So good but so much nightmare fuel!
Horror video games are amazing. They can be one of the most unique and memorable experiences in gaming and over the past couple decades there are absolute classics that horror fans can live and relive. Not everyone is a fan though, some people just can’t handle the scariness (me), the games could give you nightmares when you go to sleep (me), and playing them can feel like the most stressful thing you could possible do (yes me, I’m not very good at playing horror games, okay?). Despite those feelings though, I can’t help but see beauty in the darkness and there is so much to appreciate in a really good horror game.
This is an article on horror games, scary and violent things ahead!
Why I LOVE Horror Games
It Can Be Real Art
These aren’t just scary action games with zombie hordes running at you and the occasional jump scare. Horror is so much more than that. H.R. Giger, the creator behind the iconic Alien design, said:
“There is hope and a kind of beauty in there somewhere, if you look for it.” -H.R. Giger
If you look into true horror creations, a lot of thought and creativity goes into making them come to life and to evoke the feelings they’re meant to. H.R. Giger even has a museum for his works of art. All the good horror video games view their own designs as art too, many inspired by Giger, Tim Burton, or other notable horror designers. A favourite example of mine is American McGee’s Alice (and the sequel, Madness Returns, which you can buy on Origin). A game based on Alice in Wonderland but it’s turned dark and twisted, but as H.R. Giger said, there is a beauty to its horrors.
There is No Experience Like a Horror Video Game
It isn’t like watching a horror film. It isn’t even like going through a haunted house. You sitting alone at home (in the dark if you’re hardcore) with 100% control of your character but almost paralysed in real life. You can run from a guy in a zombie costume at a Halloween event but all that physical energy is trapped when playing a video game. That tension and adrenaline has nowhere to go and it’s all poured into your mind in the game. If you’re into horror games you’ll know that kind of rush can’t come from anything else.
Why I HATE Horror Games
Stress & Fatigue
Just from a physical point, horror games stress me out! Playing a really immersive one for even an hour can mentally and physically leave me drained and that just adds another level of challenge when it comes to completing them. Of course the more hardened of you gamers wouldn’t face this problem, being all tough and stuff, but after a while of playing a horror game I need to go outside and look at a flower or pet my cat or something.
Nightmares & #nosleep
The horrors during the game are one thing but do you ever get that effect where after consuming some horror media, even if you’re okay during the game/film/book, later on you just aren’t comfortable closing your eyes in the shower? Maybe that night when you sleep you get a nightmare inspired by the game that feels way more real than the game you played. Again, not everyone gets nightmares, but I sure do and I kind of like getting my beauty sleep.
Amazing Scary Horror Video Games (that I’ll never play but still love)
1. Amnesia: The Dark Descent
No horror games article can escape from mentioning Amnesia: The Dark Descent. From the setting, to the darkness, to the fact that you have to slowly and manually push and pull on doors, every bit of this game is designed to keep the tension and put you on edge. Then there’s the water bit…
One of my favourite premises in horror games, maybe even in games overall. Without spoiling anything, your mind somehow gets transferred to somewhere else after a medical checkup and things go downhill so fast it’s actually just a cliff. Robots, underwater, questions about what life and consciousness actually is—there’s a lot to SOMA but also it is very scary.
3. Dead Space 1
The Dead Space series slowly turned into an action shooter kind of game but the first one started as a deep dark horror and kind of survival game. Set in space where you’re a dude in power armour sounds okay but basically alien monster zombies come for you. It’s generally agreed upon that the second game is more fun but if you’re looking for a focus on horror then the first game is where it’s at.
4. The Evil Within 1 & 2
Filled with psychological horrors and about how the mind manifests the worst things you can think of, The Evil Within games were both loved by fans of the genre and was made by the creator of Resident Evil, so it’s going back to pure survival horror.
5. Resident Evil 7
Speaking of RE, Resident Evil is the game series that basically invented the survival horror genre and the 7th main game in the series is just horrific. I mean, look at that video, and it comes in VR too for those of you who really have no fear.
Solution 1 : Find Not So Scary (but still good) Horror Games
Now these are games even I can play! When you want to appreciate the horror aesthetic but not actually ruin a week’s worth of sleep, a great thing you can do is look for games that aren’t too scary but still bring all the good things that you love about horror, like the art and atmosphere. The point of these games aren’t to scare you but to immerse you in a dark but interesting world, so this is where the art of horror can shine.
1. Tormentum – Dark Sorrow
A point-and-click puzzle adventure game that’s heavily inspired by the works of H.R. Giger. At first this might not look like much but when I played it I couldn’t stop for some reason and ended up finishing the game. It’s not a long game and most of the time you can appreciate the art and design of the environments and characters.
2. Lone Survivor
A pixel art zombie survival game where you can imagine is as basically the film I Am Legend with Will Smith. You are alone and you get to decide how you want to survive. Sneak around, scavenge for things, or shoot everything in sight. The feel and design of it though is very well made and the gritty pixel art style lends itself to the atmosphere.
A unique take on survival horror with a top-down perspective. Being further away from the action and having a bird’s eye view of things can cut down on the scare factor but you’re not seeing everything. Your view is limited and the world is dark and full of terrors. A lot about this game will just make you feel unsettled but it’s a great game and not as scary as other games in the genre.
4. Hollow Knight
One of the best metroidvanias to ever be made in my books, Hollow Knight takes you on a journey through a lost and decrepid world. It’s sombre, dark, and morbid as a whole, including the visual style, narrative themes, and music. At its scariest it manages to build tension and is very creepy, but it doesn’t try to scare your pants off and perfectly uses the beauty and complexity of horror aesthetics without freaking you out. Oh, gameplay is fantastic too.
Like Dark Souls but leaning more in the horror direction, the world of Bloodborne and the city of Yharnam can be considered one of the most beautiful yet morbid worlds ever created. The game is tough as nails and you will die a lot, but if you’re into it you’ll be left in constant awe as you explore the world of Bloodborne.
BONUS GAME! – Alice: Madness Returns
I mentioned this one at the start of this article but American McGee’s Alice is such a fantastic creation it’s worth mentioning again. It’s not ‘scary’ but everything about the world and characters scream ‘horror’. It’s an older game but definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already.
Solution 2 : Watch Someone Else Play
Pushing ‘W’ or forward on the analogue stick can be the hardest part of a horror game, so let someone else push it for you. You can still experience the whole thing by finding someone on Twitch or YouTube who’s played through the game. Sit in the dark (if you’re up to it) and join someone else on the scary adventure where they will take the brunt of the scares while you get to enjoy not only the stories, worlds, and environments but also a little bit of schadenfreude (pleasure from other’s misfortune) when it comes to the streamer getting scared out of their pants.