also saw a former Playboy model (then 50+ years old) get the outer layer of her facial skin singed off with a LASER.

    There's a big difference between malevolent actions depicted in horror movies/games and things that are just unusual to see; reality or fiction does not have as much to do with it -- you know that the guy with the chainsaw is a psychopathic murderer, and that the doctor on the TV special is truly trying to save the life of the individual under his knife. They both cause equal or equivalent amounts of pain ("suffering" through surgery recovery is surely no comfortable process) but the intent and will of the actions, or at least our interpretations thereof, determine how we react and are excited or interested by such things.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      My GF is a children's theatre nurse so she sees this kind of thing and much worse (open brain surgery on patients who are still awake, having to put her fingers into the eye sockets of children who have undergone enucleation [wikipedia.org] to stem the blood flow, etc) routinely in her job and is fine with it, yet she can't watch "horror" movies at all - even the Orcs in LotR scared her. I think it's more to do with feeling in control - in theatre she knows what's happening and how to respond whereas most of us would be lo
  • by bhunachchicken (834243) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @08:26AM (#35288978) Homepage

    My favourite horror game of all time has to be Silent Hill 2. It worked on so many levels, the entire town becoming the James' own personal hell until he was finally able to confront the truth of what had really happened to him.

    It was a game that genuinely terrified me at times, but not due to the gore, which there was not that much of, but the psychological fear it evoked, often making me wish that I could make James just turn around and drive away from that place.

    I found myself not wanting to boat across the lake to reach the hotel, knowing it could only result in something utterly awful for him.

    And that plot twist. Wow. Just... wow. Sounds weird, but I'll never forget staring at the TV screen, open-mouthed not believing what I was seeing.

    • Agreed. One aspect that made SH2 so effective and evoking fear was the excellent sound design - you could hear things long before you could see them, and when coupled with the purposefully-obscure camera angles in certain sections, it made for a truly scary experience not often seen in games. Having played through Dead Space 2 recently, I found that the game became exponentially scarier in relation to the difficulty setting. Many people dismissed the game's scare tactics because of the amount of ammuniti
      • by enderjsv (1128541)

        Agreed. I've often came across people who thought DS2 wasn't scary at all, only to have them admit they played it on normal or even easy. I played it on a higher difficulty and found the game to be considerably intense. I don't know if "scary" is the right word, but "intense" definitely fits. There wasn't a moment in the campaign that I didn't feel vulnerable. I was almost always short on health and ammo. It really made those "cheap scares" other people talk about much more meaningful.

    • by slim (1652)

      My favourite horror game of all time has to be Silent Hill 2. It worked on so many levels, the entire town becoming the James' own personal hell until he was finally able to confront the truth of what had really happened to him.

      It was a game that genuinely terrified me at times, but not due to the gore, which there was not that much of, but the psychological fear it evoked, often making me wish that I could make James just turn around and drive away from that place.

      It was fantastic, but even as a fairly hardened horror enthusiast, it was too much for me. I saved my game in the lobby of the hospital, because I was scared to go in and find out what was in there. Then whenever I contemplated going back for another session, I was held back by genuine fear.

      Brilliant :D

    • by Legion303 (97901)

      That was probably my favorite of the series as well, although the story in Shattered Memories was every bit as compelling (just not as viscerally horrifying).

      Gore bores me. I blame the Evil Dead Trilogy for making me laugh at it. Psychological horror is the best kind, which is why Robert Bloch will always have a place of honor on my shelf.

  • "In one famous experiment, researchers had subjects watch a movie featuring authentic scenes of live monkeys having their brains scooped out and of children — I kid you not — having their facial skin peeled away in preparation for surgery."
    Link?

    • How about video of people being murdered in Lybia, you sicko? In all seriousness, I know it's newsworthy but nobody wants to watch stuff like this. I didn't hit play on any of these but if the captions are at all accurate: EXTREMELY NSFW
      http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2011-02-22/libya-protests-shocking-photos-and-video/ [thedailybeast.com]

      • by slim (1652)

        nobody wants to watch stuff like this.

        Evidently some people do, for whatever reasons (hopefully in most cases, not to get kicks).

    • "...researchers had subjects watch a movie featuring authentic scenes of live monkeys having their brains scooped out and of children — I kid you not — having their facial skin peeled away in preparation for surgery." Link?

      Damn children's doctors -- They're all f*ing sadists I tell you!

