You’re walking down a dark corridor in an empty mansion, your palms sweaty at the thought of what might be around the next corner. You move slowly, one careful step at a time, trying not to make a sound in case there’s something terrible waiting for you. Your heart is thumping so loud you’re worried it might give away your location. Suddenly, in a crash of broken glass, a demonic zombie dog bursts through a nearby window and hurls itself at you, its jaws snapping, knocking you to the ground…
Players of a certain age may recognise this moment as a now-iconic scene in the original Resident Evil, and you can be sure that it was a lot scarier to play than to read about – especially if you were just a kid when you first experienced it. Well, Halloween is here again, and we took to our social pages to ask the Miniclip community: what’s the scariest game you’ve ever played?
The scariest games
Unsurprisingly, we got a big reaction to this simple question. But why do we feel so strongly about scary games? Do we actually like being scared? The answer, of course, is yes – we love the freaky, the frightening, the downright terrifying – it’s the reason horror movies like The Ring and The Blair Witch Project grossed hundreds of millions of dollars when they were released, and why they’ll occupy pretty much every TV channel this October 31st.
So what makes a game scary? We took a look (through our fingers) at some of the creepy, jump-out-your-seat games that the Miniclip community suggested.
On a simplistic level, a game can be scary just by having a horrible monster with which you have to do battle, or simply run away from. Beasts like Resident Evil’s huge, hulking Nemesis or Devil May Cry’s Phantom Spider boss live long in the memory even after you’ve successfully squished them (especially if you’re already an arachnophobe). They’re scary in the same way that a good monster movie can be scary: whether it’s Jaws, The Thing or Alien, there’s something strange out there, and it’s coming for you.
Run and hide
A key part of a scary game is making the player feel vulnerable. The fixed cameras of Resident Evil mean that you can never quite see what’s lurching towards you from the darkness, and ammunition is always a rarity. More recently, the survival horror genre has taken the radical step of actually removing weapons altogether, leaving the player with no choice but to run and hide. Games like Outlast leave you with only a camcorder for “protection” – your night-vision window into a terrifying world – where the infamous Slender leaves you with nothing at all.
Ah, Slender. YouTube is full of Let’s Play videos of gamers jumping out of their skins and shrieking incoherently into their mics, and a large proportion of them feature this brilliantly simple horror game. All a player has to do is find eight pages of text hidden around a forest… before the Slender Man gets you. The fact that this can happen at any moment heightens the game’s fear. As with a good horror movie, a player knows that something scary is about to happen – but the fact the game holds that scare back, ratcheting up the tension to unbearable levels, is what has led to so many YouTube yells.
Atmosphere of Fear
Here again we come back to the crucial point of scary games, and horror generally: we want to be scared. How else can we explain those Let’s Play vids, the huge box office takings of horror movies, the strong nostalgic reaction of gamers when asked “what’s the scariest game you’ve ever played?” and our general fascination with all things ghoulish around Halloween? It’s worth noting that a large number of suggestions we got from the Miniclip Community focussed on games that they had played from a young age – it brought up long-buried memories of being scared witless by Resident Evil, or Silent Hill, or Doom, or even the final boss of Nintendo’s Earthbound.
But it’s not all about monsters. Probably the creepiest game I’ve played this year contained nothing more freaky than a rubber duck and a TV that someone left on. Gone Home features no monsters, ghouls or ghosts – in fact it’s a very powerful, moving experience – but it does have an atmosphere of dread and fear that many horror movies would give their left tentacle for. Set on a stormy night in a silent, empty mansion, I found myself hesitating to open doors or turn corners in case there was something unpleasant lurking in the shadows.
There are no jump-scares in Gone Home – okay, maybe just one, when a lightbulb suddenly pops at an inconveniently spooky moment – but games have dined out on making us leap out of our chairs just as much as Hollywood has. From demon dogs to bumps in the dark, a game can make us jump in ways that movies cannot, given that playing a game requires a more active involvement than watching a film. Don’t just take our word for it, check out the thousands of YouTubers freaking out over some of the games mentioned in this post. And if you’re feeling particularly brave, turn the lights off and the sound up while you’re watching… and try not to jump yourself.
The Scary Game Formula
So then, what makes a game scary? We’ve come up with what we call… the Scary Game Formula.
*thunder rolls, lightning flashes*
The finest scary games combine…
- A blood-curdlingly terrifying monster or three
- A feeling of vulnerability. Someone pass me a crowbar!
- A spooky atmosphere… where you’re never quite sure what might be around the next corner.
- The sort of jump-scares that might make you a YouTube Let’s Play superstar. And possibly necessitate some new underwear.
So, which games combine all of these parts into one winning, frightening formula? And, more importantly, what’s the scariest game that you’ve ever played? Join the debate on Facebook, tweet us, or tell us in the comments below!