#8 Pacing is flat.
A scary story should pull you in slowly, offering only hints and glimpses of the true terror that awaits you in the final act. The anticipation of danger is often more frightening than the danger itself. Games cannot afford this luxury. In order to appeal to action-oriented customers and sell the maximum number of copies, they must throw enemies at you constantly from start to finish. And with longer runtimes of 8-10 hours, that nonstop excitement inevitably becomes desensitizing.
#9 Repetition, repetition, repetition.
The first time a zombie jumps out of a shadow, or a ghastly image flashes across the screen, it’s pretty shocking, possibly even scary. The second, third, fourth and 167th time? Not so much. A game’s programming can only handle so many scripts and enemy AIs, which results in the same gruesome “surprises” over and over and over again. Other mediums can change the formula as much as they please. No matter how many Nightmare on Elm Street sequels they make, you’ll never know quite how Freddy Krueger plans to dispatch his next victim. He possesses an infinite bag of tricks.
#10 Immersion is never complete.
Until virtual reality becomes an actual reality, you will always be distinctly aware that you are playing a videogame. You’re cycling weapons, browsing inventories, upgrading stats, checking maps or searching for exits, entrances and shortcuts. Floating bars and numbers give you information on ammo, health and equipment. Even titles that lose the HUD or attempt to simplify the controls will still involve smacking plastic buttons and twiddling rubber sticks. During films and books, on the other hand, you sit passively and surrender control. You are at the mercy of the director or writer.
#11 Nothing is left to imagination. In Psycho’s chilling shower scene, you never witness the murderer’s knife pierce the victim’s flesh. Alfred Hitchcock edited shots of the killer stabbing, the woman screaming and the bloody water (actually chocolate sauce) flowing until you simply thought you did. Most movies use quick cuts, strategic lighting, off-screen sounds and other red herrings to trick or tease the viewer. Videogames are rarely this restrained, preferring to spray every ounce of blood and gore they can render onto the display at once.
#12 Too much is left to the imagination. Although games are fine with horror clichés like red spray and flying guts, they’re timid when it comes to the honestly disturbing stuff. The executions in Manhunt are inventive, sure, but none of that vaguely visible torture can top a close-up cinematic like the blade through Kevin Bacon’s throat in Friday the 13th. None of the vaguely perverse creatures in Silent Hill can top a truly devious setup like the phallic “Lust” killing in Se7en. Why? Perhaps because parents and politicians hold R-rated movies to different standards and scrutiny than Mature-rated games. They don’t seem to realize that the audience - and the age range of that audience - is one and the same.
#13 You can always pause. What other scary experience offers so many opportunities for breaks? The theater won’t stop the projector because you’re frightened. Unless you want to annoy your friends and family, the home theater won’t stop either. Ghost stories are performed in one telling, haunted houses are traversed in one trip and scary books can often be read in one or two sittings. The illusion of a game is broken every single time you reload a save file, fiddle with the menus, walk away for a restroom break or turn the console off for the evening. Even if you somehow managed to play through the entire thing without pausing, the mere knowledge that you could pause if you wanted to is enough of a psychological safety blanket on its own.
Am I right? Am I wrong? Got a convincing example?
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Hear more about this article in TalkRadar.
Oct 28, 2008
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