Why Horror Games Fascinate Me, Yet I Won’t Play Them… Much

October has been an extremely enjoyable month for me so far, and not just because I’ve gotten such good responses to my daily two-sentence horror stories.  With the weather changing, the temperatures dropping, and the sights of Halloween costumes just on the horizon, this month has felt like a month of transition, relaxation, and rejuvenation.  And while I’ve had a lot of fun getting these two-sentence horror stories out in front of people, it would be easy to forget that this blog is not just for short, terror-inducing content.  So I figured I’d talk about another topic I like, while still keeping to the horror theme: video games.

I do enjoy my video games, and while I don’t consider myself a power gamer by any stretch of the imagination–I simply can’t devote the time and energy needed to any one game like that anymore, much less several of them–I do consider video games an integral part of my regular relaxation.  They are to me an excellent way to unwind, forget about the trials and tribulations of the regular grind of the workday, and immerse yourself in a virtual world.  They can also be a time sink and occasional money sink, but I like to think I’ve become a little more savvy about navigating those particular minefields, at least most of the time.

thewalkingdead_seasontwo_episode4_2There also exists a cute little fascination I have with horror stories and the creepy and macabre.  I love reading creepypastas and listening to YouTube videos about them, and I have my own copy of the Scary Stories Treasury, the collection of all three volumes of Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark books (the Gammell illustrated ones, thank you very much).  I even enjoy and revere the old slasher horror films that got started in the 70s and 80s–you know, Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, Leatherface; those types of movies.  You’d think this particular obsession would dovetail nicely with my love of video games and send me clamoring to get my hands on some interactive scares, thrills, and chills.

But the thing is, I really don’t play horror video games.

Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy them.  I actually do have a couple of horror games on my Steam account that I have played, and still do (though instances of doing so are few and far between), and I’m happy to watch particular Twitch streamers and YouTube stars do playthroughs of the latest squick-filled story.  But personally, there’s a marked difference between reading a scary story and experiencing one in real-time through a video game.  You get drawn in and manipulated in a way that, for better or worse, can’t often be matched by the mediums of film or prose.

I’ll give you a couple of situations as an example.  

mollydollyI listened to/watched a YouTube video that contained, among other creepypasta stories, the story of Molly the Dolly.  It was extremely well narrated, and the jumpy, jagged animation, though fairly simple, was very effective in making the story stick to my memory.  After I was done with that list, and ready to go to bed, I remember being a little creeped out by the memory of that story, and had some trouble sleeping, but overall was able to get a full night’s rest.  An effectively told story, that I thought would have worked in Scary Stories to Tell In the Dark if it were still going, kept me up a little, but didn’t scare me awake.

Now for the video games.

fnafslenderhorrorA couple years ago, on Halloween, I decided to try my hand at a couple of horror games–Slender: the Arrival, and Five Nights at Freddy’s, for the record.  I handed out candy that night, and then turned out the lights, fired up my computer, and downloaded and played them.  I gave each several hours worth of attention, enduring both the uncertainty of where Slenderman would appear and short out my camera view, and the firsthand apprehension (and explosion of terror) of when and where one of those damn animatronic things would pop out and get me–yay, jump scares.  By the time I was done playing, I knew I wouldn’t be sleeping that night.  Thank goodness I didn’t have to work the next morning.

So, simply put, I like sleeping, and the horror games I have played have made that difficult.  True, I may become desensitized to them with more exposure.  But in the meantime, I just want to sleep.

nt-whf-hnThat’s not to say I patently avoid horror games.  I’ve been intrigued by games like Night Terrors, a “Pokemon GO for horror fans,” as touted by some; We Happy Few, which looks like it’s a psychedelic balance of managing your meds enough to blend into the horrific, mask-wearing community without getting consumed by them; and Hello Neighbor, a game that apparently tracks your habits so the AI can design traps for the way you think.  All look like they’re worth a play, and I may even do so if I’m feeling particularly brave.

But for the most part, I’m content to keep the horror gaming genre at arms length.  I like my scares, and I like my video games, but I think combining the two would not work for me on a firsthand basis, at least not for a while.  I’ll be happy to watch them as let’s plays, and even occasionally dabble in one once in a while, but for now at least, I believe I’ll be happiest just watching or hearing about them.  

At least then I can laugh at the scare the damn things give me.

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