I'll go into this rather quickly by saying that I am not the easiest person to "scare". As a rational, intelligent human being games and movies simply don't frighten me. Which is why I like watching irrational, unintelligent human beings scream their little heads off on youtube playing the new resident evil and dead rising games despite how very not scary they tend to be. Creepy? At times yes, but Scary? Hell no.
We owe part of this to the rising level of intelligence in the world. As our minds file things under "not-real" and realize the exact purposes and phenomena involved in the stimulus that is meant to cause fear the brain makes quick judgements on reaction. This is the reason jump-scares and "screamers" have the effect they do, in surprising and confusing the mind. Since the stimuli is sudden and difficult to forsee; someone unfamiliar with such tactics would likely react in fear. A person familiar with skeletons jumping out will be more likely not be too surprised if one does while your standard console shooter player would violently empty his bowels.
Let us take such writers as Edgar Allen Poe. His writings were considered fairly scary in a time where humanity knew very little about the mechanics of the world and what was or was not real. Since we empirically know such creatures as Zombies and Demons are decidedly not real (that we know of) it's fairly easy to regard them as not frightening.
Being unpredictable is a key factor in being frightening. Hence why most people are completely desensitized to the concept of the living dead walking, because of the recent complete explosion in zombie culture. One bite and it is realistically over as the virus shuts down your vital systems and leaves you a husk while many games and TV shows make it seem like if you get bitten you can just squirt some goo on your wound and bandage up. Realizing how deadly your adversary is however is not the same as not considering them a threat. Knowing what I just told/reminded you, would you really want to run out of your house and start running at zombies with nothing but a machete? Well, if you wanted to die, yes.
Just because you know what a creature can do does not mean you can't be scared of it, as anybody that cares for angry flesh eating animals can tell you. The issue of fear comes up once the creature is on the same side of the glass window as you are, and hungry. Which brings into play another important variable.
Part of what made older Survival Horror games frightening was ammunition and weapon availability. You are going to be much more worried about a thing you cannot kill. Nowadays it is heavily frowned upon in games to not give you a steady supply of ammo, or to present creatures too difficult to kill. However, just because you cannot kill something does not make it scary either. If your only option is to just run away every time you see a certain creature you suddenly don't regard it as very scary since you know exactly what to do in order to evade it.
A good example of zombies done right would be Project Zomboid. They are a legitimate threat if they get close to you and bunch up. And they will. yes you can run from them but eventually they will find you again. It's only a matter of time. You can't stop them, only delay the inevitable. If anything that is an interesting conclusion. Roguelike horror games? That is a genre that has quite a lot of potential.
Horror as a genre is not meant to pull punches or "let the good guy win", in many good horror movies the solution is very hard fought to achieve. The enemies are difficult to put down and there is quite a lot at stake. Revitalizing these ideals could prove quite interesting if applied to an roguelike game as Project Zomboid has proven. In roguelikes, your expected to die anyway, in a horror roguelike, that changes to expecting to die a grim, bloody, terrible death. Sign me up.
About Robert Cousineauone of us since 1:28 PM on 04.20.2012
My Name is Rob, and I am a amateur writer and gamer. I write blogs about pretty much everything under the sun from video-games, to tabletop rpgs, to old TV shows. My common online Alias is Necroscourge, and I subscribe to quite a lot of betas. I am also the Admin of the New World of Darkness Roleplaying Website Jagged Shadows