      My point is: These scenes affect certain people, others not so much; It's all subjective. When my GF went through med school she was relatively unaffected, while others were puking and fainting. I believe that cannibals would look on face peeling with far less disgust, perhaps even with respect & honour...

  • by Drakkenmensch (1255800) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @09:13AM (#35289154)
    The words horror and gore seem to be getting used more and more interchangeably these days, though we need to remember that they do not mean the same. Horror does not need skin ripping and blood to make us terrified, only our imagination of what terrors lie on the other side of the door. Likewise, gushing blood is not always a terrible sight, as Leslie Nielsen's Dead and Loving It proved. What works so well in horror, what will always work... is the unknown. The gnawing darkness of ignorance at the outer edge of well-lit areas. Nothing can ever terrify us more than the notion of dying suddenly without even knowing why.
    • Nothing can ever terrify us more than the notion of dying suddenly without even knowing why.

      Not a great basis for a computer game, mind....

      HAL.

      • by slim (1652)

        Nothing can ever terrify us more than the notion of dying suddenly without even knowing why.

        Not a great basis for a computer game, mind....

        HAL.

        Happened to me all the time in Quake II online...

        • Happened a lot in Team Fortress. So much so that Team Fortress 2 had all its grenades removed in response to it (because that's usually what did it in TF/TFC).

    • by RogueyWon (735973) *

      Very, very true. If I hadn't posted already in this thread, I'd be modding insightful.

      I sat down with the significant other a couple of Sundays ago to watch a few movies. We finished off the evening with Alien. I noticed two things while watching it:

      1) Dear god that movie is scary. The effects may be dated in places (and Ripley's hair-do definitely is), but the film has lost none of its ability to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up for pretty much its entire duration.

      2) There is only one scene

      • The rest of the time, the movie relies upon suggestion to do its work for it. And because the gore is limited to a single scene, said scene is legendarily effective.

        I highly recommend you watch the Doctor Who episode Blink. You will never watch a statue again without being afraid of blinking at it.

  • 'We can experience an adverse event through film, and we know that it will end. We'll survive it. We'll go on with our lives.' Interestingly, horror only seems to work if the player or viewer knows that what they see is fake.

    Geeze you'd think he's talking about starting a war on the other side of the planet with the excuse of evidence everyone knows is false, not some silly plot-free fictional movie.

  • by RogueyWon (735973) * on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @09:21AM (#35289206) Journal

    I like horror - games and film. Or at least, I think I do. I do find myself increasingly wondering, which I think is exacerbated by some of the current trends in horror.

    Now, I fully accept that, as implied by TFA, different factors may affect different people. But for me, one of the big factors that affects how I go away from a horror movie or game feeling about it is the ending. I like a horror movie/game that scares the life out of me, but then presents a resolution. What really irks me is the current trend to make the endings of horror movies/games as bleak as possible. For some reason, this seems to be seen as more "artistically credible" these days. I can tolerate an ambiguous ending, but an outright downer "everybody dies" ending just leaves me feeling "well, that was grim and depressing and now I'm not sure why I watched it at all". It was clever and novel when Night of the Living Dead did it, but it seems to be pretty much de rigeur for any horror product these days. I think it reduces the cathartic value of the genre pretty massively.

    Actually, there was a recent well-known horror-themed game that provided a welcome exception (not going to name it for spoilage reasons). Although even that made sure to leave the door open for a sequel.

    Oh, and again, just my personal tastes, but while "scary" is great, watching people doing nothing more than pretending to be in pain or to inflict pain on others actively disgusts me. There do seem to be whole new subgenres of "horror" which aim for disgust rather than fear and - while perfectly happy to defend the right of others to watch it - I want nothing to do with it myself. Alien - fantastic movie. Saw - you can keep it.

    • by vlm (69642)

      For some reason, this seems to be seen as more "artistically credible" these days.

      Its maxing out the special effects budget, not some artistic goal... You have to realize they are purely sensational movies not cerebral at all. So not applying lots of special effects to the last survivors leaves the audience wondering why it was left out, did they run out of special effects budget or ideas? It would be like showing a car squealing away in a cop movie and not including the mandatory special effects filled car chase, the whole purpose is to watch the effects, so without the special effec

    • by slim (1652)

      There do seem to be whole new subgenres of "horror" which aim for disgust rather than fear and - while perfectly happy to defend the right of others to watch it - I want nothing to do with it myself. Alien - fantastic movie. Saw - you can keep it.

      Saw is a clever, entertaining, thought provoking and imaginative film. It's just a shame about the sequels (I gave up after the third, and wish I'd done so earlier).

