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Reviving the Horror Genre: What will it take?

Name five truly scary horror games. Pretty easy, right? I can do it, too. System Shock 2, Silent Hill, Condemned, Eternal Darkness, Fatal Frame.

Now name five truly scary games that were released after 2006. Amnesia, Bioshock, Lone Survivor. Erm...

Dead Space? Sure, if the list was about naming games that are a study in fighting for screen time.

Hmmm. Fuck.

Killer7? Nope, 2005. Shit! I can't think of any other than those other three.

My point is a fairly obvious one. In terms of games (and arguably film), horror just ain't what it used to be. Gone are the days of rich, creepy settings and the notion of subtlety. Say hello to monsters that wouldn't look out of place in a fighting game roster.

But...why? Why has it come to this? Why can't horror be just that any more?

Well, that answer is fairly obvious, too. Horror doesn't sell. It never really has. Other than Resident Evil (with which the term 'horror' is to be taken with a pinch of salt), not many horror-focused series have done all that well commercially. Silent Hill is probably the closest the genre has come to 'successful.' Even still, it's nowhere near the commercial powerhouse that is Resident Evil, with its angry Spanish peasant simulators and window-hating zombie dogs.

No, it's much easier to take an action-oriented game like a shooter, and just dress it up in some horror makeup. Dead Space did it, House of the Dead is damn proud of it, and Silent Hill completely whored itself out to it.

So if everything's already answered, what the hell is the point of this blogpost? If I was more popular as a blogger, I'm sure many of my imaginary readers would be itching to type something along the lines of "Oh boo hoo, horror is dead! Stop crying yourself to sleep you dead equestrian beater!" Thankfully I'm not that accomplished as a writer (yet!), so I'll tell you straight.

I have an idea. A sneaky, ballsy idea. Remember the time you were playing RE:4 and the guy jumped out of the oven? Remember how shit scary that was the first time, and how you were expecting it on subsequent playthroughs? Well, keep that in mind.

In thought, and after reading a recent (and excellent) article on Cracked, I realised all the best game ideas come from the gamers themselves. Hell, the Dreaming C-blogs on this site a few weeks back spawned a goldmine of creativity so sparkly that God himself was briefly blinded. It also reminded me, and made me sad that games are just so ambitious and so expensive to create. But then again, it's also sad watching series like Silent Hill being repeatedly bludgeoned by shallow Americanisation.

Anyway, this idea I had. Make a game. Any old game. It doesn't have to be great, nor does it have to be a particular genre, as long as it features the player controlling a character of some sort and, most importantly, it has to warrant more than one playthrough. It's a completely normal game with nothing special about it...the first time through.

On the second playthrough, however, take one part of a level, preferably somewhere around the beginning of the game, and change it ever so slightly. A door could be upside-down, an enemy could be missing; maybe a key is in a slightly different location. Something that makes the player think "hmm, that's weird."

Do this a couple of times, up to three or four times; add or subtract something to make the experience seem a little off. Then, somewhere in between the middle and end of the game, hit them with a scare. Something brutally scary. Something so scary the player might even turn the game off. If this happens, if the game is (ever) turned back on again, the game will load a save just before the scare. This time, the player is expecting it...but it doesn't happen a second time. In fact, nothing particularly significant happens for the rest of the playthrough. It's psychological horror at a simple, yet effective level.

For the next few playthroughs, a completely different scare could occur at a random point in the game, but only once each playthrough. This way, players will always be on edge in an otherwise harmless game.

Of course, if such a game were to hit retail, more than one person would buy it; so a lot of the effort would go into creating a sizable number of scares. A community could form; one person could say something happened to them while playing the game, and other could respond: "What? I don't know what you're talking about." Or maybe even: "Yeah, that happened to me as well." Copies of the game could be made to only come with a set number of scares; you won't get all the game's scares on one disc. Two people would potentially have two different sets of scares. Maybe some discs won't have any scares at all.

If it were to become popular, the game could spawn communities in which members tell others of the scares they've encountered. Unlike most horror games where the scares are the same on every playthrough, this game would be unique in that no one really knows what's going to happen at any given moment. Some playthroughs could have more than one scare, or be dominated by scary bits. Others will play out normally and be scare-less.

I guess it's more of a horrific experiment than a game, but I think it's pretty interesting nonetheless. What do you guys make of it? Would you want to play a game like this? What kinds of scares could you see happening to you?
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About Rhysybabyone of us since 3:03 PM on 03.02.2012

I'm an avid gamer who relishes any chance to talk about his favourite games. I was born in '92, started gaming in '95 on what you Americans call a Sega Genesis. Back then, all I cared about was Sonic, Sonic 2, Sonic 3 & Knuckles and Chuck Rock. Later in life it was Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, Destruction Derby, Duke Nukem, Metal Gear Solid, Abe's Oddysee and many other Playstation classics. Since then I've amassed a collection of games and consoles with my 10 all-time favourites being:

1. Jet Set Radio, Jet Set Radio Future
2. Tales of Symphonia
3. Persona 4
4. Dark Souls
5. Chrono Trigger
6. Metroid Prime 1 & 2
7. Ocarina of Time (obligatory Zelda title)
8. Silent Hill 3
9. Killer7
10. MGS 3: Snake Eater

Well technically, that's 12. But...erm...yeah.

Recently finished Mass Effect 3. Let's just say it's all about the journey, not the destination. I think with this statement in mind, it's one of the greatest stories ever told in videogames.
Xbox LIVE:DirtyNorris232


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