I have something of a personal tradition when it comes to video games and October. Throughout the month, I pretty much only play games that are horror/survival horror or dark in theme. I don’t really remember when this became the case for me, but it’s something I’ve been doing for years now. This October, as I’ve been going through my library of titles I’ve played in the past and ones I’ve picked up more recently, I started to think about how much things have changed in regards to the horror genre as a whole.
Horror isn’t as niche of a gaming genre as it used to be. It’s gotten vastly more popular in recent years, and much of that is due to the change in the state of gaming as a whole. Most importantly, it’s that development and distribution for indie titles has grown into a state in which it’s feasible for people to make games that reflect their specific interests. A good example of this in regards to horror is Slender; Slender: The Eight Pages was developed by Mark J. Hadley alone (with Paul Cano making the models).
I tried to pinpoint exactly where this jump in popularity happened for horror games, and I’ve realized it was a difficult thing to determine. I watched my older play Resident Evil games when I was seven years old; it actually caused me to have some of the earliest nightmares that I can still remember. (I was on a bus for a class trip and it got attacked by zombies. It was terrifying.) I’ve known that survival horror games have been around for a long time, but survival horror This is something that could be debated quite a bit, but for me I think there are two titles that are more important than any others: Amensia: The Dark Descent and Resident Evil 4.
Resident Evil 4 was a big change for the series; the departure from the tank controls, the set camera angles, character progression using a currency system and we weren’t killing the living dead anymore! (Zombies > Plaga. Fact.) While I still enjoy the old school Resident Evil games, they were hard for many people to get into. But the changes in Resident Evil 4 made the game far more appealing to the masses, and the game became extremely popular. Resident Evil 4 brought in a new generation of fans to explore the horror genres, gave existing fans a new type of experience and made it more feasible for developers to start producing games in the genre.
Amensia (assume this means The Dark Descent and not A Machine for Pigs) was a big deal for different reasons. In my eyes, Amnesia was able to create a new type of subgenre to horror games. It’s nothing clever, but it just made me draw a line between “horror” and “survival horror”. I’ve taken to calling games like Amnesia just “Horror”, as opposed to Resident Evil, Dead Space, Silent Hill and the like which are “Survival Horror”. “Survival Horror” are games in which you’re thrown into dark, scary and (typically) violent situations in which you have to use the limit resources you have to kill whatever nightmarish creatures are hunting you. “Horror” games are ones more like Amnesia, there isn’t a fight or flight decision, you’re dealing with entities too dangerous to face.
Amnesia wasn’t the first game in which you couldn’t kill your enemies in (Clock Tower did that 15 years before, back in 1995), but it brought this idea very much back into the spotlight. “Don’t fight them, you can’t wind. You need to run and hide where they won’t find you.” This idea was new to younger people and was something older gamers hadn’t experienced in a while (if they had at all in the past.) Amnesia launched
By 2012, Amnesia had over a million copies purchased, and for an indie horror title, that was very impressive. Maybe too impressive. Since Amnesia’s release, many more games like it have started to hit the market, such as Outlast, Slender (The Eight Pages and The Arrival), Five Nights at Freddy’s, Among the Sleep and even Alien Isolation. Though there is plenty of variation between these games, it holds true that the player runs from the overly powerful monsters within them. After realizing this, I began to wonder if games following this structure are going to remain scary if they keep getting produced. Will we just get used to choosing flight over fight? Could oversaturation kill this new “horror” genre?
Maybe. But it’s not a concern yet, and if new titles keep finding ways to innovate, the genre should be safe. I say this because after playing these games, I’ve realized that different things about them scare me and they scare me in different ways. In Outlast¸ I worry about being able to outrun the mutants chasing me. Five Nights at Freddy’s terrifies me through the intense paranoia produced by trying to predict where the creepy animatronic animal band is. Slender creates a blend of paranoia, tension and horror that is unique to horror still. All of these games work differently, in gameplay aspects and in the ways they evoke fear. They do it well. So if horror games continue to find new ways to innovate like they have so far, I imagine the genre will not only survive, it will grow. And there is so much room for growth.Tweet