5 Horror Subgenres That are Often Overlooked in Modern Video Games
If you're like me, you’re a gamer who loves to have the pants scared off them. And you’ll probably roll your eyes each time a new “psychological horror game” is announced. Because you know that most of the games marketed this way aren’t actually psychological horror -- they’re usually a twist on the haunted house, survival, or action genres. Just because a game makes you frightened, that doesn’t mean it's a psychological horror. Because scaring you is the whole point of horror games.
From the sci-fi horror of Dead Space to the slasher escapades of Until Dawn, studios have tried their hand at developing different subgenres of horror over the years, with variable results. Yet, most games of this nature tend to stick to a general theme: arrive at a location, watch crazy stuff happen, kill everything bad (or hide from it), then leave.
But there’s a host of alternative horror subgenres that are just waiting to be tapped for gaming goodness. Of course, games need to offer agency in the way that films simply don’t. However, that doesn’t negate taking different cues in order to do so -- whether it’s by altering the setting, the mechanics, or how the story is told.
If developers want to get horror aficionados hooked, rather than churning out the same zombie survival titles year on year, they might want to consider these alternative horror subgenres they can explore in their own games.
A genre that’s been sorely overlooked in gaming, home invasion would be an ideal addition to horror gaming. It was touched on in the controversial Sega CD release of Night Trap, but a quarter of a century has passed since that hokey foray, and both technology and taste have improved considerably since then.
Standard home invasion horror tropes usually involve being stalked around your property by unknown people -- but in a gaming context this would offer the ideal opportunity to flip the mechanics on their head. You could control multiple residents, working together in order to foil the assailants, or perhaps just one protagonist darting between rooms and using whatever items are lying around the house to MacGyver up some means of defeating them. The sort of asymmetrical gameplay we see in games like Dead by Daylight could work really well here too.
There's plenty of scope to make this as quirky or as sinister as you like, but gaming lends itself perfectly to the genre.
If the SAW franchise taught us anything, it’s that the market for puzzle-based horror is still alive -- and with the series getting a reboot this year, it’s the perfect opportunity for developers to cash in on the genre.
Putting aside the woeful licensed game which relied mostly on waggling thumbsticks or standing next to things and pressing X, there’s plenty of potential to make a decent head-scratcher of a horror game.
Professor Layton meets Hostel, where the top-hatted one needs to think fast in order to save Luke from having his face sliced off? I’d play that -- but only if Layton politely thanked the antagonist afterwards.
There’s a lack of love for true body horror in gaming -- at least from the protagonist’s standpoint. Sure, titles such as the Bioshock series and The Binding of Isaac pay it lip service by morphing the horror aspect into a weapon, but they do it without actually exploring the possible consequences of their actions.
Remember the way your hands morphed into various abominations as you used Vigors? Pretty cool, right? Remember the effects the repeated use of these horrors had on your character? Exactly.
Imagine a game that sidestepped the “body horror as action device“ pitfall and actually told a meaningful story about one person’s quest to work out what was happening to them. The Fly in gaming form, if you will.
Better still, create a Telltale-esque point-and-click and release a version of The Thing that doesn’t water down its scares with third-person shooter mechanics.
Doll / Clown Horror
Let’s face it, both clowns and dolls are innately creepy. Films like IT and The Tommyknockers gave me nightmares as a kid (though this once-terrifying scene is laughable when watched as an adult). There’s something utterly inhuman about painted humanoid figures, staring at you with their dead eyes, that lends itself perfectly to horror. Dolls are pretty awful, too.
So, why not exploit that for gaming? We’re at a point where it’s possible to render all kinds of pant-wettingly realistic monstrosities in all their terrifying detail, but we don’t actually need to stray too far from our own form in order to generate scares.
After all, the scariest things we experience are the ones that ring most truly in our mind. “Why is my Eeyore plushy sat in the middle of the hallway floor?” or “What clown? We never booked a clown for your birthday party, honey!” are sentences you never want to hear. Translate that sense of dread to a game, and build on it -- a bit like The Mannequin is hoping to do.
It doesn’t have to be all relentless terror and violence -- you can have a few laughs along the way. Comedy horror is a weird mash-up of genres that’s rarely done well on screen, and hasn’t really crossed over successfully to gaming. Deadly Premonition may have been unintentionally hilarious, but that probably wasn't what the developers were counting on.
Mixing up schlock acting, comedy and gore would make a potentially interesting title for gamers -- perhaps we’re all finally ready for an Evil Dead point-and-click. Bruce Campbell would probably voice act if you chucked him $50 and a few beers.
What horror genres would you like to see represented in gaming? Let me know in the comments below!