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

    by nicholas22 ( 1945330 ) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @07:52AM (#35288856)
    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.
  • 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!"

  • Re:Interactive or no (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Wednesday February 23, 2011 @09:31AM (#35289282)

    Pretty much this.

    Horror is a mind game. It's in your mind. Your mind will come up with far more freakish and way out options than anything that could be shown to you. Moreover, it is much more "personal". Something you yourself come up with and try to integrate into your thinking is much more terrifying than anything you could be shown, where you are only the spectator, detached from the actual horror happening.

    There is a reason why horror is a fairly "dark" genre, meaning that the lighting usually is nothing even close to broad daylight. And it's not for the big nasty surprise attack from the big gore monster. That can lead to some entertaining splatter effects, but face it: The horror is over exactly this moment. Observe yourself watching such a horror/splatter mix. Isn't is a "relief" when the killing finally starts? Isn't the tension suddenly dropping sharply as the monster finally gets its prey? Take Alien as a prime example. Isn't one of the tensest, most intense moments of the movie when the Alien is but a shadow zipping through the tubes, zeroing in on our hapless hero? It's not the resolution, even though a lot of that is left to the imagination as well, the hunt is far, far more exciting than the outcome!

    Showing shocking effects is a staple of splatter movies and games, true horror exists in your mind. An indication of "something" happening, a spooky shadow zipping past, an unnatural sound echoing in the hall, a faint smell where it doesn't belong, does more to freak your mind out than anything you could witness as hard, cold fact.

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

    by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 ) <gameboyrmh@gmai l . c om> 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.

The moon is a planet just like the Earth, only it is even deader.