A breakdown of how horror games without the survival element can still be terrifying, using Cosmic Logic’s recently released Shutter as an anchor for the discussion.
The setting, atmosphere, and ambiance alone, mixed with some good sound design can make a completely non-threatening situation in any game feel terrifying. I remember playing Gone Home for the first time, dreading every corner and dark hallway, fully expecting something to try to kill me. As well as in Alien Isolation, the most scary parts for me were the scenes where there's absolutely nothing happening. You're in no danger at all, but you're walking slow, eyes peeled, heart racing, just ready for anything. For me, that's what sells me on horror games.
Dying in a game isn't what makes it scary. Even having the threat of being killed doesn't make it scary. That threat can be suspenseful and create the challenge, but not scary. I'm not gonna actually die if I watch The Ring. Doesn't mean that movie isn't creepy as all hell. It's the design and approach of the world around you that makes a game scary. Things like the atmosphere, the sound design, the visual focus.. All these things can make you feel very uncomfortable, regardless of dying or not.
I miss the days when games used to scare me. First time I played Silent Hill I was terrified. I have never really experienced that feeling since that though. Sometimes they scare me in that I might jump. But not the kind of being scared where I can't sleep at night.
Oh yes. It's more psychological than "I don't want a game over."
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