I have a strange feeling I'm not going to be very popular after you finish reading this rant, unless of course you're a ten-year-old who loves nothing but Mario Party and Animal Crossing. But I'll wager you're a little older, and, like me, consider yourself a core gamer. But unlike me, horror games probably have a spot on your list of preferred genres, whereas I do nothing but shake my head when a new horror trailer pops up. My editor-in-chief knows my lack of taste in the horror genre, which is undoubtedly why he slapped me with this assignment, but I will use this as an opportunity to examine my disdain for all things horror and to look to the comments section for any intelligent criticisms as to why I'm wrong.
Surprisingly, I did like a few horror games in my younger years. I played through Resident Evil 1, 2, and Nemesis, and I thoroughly enjoyed Eternal Darkness: And the curiosity even went back to the NES days, and still remember jumping out of my seat a few times playing Friday the 13th.
I initially thought I simply grew out of the horror thing. But after pondering that notion, I realized it doesn't make sense. Almost every horror game is M-rated, which means they are supposed to only be played by adults (yet we all know plenty underage gamers get their hands on them). So if they're designed for an older crowd, that group obviously isn't outgrowing it since the genre is thriving.
Then I figured it was because the games were becoming too realistic, an assumption that holds a little water. Perhaps I tolerated horror games in the past because the visuals clearly separated the game from reality. There were still moments that made me jump, but the presentation was less graphic, so I wasn't exposed to realistic-looking disembowelments.
Now, I may be ignorant of the true answer, so I'm asking you all: What is it about horror games that is so appealing? Do you like controlling a character who'll probably get eaten by zombies or tortured by harbingers of hell? Does the feeling of dread release some kind of chemical that sends you to a place of ecstasy? Do you relish playing a horror game knowing it will cause nightmares? I just don't get it. The answer cannot simply be because the game is fun to play, because that satisfaction can be received from many other genres. There has to be something specific about the malevolent supernatural world that gamers simply can't resist.
Finally, and probably most pertinent to this rant, the horror genre is becoming oversaturated, and many of the titles released are not well received. I'm not an expert in the field by any stretch, but I do know that, like any genre, there has to be substance in order for a game to receive critical acclaim. They can't just be zombie shooters or poorly designed attempts to make you wet your pants. The narrative has to suck you in. The characters have to be strong enough that you fight desperately for their survival. The mood must be set perfectly with ominous music. Those are just a few of the ingredients to a truly successful horror game. Yet it seems like for every Resident Evil and Silent Hill, we have to put up with an Amy or a Rise of Nightmares, as well as many others not worth noting. And even the two long-running series I just mentioned have had some dud entries.
The horror genre thrived long before graphics became over-realistic, and I wish developers would take a harder look at instilling terror rather than simply finding new methods to program a thousand gruesome ways to die in a game. I am curious as to whether there are others out there who are disappointed in the direction the genre has gone thanks to powerful graphics cards. Also, where might horror games be headed in the future?
I'll shed a tear for every negative comment thrown at me below and tip my cap to those who share my sentiments, but I also hope to find a few sympathetic souls that can guide me to a euphoric understanding of all things horror. Comment away.