      • by RogueyWon (735973) *

        Fair point, yes, I think I was guilty of allowing the sequels to tarnish the original by implication.

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @09:25AM (#35289234)

    Researchers say some people are sensation-seekers attracted to any emotional high, be it from sky diving, shark-punching or horror films.

    My girlfriend (German) got hit by a car when she was a child, and had to undergo some nasty operations on her leg, which left her with "Frankenstein" scars on her leg. On a business trip to Austin, Texas, she tagged along. She was concerned about how she should describe to the local yokels, what happened to her leg. I told her to tell the folks, that she was attacked by a shark, but that she fought off the shark, buy punching it in the head. It worked for five minutes, until she started giggling, and one of the guys that I worked with screamed, "Bullshit!"

    • by Nyder (754090)

      Researchers say some people are sensation-seekers attracted to any emotional high, be it from sky diving, shark-punching or horror films.

      My girlfriend (German) got hit by a car when she was a child, and had to undergo some nasty operations on her leg, which left her with "Frankenstein" scars on her leg.
      On a business trip to Austin, Texas, she tagged along. She was concerned about how she should describe to the local yokels, what happened to her leg. I told her to tell the folks, that she was attacked by a shark, but that she fought off the shark, buy punching it in the head. It worked for five minutes, until she started giggling, and one of the guys that I worked with screamed, "Bullshit!"

      I don't understand this. I know they grow them big in texas, and they have some stupid people there, but are they stupid enough to not think that the person had major surgery on their leg at one time of another?

      I had a GF that had big scars on her chest from heart surgery and scars going down her legs from getting hit by a car and breaking both. She really had "Frankenstein" scars covering large parts of her body. And guess what? It didn't really doesn't need to be explain. It's pretty obvious how

  • Eschil, Euripides, Sophocles. This is old as man itself.
  • by Nidi62 (1525137) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @10:00AM (#35289546)

    In one famous experiment, researchers had subjects watch a movie featuring authentic scenes of live monkeys having their brains scooped out and of children — I kid you not — having their facial skin peeled away in preparation for surgery.

    That's not scary, that's just gratuitous gore. A lot of people can't watch those surgery/ER tv shows; not because they're scary, but because the people can't handle the gore. They are horrified by it, it makes them sick, but they are not afraid of it. True horror means you do not know what happens next, you are afraid to continue. Horror is a psychological reaction, not a physical one. Watching Saw 27 and seeing a bunch of people chopped up into little pieces by demented contraptions isn't scary, because you expect it to happen. To genuinely invoke fear in people, they have to be unable to predict what is going to happen. You can leave clues as to what MIGHT happen, and allow the audience to scare themselves as their imaginations run wild with all manner of possible scenarios. You want to scare someone, you make it so they CAN"T distance themselves from what is going on. That's one of the problems with most of today's "horror" films; things get so over the top that people can just sit there and know it could never happen to them.

    Basically, horror is not blood and gore. A true horror movie(or game) does not need a single drop of blood or dismembered limb. If you want to scare someone, don't allow them to distance themselves from what is going on. Make them think it actually COULD happen to them, and make them scare themselves. People are afraid of the unknown. If they know what to expect, you lose the horror effect./P

    • Basically, horror is not blood and gore. A true horror movie(or game) does not need a single drop of blood or dismembered limb. If you want to scare someone, don't allow them to distance themselves from what is going on. Make them think it actually COULD happen to them, and make them scare themselves. People are afraid of the unknown. If they know what to expect, you lose the horror effect./P

      A prime example of it would be the movie Stalker (directed by Andrei Tarkovosky). SPOLIER: The whole movie keeps you on the edge thinking when the disaster will occur, when the zone will strike those poor fellows (I had played the game before, so i expected them to face some anomalies/ mutant animals). Although it is not a "horror film" per se, but it was truly an experience, and there was no blood or gore or anything.

    • by Burning1 (204959)

      A great example of proper tension was System Shock 2. The game features very little gore, none of which had any real impact on me during the first play-through.

      But during the first play through, when you as the player haven't learned the strategies to really succeed at the game... There's a huge sense of tension. You're weak, slow, and low on ammo. You're not always sure which weapon is going to be the most effective. You wander around, hearing the monsters clank around... The game is built on the Theif Eng

  • I've been scared by horror movies (especially more psychological stuff like The Shining, Session 9, etc.). I've even been scared by novels. But I've never once been scared by a videogame (aside from the cheap "jump a little by a surprise" variety). I've played a lot of games *promising* scares, but I just don't get it. I always feel that I'm in control, and am constantly reminded that it's a game, not real life. So I guess it just doesn't get to me the same way that a movie or novel can.

