Indie Revives the Horror Genre: Our Addiction to Fear

The survival horror genre is slowly regaining its foothold in the gaming world. I take a look at why players get addicted to scaring themselves in these games.

Since the dawn of time, man has had an odd addiction to fear. The darkness has scared many children, and adults, and yet that doesn’t stop anyone from exploring it; discovering what really creeps around in the shadows when our eyes can’t tell us what is there. We love stories of monsters, zombies, the apocalypse, and Japanese ghost children standing at the foot of our bed. This addiction may seem unreasonable, and completely insane to some, and yet there is a deep part of all of us that craves that feeling deep inside. To be scared to our very soul, our lives hanging in the balance, or at least our virtual lives.

The survival horror genre has seen a massive influx of new titles, especially from indie developers who have no fear of going forward with something new.

Games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Slender: The Arrival have returned that deep pit within ourselves, the fear of what is lurking about every corner.

In recent years the survival horror genre, and horror in general, has taken a more action-oriented approach. This has allowed for a larger consumer base, sure, but it has alienated the true fans of the genre: the ones hoping to run out of ammo in a pitch-black asylum, those praying something is out there waiting for them to make a wrong move.

Instead, we come face to face with crates full of Ak-47s and MP5s with all the ammo we could possible carry. Health packs are plentiful, and our trigger fingers are tensed and ready to unload the clip.

No. Just no.

We want more horror, true horror. The last time I went into a Resident Evil game and was truly scared of playing alone in the dark was the days of the Underground Files titles. Since then, the series has gone downhill, with the exception of Resident Evil 4. Guns and teammates have become the norm; when you have someone by your side it isn’t as scary being alone in the dark. You know someone has your back, you know they are armed and ready for the beasts hunting you. They are your fluffy, pink cushions, blocking your fear from rising forth.

But survival horror doesn’t need to be completely a solitary affair.

Games like Damned, which is on Steam Early Access, prove that you can be afraid even with a team of other players at your side. The monster works to separate you from your group and pick you off one by one. The fear of never knowing where that creature will pop up to take you out keeps players coming back for more. Without a weapon, no one can protect you from what is hiding in the dark. Survival horror at its best.

But single-player is a major focus in survival horror. I purchased each Amnesia game at launch and Outlast upon its release. These three titles have allowed me to regain my faith in the survival horror genre as a whole. Never have I been as scared to continue playing a title as when I first loaded up Outlast on launch night. I closed the curtains, shut off all lights, and locked the door to stop interruptions. I nearly pissed myself playing it, but I kept going.

I was addicted to that feeling of fear, I wanted more. I wanted those insane asylum patients to capture me and rip me to shreds.
The next-gen consoles are bringing about a whole new era in the survival horror genre on their own.

We are seeing the likes of The Evil Within, Daylight, and the port of Outlast, which is worth playing through once more. All of these games have one focus to them: they rely on horror. The Evil Within is the only one to feature any type of weapon, and even then, running and hiding will be your strongest allies. Ammo is rare and the enemies won’t stop chopping you to little pieces because you aim a 9mm pistol at their chest.

Daylight in particular looks to bring a feature to the genre that more really should: procedural (randomized) generation. This may be my favorite term in the gaming industry. This means the game will be different each time you play it; the environments change and shift, allowing a high level of replayability. More often than not, survival horror games tend to have a linear story, so being able to play through for the scares more than once is brilliant. That addiction to fear will come hand in hand with Daylight.

With these new titles we may just see the survival horror genres revival. At worse, developers will attempt some new ideas in the genre and mess up--we can skip over those games. The good ones will shine through and scare us outright. I'm prepared to turn off the lights this year and play through each survival horror game of 2014. Why? I'm addicted to fear.

A big thanks to Katy for showing me the above video. It is an interesting watch.

Published Jan. 8th 2014
  • billd75
    Contributor
    I agree totally about what you said concerning "True" horror/survival. Some of the best horror games I have played, had no weapons. I think the earlier Silent Hill games captured that fear really well, like The Room. They were very creepy. You are given the basics to survive, your character was weak in combat etc. You need your wits, not just a gun and ammo. I find the funnest and most truly scary games put more focus on survival basics, running, hiding, dodging.

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