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The Horror Genre Had Its Teenage Rebellion, But Now It's Off To College!

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The Horror genre is a fickle beast. As a genre across multiple mediums it's insanely popular. Horror is just that special kind of genre that doesn't really work the same. For most games and movies, technology and digital effects have really helped move both mediums forward. As technology gets better, both film and videogames are capable of so any great things. Unfortunately horror is something that is steeped in tradition and its own way of doing things. For this reason, creators in the genre must. 

The rest of this article will focus on games, but let's talk about movies for just a moment. I feel this discussion is impossible to have without first introducing a thing or two about horror films. As any student of film can tell you, videogames are on the same trajectory. They are a young medium, and one that is going through the same growing pains. Just take a look back at the history of film and you will see what I'm talking about.

The horror genre has always been popular in film. Through film history the horror genre has built upon itself. Kind of like a child growing up, the 90s and early 2000s are the teenage years of the genre. Technology changed how these films were made, and suddenly the years of development spent on practical effects turned into a niche as studios saw it silly to spend money on something computers could do. This pissed off many fans and suddenly studios turned into remake machines, spitting out awful bastardizations of the characters many fans grew up loving. Then something changed. As the decade came to a close, studios found a new way to make these films. By spending less money on them, they were able to make a profit by releasing lower budget films in theatres. Studios like Blum house for example excel at finding interesting ideas and creators and giving them a shot. Sure this may have spawned a way to many found footage films, but as a whole it was better for the fans of the genre. 

The key to why this worked is that horror as a genre does not do well when you throw a lot of money and special effects at it. The main tenant of horror is making the audience fear something. When you create a computer generated monster and throw it at the audience every chance you get, people don't get scared. What any fan of horror will tell you is that the unknown is always more terrifying then what you can see. This is why the thought of what is under the bed or in the closet is always scarier than what could actually be down there. As kids we experience this. We imagine all of the things waiting to slither out of the darkness and get us. Our imagination is great tool in making the scariest thing ever. Creators knew this in film, and that's why people went back to lower budget movies where technology and budget limited what they could show. It forced creators to spend time finding ways to create tension and fear without having to drop money into showing the audience what is terrifiying.  

This same trend can be traced through games. When gaming made the jump to the third dimension, horror games really took off. The first two generations of Playstation gave us so many horror classics. Many popular franchises were birthed out of these two console generations. Sure horror existed earlier than that, but this new technology gave creators the possibilty to do something new. The genius behind this era was that consoles were not powerful enough to create very scary images. Most of what was on the screen just looked like oddly shaped polygons. Games like Silent Hill perfected the method of creating games steeped in atmosphere and dripping with suspense. We as players were so afraid of what could be around the corner that creators didn't have to worry about actually showing the players much at all. Through things like the radio in SH, developers were able to create some of the most terrifying games, despite the less than superb graphics of the time. 

Technology gave limitations to what developers could do. This led to scarier games as they had to rely on actual suspense rather than gore and creature effects. As gaming made the jump to HD, many would say the horror genre suffered a serious blow. Much like the films of the 90s and early 2000s, developers were flexing their technology muscles, and for the most part it never worked out that well. Even the few success like Dead Space turned into action ramps after a few sequels. Once famous franchises like Resident Evil and Silent Hill became action shooters, or died a slow and painful death. Game devs learned that trying to create games and flex their technology muscle was not leading to good horror. This opened the door to a new era of horror. 

Much like the Blum Houses of the game community, indie developers took their modest budgets and used platforms like Steam with the aid of crowdfunding and created horror games that returned to what made games scary. Indie devs proved these games didn't need huge budgets. Instead they just needed to scale things down and remember what made a videogame scary. Titles like Amnesia showed the industry that horror wasn't something that needed to show its money on screen. Instead it just needed a great atmosphere and a healthy amound of dread and suspense. This signaled a change in the industry.

 

Film and videogames in the horror genre are showing a very similar trend. This trend will likely evolve further, and who knows what the future will hold. For now we all enjoy the great horror flicks that slip by the mainstream audience, and those games that may not have a boxed release, but still provide hours of scares. What do you think of the new generation of horror games? Are you okay with the popular franchises of old dying and giving way to a new batch of IPs? Or do you just want studios to get their acts together and figure out how to make good triple A horror? Sound off in the comments below! 

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About SubparLobsterone of us since 5:49 PM on 09.13.2014

Hey guys!
Although I hail from the dubious land of Canada, I am currently residing in the States. I study English at a University, and spend all my other time playing games, reading books and comics, and watching movies (yeah I have a job but I'm not going to talk about that here). I love everything to do with Horror movies, games, books, and creepy imagery. I'm also a big fan of post-apocalyptic dudes driving cars in spiked underwear, and the classical musings of Billie Holiday and Animal Collective. Hit me up on Twitter if you ever want to chat, I would love to talk about just about anything!