    Everyone else keeps

    • by slim (1652)

      Have you played Silent Hill 2 (or, indeed, 1)? Really unsettling.

    • I find horror movies completely un-scary, however scary video games frighten the crap out of me. I have a strange compulsion to buy them, but I never get close to finishing them.

      System Shock 2
      FEAR
      The Penumbra series

      All of them scare me so much I have to stop playing, for some reason my imagination runs roit and I end up cowering in a corner (in-game :D ) unable to force myself to move into the next room with the scary noises or whatever...

      I think the difference for me is being in control of the act
    • by ryllharu (1441751)

      A pity so few seem to mention the Fatal Frame series (particularly the first two). I can barely play those games for more than 15 minutes at a time...and even less at night.

      You get a feeling of helplessness almost right away, as the protagonists are so much slower than the ghosts. You only have a camera to keep you safe, ghost often move erratically or attack in unconventional ways, and most of them can take you out if you make even a single mistake.

      But it is really the sounds that get to you. You e

    • Hell, I was scared by Commander Keen 5

    • I've been scared by horror movies (especially more psychological stuff like The Shining, Session 9, etc.). I've even been scared by novels. But I've never once been scared by a videogame (aside from the cheap "jump a little by a surprise" variety). I've played a lot of games *promising* scares, but I just don't get it. I always feel that I'm in control, and am constantly reminded that it's a game, not real life. So I guess it just doesn't get to me the same way that a movie or novel can.

      Everyone else keeps talking about scary games. Am I alone on this?

      Not entirely. I experience a lot of fear with a good game (System Shock 2, Dead Space 1/2, so forth) but there's a few things to note about the game experience with very few exceptions:

      • Part of playing a game is playing the game. Naturally in many of these horror games we fear not being able to play, typically due to some mistake we cannot recover from. If the game does not instill a fear in you that you *could* realistically make a Big Mistake that would stop your play (perhaps you used up all your heal
  • The need to know it's fake might have some sympathy with the uncanny valley phenomenon. If we know that something is not real, but looks almost real, we have a visceral reaction to it, since we can detect that there's no mind there.

    Might it be similar here, but in reverse? We can detect that there's no mind in the fake violence, so it's placed in the (positive) uncanny valley and our reaction ceases to be what it would be if we could detect a mind?
  • I personally look to horror games because I believe its the easiest tone to set in a first person experience. Game companies have overdone it with their attempts to humanize warfare by making every game 'raise the stakes' by plagarizing Saving Pvt. Ryan.

    The problem is that game developers have a really tough time establishing any sort of narrative that engages the player. They are too swept up in the "bigger, badder, shader" game that for the most part, games eschew good writing for immersive environme
  • While I don't choose to watch slasher type films, and don't play FPS games, I do watch some shows with pretty graphic content. Ever watch an episode of Bones? It doesn't phase me in the least. A few weeks ago I stumbled upon a show on PBS regarding sectarian violence during the US invasion of Iraq. It show footage of a number of individuals firing upon a pickup truck on a city street and clearly killing the driver. That image disturbed me deeply and it took many days for me to stop feeling depressed and ang

  • Just in case there are some people who haven't seen this yet (it's been one of the most viewed videos on YouTube this past week), this is one of the best game trailers I've ever seen. It's actually disturbing and emotional at the same time. I hope the game turns out to be half as good.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZqrG1bdGtg [youtube.com]

  • Probably people from 100-200 years ago would not feel as bad, even if seeing it live. In this TED talk [ted.com] is argued that we feel more the violence than before, that somewhat empathy is more cultural than, well, being human. And we feel less empathy, specially the suffering part, on non real characters, unless you do the "based in a real story" trick.
  • I think it was Faces of Death 1 that had the people eating monkey brains in it.

    Funny how that video affected people back then. I should rewatch them since I haven't seen them since the late 80's.

    I know the later ones had too much stuff I thought was fake, but the first one wasn't bad.

  • I like horror movies, probably because I know they are fake.

    But serious, the stuff that scares me is real life stuff. Like the government becoming more of an ass then it is. Corps making the laws.

    I'm scared that my fellow humans will stop thinking of others, and only think of themselves.
    I'm scared how man can say they are doing things for the good of humans, while they are purposely doing what they can to just make money & power.
    I'm scared that my fellow humans are going to sit around while we lose m

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