As a fan of both horror and gaming, when these two worlds come together it’s like christmas (a demented one at that) came early. There is nothing more exciting, than turning off the lights and being dragged into a world where reality and imagination can affect someone so much, that by the end of a gaming session, you’ll find your heart beat quicker and your palms sweaty.
So then why is it that I hear some people say horror in gaming is ‘dead’?
There are many causes and reasons to why someone would say as much but I have to disagree, to some degree. Horror gaming as we knew it in the mainstream gaming community is (practically) dead but in the indie market, horror has never been more successful.
With many free horror games available and at a low cost, people are able to experience once again what horror in gaming once was. As these games put you into a dangerous world where you have barely anything to protect you and you’re told to go from there, with barely any hand holding.
This has clearly been a successful approach as we can see from one of the most popular title of these indie-horror games, Amnesia. Amnesia is a perfect gaming experience where you never feel sure of your success as the game has a run and hide approach as opposed to shooting your problems and fears dead. Slender with its music, unkillable antagonist and depleting stamina system is a nerve racking experience and Eerie is set in a nuclear power plant as you try to answer questions on people disappearing and is surprisingly free.
Resident Evil 6 is a prime example of this. Despite more than respectful sales, the reception and backlash due to the perceived abandonment of its horror roots and unpopular marketing choices have meant that Capcom is facing a serious issue in the future of the franchise. This is also the case for another horror game franchises such as Silent Hill, constantly jumping studios and with a terrible movie adaptation.
Along with these two, other major mainstream franchises have either never sold as much as they deserved thus stopping any dreams of a sequel or such or they just didn’t make a mark in the market, due to other problems.
These are probably the two most well known horror franchises in console gaming and the state they find themselves in is a reflection of that of other horror games made for consoles. Confusion, action over horror and the need for profit, leading to fewer risks and relying on ‘what isn’t broken, doesn’t need to be fixed’ all the while though not evolving.
One game though which came out recently on consoles, which has turned many heads, is Deadly Premonition. This horror game added many things not conventional with the genre such as an open game world, no linear play and comedy and many were quick to criticize though I see this game as just what the genre needs. Bold attempts at new mechanics and elements in the gameplay which offer diversity and different experiences.
Unfortunately, Deadly Premonition is becoming the exception as opposed to the norm.
The picture is completely different in the indie market. With no need for Hollywood graphics, no execs stiffling creativity and with much less money on the line and need for major profit, indie developers have a whole new freedom both creatively and gamewise.
People are also using these indie games to upload their walkthroughs on Youtube, the most obvious example of such is the Swedish Youtuber Pewdiepie, who now uploads multiple videos daily due to the sheer amount of new subscribers and daily views increasing daily.
Pewdiepie has a certain style of his own which appeals to many and his videos help many discover and try out many indie horror games out there on the net. There are countless Youtubers and Bloggers out there who focus solely on such titles and with everyone not able to own a console or willing to spend a large amount on games, this is a market that can only get bigger in the future.
This also works both ways for these indie-developers. These youtubers or bloggers who have a large legion of followers bring awareness to these games and the relationship between all three is healthier than that between fans and bigger game development studios.
The fact that nowadays a student or group of students with an idea and engine can make their vision a reality, along with the many sites where you can put your project up for people to see and if somebody wants to support the development, they can make a contribution, most of the time the higher the contribution, the more you get out of it. This elaborates on the above where gamers and developers have a closer bond with one another, making people much more loyal and willing to follow and purchase your gaming title.
It could be the on disc DLC that Capcom has been heavily criticised for or the decision of EA’s to add micro-transactions along with other unpopular choices leading to Dead Space 3’s poor sales and possible abandonment of a series which once held so much promise. It is pretty clear from surfing the net and talking to any fellow gaming enthusiast, that such decisions lead people to not wanting to further support these titles instead much more willing to support the smaller developers.
So what is the future for horror gaming and is it dead as people say? Well to answer that question yes…and no.
Horror gaming for consoles, due to the differences in development and the must for profit in this generation of consols, has meant a more safe approach to horror with many relying on old mechanics and not daring to try something out of the box, which has led to the decline in new horror titles and fewer games which are worth purchasing.
Indie horror gaming is flourishing with 2013 bringing many interesting games such as Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs, Among The Sleep, Huntsman: The Orphanage, (taking control of a two year old in what seems a possessed house), Huntsman : The Orphanage, the sequel to the online sensation Slender and many, many more.
Another key criticism is that horror titles veer to much towards action these days as opposed to horror. Personally this, along with low creativity in these titles, is one of the main reasons hurting the market of horror.
Akira Yamaoka in writing his music said that sometimes to scare someone, it’s better to have silence when playing as opposed to sound, as silence is a stronger way . In these titles filled with overpowered guns, explosions and horde after horde of wailing monsters, the PC indie horror gaming follows Akira’s words due to them sticking to this minimalist approach and sticking to the root of all horror; that feeling of helplessness and the next corner could hold anything.
Then again gaming, just as life is, is made of moments. Maybe we’re not too far away from a game coming to the mainstream market which ushers in a new era for horror gaming, encouraging major developers to return to the horror franchise and give it more chances. This way this new generation of gamers can enjoy a whole new worlds of horror, just as people did long ago when they became part of a group of people in a mansion or a man looking for a little girl with black hair…