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Evergreen avatar 4:52 PM on 10.04.2009  (server time)
On horror video games and movies

Right as October hits, I almost always dig right into scary movies and video games. It's only the fourth of the month, and I have already busted out the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Eternal Darkness, and my "demo" of Undead Knights. I'm sure I'll get to many more by the end of the month.

I realized something this year. Movies don't scare me. I'm not sure if they ever have really. Yes, some can be creepy, but I cannot remember the last time I was legitimately frightened by a horror movie. I love them, and I'll continue to watch them, but I feel like something is missing.

I think part of it has to do with horror video games. If you ask me, they are a much better medium for providing horror than film is, and it all has to do with video games being more active than the passive movie experience. Take a movie like The Exorcist, which many argue as one of the most terrifying movies of all time. Why is it so frightening? I personally think it is frightening because of the potential for it to happen in real life. Possession is something that we are all familiar with, and many people believe it can really happen. However, we aren't in Regan's shoes in being possessed. We aren't Father Dyer trying to perform an exorcism. We are merely witnesses to the events.

Which is where video games come in. While most horror themed video games are not in the first person, the fact that you are directly in control of the character makes you directly responsible for their well-being. You are the one that has to deal with the consequences, be it from running away, spending your ammo, or even failing and getting that dreaded Game Over screen. (Want to make a survival horror game truly suspenseful? Don't save your game!) A first time play through, you have no idea what is behind that corner. It could be a handful of zombies that are easily made to waste. Or it could be a terrifying monster that will rip you to shreds. Being overly hasty could lead to disastrous results, and it would be all your fault. Control has everything to do with why horror video games succeed more than horror films. You have to react to a terrifying event, not just sit back and wait it out. Also, how many times have you seen a scary movie and wanted to shout, "Why the hell did you do that, you dumb bitch!?" It gives you the chance to "prove" you could do better.

Music is incredibly important in creating a suspenseful atmosphere. Movies have great atmospheric soundtracks, but the way video games handle it is much better, especially more recent games. I particularly think about Resident Evil (the old ones), and how there is that creepy isolation music. Then there is the "Watch your ass!" music. Go into a safe room, and you get music that automatically lowers your blood pressure. Yes, movies are similar, but when you are in direct control it can affect the way you play so much more. Can music affect the way you watch? I guess so, but it definitely does not have the same effect as when you are playing a game.

Even in this day and age of CGI effects in movies, video games have been much more creative in creating a horrific visual experience. Even the use of camera angles seems more effective in games than they do in movies! Environments tend to be more unsettling in games. Creatures are given much more creativity than in movies. Just look at Silent Hill or Dead Space for proof of that! When have you seen anything like those in movies? Even Resident Evil's Nemesis can be used as an example here. In the game, he was terrifying. In the movie, cheesy!

One of my favorite games this gen is Left 4 Dead, which clearly has some Romero influences. Yet, in my opinion, it beats out anything Romero has done. Utilizing a first person perspective, being overwhelmed by zombies and other creatures is much more terrifying than watching characters in movies. Losing a teammate actually affects the game instead of just being a plot item.

Maybe it is because horror movies tend to have lower budgets than horror video games, but I still feel that the direct connection to a video game character can help facilitate feelings of fear and suspense better than any movie can. That being said, horror movies do have one thing over horror games; promiscuous high school sex. It never gets old, and it is never in a video game!

Anyways, I can continue ranting on this topic forever. Maybe as the month goes on I'll think about this some more and create a part two of this blog that is a bit more clear.

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