Why survival horror can’t afford to be scary any more (excerpt)

Growing up I was always fascinated by horror. I read teen fiction horror books like Goosebumps or the god-awful (but always entertaining) Point Horror series. I watched Horror movies which were most certainly not suitable for my age bracket (Not a fault of my parents but the employees of the local video rental shop — who had no moral objection allowing an 8 year old to rent “Nightmare on Elm Street”). I hung out in haunted houses, wrote short stories about all kinds of beasties. Hell, I even messed around with Ouija boards and performed séances, just to see what would happen. Why bother telling you all this?


I want to convey to you, that I love horror. I always have and always will. In all its mediums, horror plays on my (mostly) unconscious desire to continuously be unnerved. Some people play video-games to relax, soak in a story or maybe to just blissfully slaughter hordes of oncoming mutants/zombies/space-nazi’s or underprivileged Middle Eastern youths. I am happiest playing games when crouching three or four feet from the TV, in the pitch dark… my eyes wide in anticipation and the controller slippery in my hand from sweat. I want to be terrified…  No. It’s more than that.

I crave the feeling of being scared.

So, you would think I’ve been absolutely disgusted by the recent destruction of mainstream Survival Horror. Silent Hill ain’t living up to its legacy and Resident Evil has become the most bombastic, balls to the wall action series this side of Con-Air.

Well, I do find it sad that the franchises listed above have moved substantially away from their roots, but when I recently went back and played Resident Evil 3 and the original Silent Hill on my Vita it all suddenly started to make sense.

Survival Horror wouldn’t work anymore. Well… not in a mainstream sense, anyhow.

Why not I hear you cry? Games like the original Resident Evil popularised the franchise. Why can’t we see a return to form for the series? Well, gaming has moved along quite a bit in the 16 years since Resident Evil first graced our systems. Not only has the industry changed a hell of a lot in that time but so has the average player. Nowadays, most “younger” players (I say that in relative terms as a lot of players these days are younger than me) have gotten used to a certain treatment.

They want full range of motion with their cameras. You take control of the camera out of their hands and just what the hell are they supposed to do with that second analogue stick, eh? Also, how are they supposed to retain control of the situation!?? This is what most (again take that relatively) gamers want nowadays, right? Full control. Well, that’s the thing about horror – it’s scarier when the user/viewer/reader feels like they aren’t in control.

Imagine you are climbing the side of a mountain. What is scarier? Having all the necessary skills to do it, with the slight chance you might drop back down a little. Or: Having almost no experience with mountain climbing, being chased by mountain climbing wolves, one arm has fallen off and you know that if you fall you will die, or at best be back near the start of the mountain again. This is the difference between contemporary games and the horror games of old.

— Read the rest of this opinion piece by Paddy Murphy over at Theplayer.ie

About Paddy Badger

Former games developer at Open Emotion Studios/Time Machine Games. Film-Maker. Over a dozen shorts as writer/director including Cuppa, Retribution and An Beanshi. Director of indie cult success, The Three Don'ts - winner of over a dozen awards worldwide.

Posted on October 30, 2012, in Horror Games, Indie, Observations and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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