Top Reasons Why Horror Games are Scarier than Movies

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Whether you're a fan of horror movies or horror games you have to admit that there is a difference within the scare factors. As both mediums have grown over the years from visual effects to overall execution there is a clear distinction in regards to the level of scare-ability.

Like anything else in the world, there has been a shift in power. In the beginning, movies were the primary source of fear, when games came out they started to gain steam only for movies to reign supreme once more with their iconic monsters. We're in a new era now and once again games have taken the crown thanks to titles such as The Evil Within, Amnesia and Outlast. Maybe films will once again be our favorite way to be scared but with the wave of horror games coming out over the next year that's unlikely thanks to these top reasons. 

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Atmosphere

When I say atmosphere I'm not talking about the game/movie atmosphere; dark, scary and eerie music. I'm actually talking about the setting and atmosphere that we as an audience are subjected to when taking part in these horror genres.

While going to see a super scary movie is a bit unnerving there is still that level of comfort you get because you're not alone. You're surrounded by at least fifty other people. Playing a video game on the other hand is completely different. If you're a true horror gamer and are in it for the authentic feel, so more than likely you're in a dark room by yourself in the middle of the night. Let's not forget to mention you're probably wearing headphones which really makes the game immersive.

No matter how much visual and sound effects Hollywood can put into a single film, it will never reach the authenticity of the isolated gamer atmosphere.

Inescapable Sense of Dread

 How many movies have you watched that had you shouting at the screen for the character run and where to go? At least one unless you're the cynic who prefers to eat popcorn and laugh at the cliche blonde doing the worst thing possible in the the worst case scenario. 

Whether the character gets out alive or not, movies just don't have the urgency and inescapable sense of dread. Things are easy to call from the get go, let's take the scene of Ripley and the Alien Queen from Aliens for example. As viewers we were on the edge of our seats when the alien came literally face to face with Ripley but, somehow we knew that there was no way that she was going to die. She's our protagonist which typically means she survives. There's no sense of fear for her, she's getting out. Horror games however, don't care if you're a protagonist or not, you play the game until you win; whenever that may be.

Take games like PT and Five Night's at Freddy's for example. They're games based on not just scares but an infinite loop of inescapable dread. One wrong move can end the game and put you back at the start and have you wondering; when is this nightmare going to be over? When am I going to get out of this house? When Is it going to be 6 am?

This is something that horror movies just don't have, granted no real fault of their own given the nature and length of a movie.

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No Forced Character Relationship

Movies unmistakably force the audience to form some kind of relationship with the character on screen, particularly the one running for their life from the chain wielding murderer. We're adults though, we can make our own decisions but films still insist to make them for us. True, there is a level of linear direction in games but, we as gamer's get to make those decisions, especially when it comes to hiding. 

When it comes to horror games, you're not watching someone hide, you're the one hiding. There's an unpredictability there, that really has you living in the moment and holding your breath because you have no clue how the A.I. has been programmed to react. You can't guess it. 

Outlast Whistle Blower has a great example of this as seen during the chase by Gluskin. Throughout the game we have hidden under beds and in lockers but, for once hiding doesn't matter for when you think you're safe Gluskin is dragging you and the locker along with him to make you his darling

 Even Alien: Isolation has this, for if you continually hide in the same spot the Synthetics will instantly find you forcing you to find a new hiding spot until they become wise to it. 

Unlike movies, horror games don't insult the intelligence of it's players or it's monsters. 

Jumpscares

If horror is defined by anything it is by its ability to scare, primarily by jump scares. They're the moments that make you scream when you didn't even realize you had it in you. They're also what makes you storm out of the theater, close your eyes and if bad enough, rage quit. 

With a few indie horror games as exception, jump scares in gaming in much stronger than that of movies. In fact, sometimes the strength of the scare has led many gamer's to fall out of their seats and even break their keyboards. This isn't overreacting per se, just that the scares aren't heavily manipulated by camera but more so there is an emphasis on the things that surround your in-game character. There is a demand for spacial awareness instead of a focus. Once again I mention Five Night's at Freddy's as there are many tasks for you to see too that you're not prepared for Foxy to suddenly jump out of the dark or run down the hall.  

Films on the other hand demand less awareness as they force your attention to the spot they have prepared a scare. At the end of Carrie, there is a specific shot where Sue is dreaming of leaving flowers on Carrie's grave. While they could have simply had Sue shot from behind bending down to place the flowers before standing back up, they instead focus on the rubble effectively giving away the scare of the hand shooting up to grab her before it even happens. 

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First Person Perspective

The suspense thriller Oculus' tagline really sums up the difference between horror movies and horror games 'you see what it wants you to see'. The irony of this is that gaming goggles by the same name, Oculus Rift, actually wants you to see everything. 

If none of the previous reasons have convinced you that horror games are much better than their movie counterparts than perhaps a different point of view can change your mind. Literally. Just take in all that I've brought up, atmosphere, endless dread, character relationships and jump scares and imagine it being thrown at you all in first person. If playing Call of Duty in first person can make you feel like a real sniper than playing a horror game in first person can make you feel like you're really in the scariest place on Earth. 

 Movies have played with the first person perspective seen when they change camera angles from the character's perspective to yours when looking down an abandoned hallway but that's about the extent of it. Horror games get their claim to fame by making the gamer feel like they are really in a lonely office, scary forest, alien infested ship or what have you. 

Taking this perspective away from horror games would make them more on par with horror movies, but since that isn't the case, horror games take the edge.

So, what are your thoughts? Are horror games scarier than the movies or do you think they're pretty much the same?

With the wave of horror games today do you think games getting better, do you think movies will be able to catch up and scare us like they used to? Share your thoughts!

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Published Apr. 15th 2015

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Designer, gamer and geek culture writer.

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