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The Psychology of Horror In Video Games and Movies 126

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 ) <slashdot&tranehag,com> on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @07:39AM (#35288798) Homepage
    People are human, and react humanely when subjected to imagery consisting of people actually suffering.
  • 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]

  • Re:News at eleven. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Seumas ( 6865 ) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @08:19AM (#35288954)

    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:Bravo. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by somersault ( 912633 ) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @08:19AM (#35288956) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • 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.

  • Re:News at eleven. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @08:30AM (#35288992)

    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.

  • Re:Bravo. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by slim ( 1652 ) <john@NosPam.hartnup.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 KozmoStevnNaut ( 630146 ) 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.

"If the code and the comments disagree, then both are probably wrong." -- Norm Schryer