The evolution of horror in video games

An intense horror awaits. Another year, another scare. Trick or Treating? Pumpkins with drawn faces, ghosts in the corners of places, bats that come out of the roof or the darkest and most mysterious places … On October 31, the night of Halloween and tens of thousands of businesses and venues wear their best clothes to make us have a great time.

And although there are still people who oppose this celebration for religious reasons, it is a fact that today Halloween is an unstoppable phenomenon worldwide. And it is for many reasons, from a way of celebrating life and accepting reality, to losing the fear of death and facing our ghosts and inner demons. In the same way, we live in a society that takes advantage of any occasion to obtain economic benefits, so it is an opportunity for large companies, television channels, and different theme parks around the world to earn money from the sale of candies, chocolate , costumes and other related objects.

Now, if your thing is not to dress up and go out to party to ask for candy, how about a night of horror video games?

Terror in all its forms and manifestations

Terror can take many forms, and for that reason, it is something that has existed since time immemorial, being a fundamental part of human nature. This emotion, which has accompanied us since we were little and we had, for example, a fear of the dark, also extends perfectly into adulthood, when we have to face the challenges that await us. Because fear of the unknown is a universal and intrinsic feeling, a fundamental fear, because we do not know what is going to happen or how. And although there are those who cope better, approaching and considering possible resolutions, other people have more difficulty going through it and become emotionally blocked.

It is through these means that various subgenres have originated over the decades, that is, narrative structures that have their conventions and their laws of operation. Among other things, zombie video games can be considered as a particular type of work in which a group of people is immune to an evil that affects most of the population and turns them into zombies or other similar creatures.

Any proposal that seeks to achieve could also be classified as belonging to the horror genre. an unrest effect on the player, beyond the elements used to achieve it. This means, a priori, that it does not matter if monsters, ghosts or any other supernatural element appear in the narrative. What really matters is to encourage through the creation of scenes of marked affiliation the sufferings experienced by the characters and naturally gloomy atmospheres. And if the effect stays in the head and spreads even after leaving the controls, it will have achieved its mission.

The impact of terror on video games

From rudimentary and pixelated proposals to highly sophisticated concepts, the horror genre, also called survival horror, has always known how to demonstrate its enormous versatility by evolving in many different ways. It’s like a mutation a directional force of change of gene frequencies and whose importance lies in the fact that it is the ultimate source of the genetic variability that makes evolution possible. Because through mutation, some genetic elements are transformed into similar ones with alternative functions.

After all, video games are already an evolution of the conventional game; a product of the convergence of the playful and the technological. This supposes, on the one hand, that they continue to be configured as the favorite space of symbolic production and, on the other hand, that, as a technological interface, it modifies and transforms our sensory system.

Of course, terror is part of this metamorphosis, whose beginnings date back to the 70s with the arrival of the first home game console, Magnavox Odyssey, and its catalog was the lucky one to have Haunted House. We are talking about an unconventional experience, even by today’s standards and that far from betting on a solo development, it emphasized the cooperative. All this through a layer of plastic attached to a television of the time and two flashing lights that represented the roles of a detective and that of a ghost. Said like that it doesn’t seem very scary, but set the guidelines for future generations.

Scary stories to tell in the dark

Anyway, anyone who is asked about a horror game will immediately respond with Resident Evil, Silent Hill or Alone in the Dark, three sagas that have marked, without a doubt, a before and after in the history of the video game. And although the fate of the genre in question began long before that, they did take charge of carving a path full of shadows.

A path sponsored a posteriori by titles such as Project Zero II: Crimson Butterfly, a work that embraces rituals, sacrifices and offerings in a constant hell through crimson torment; the insults of a rough sea by Cold Fear, an experience that plunged us into a sea full of old-fashioned horrors; or Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, a one-way trip into madness. There are too many examples to believe otherwise, that terror was far from glimpsing a dead end road.

Unfortunately, when the time comes, every company worth its salt ends up being a slave to its own insecurities, and that is how some development studios did not hesitate to embrace the most excessive action to the detriment of the fear of the unknown. And even when the land of the rising sun tried to adapt its franchises to the times, all to no avail. The decadence of terror was here to stay. And yes, there were those who looked for a new formula that would return terror in all its splendor, from that phantasmagorical monstrosity and destroyer of emotional effects that receives the name of FEAR to a dose of horror inside a mining space station turned into carnage with which it was nicknamed Dead Space.

But those responsible for marking a turning point, those that managed to return the splendor that terror had in its time, were the independent studios. Inspired by the work of HP Lovecraft, Amnesia: The Dark Descent not only breathed new life into the survival horror genre, it also changed the way to consume horror games. Which brings us to the present, with hundreds of imitators continuing to use the same formula and thousands of videos on YouTube with people screaming as if life depended on it.

Nostalgia for the past in new games

More than ten years after its release, the work developed by the folks at Frictional Games is still terrifyingly scary. But sometimes it is still necessary to look back to learn and know more. Borrowing and reorganizing ideas is a central part of what makes any self-respecting form of entertainment work, and video games are no exception. Hence, to argue otherwise is to deny a tradition of resonant, fruitful and revealing intertextuality. In the end, playing works like Song of Horror or Tormented Souls is like replaying the titles that accompanied us during our childhood.

They cannot overcome that fear that receives the name of innovation, but they do their homework well in the case of making us remember the satisfaction that awkward silence gives us, as well as helplessness when faced with a force greater than our own. In the end, it may be the kind of fear we are looking for.

The future of horror video games

However, if we look to the future, we see that there are signs that suggest a struggle to balance terror, experimenting with the limits that we can endure in different directions. In other words, a balance between what is playable and what is too disgusting. Now, sometimes, experimentation is leading different independent developers to take the player out of their comfort zone.

Take Visage’s twisted and suffocating style, for example, which literally knocks you out of your mind. Both our character and we, the players, are exposed to situations that test our psychic stability, driving us into indefinite madness. It is a work that uses his deep insight, from suffocating misery to exhaustion, and that stands before any macabre vision or tense situation that can be shown, that there are. Instead, it shows us the true face of fear through a ruthless and heartbreaking way.

That is one of the many faces that is worth exploring and one that in many cases can transcend through time. Because far from wanting to belittle jumpscare as the engine of horror, the truth is that the genre that concerns us also has to contemplate other possibilities within the functioning of the system. One who forgets the instant fright to give us an experience that, like the madness of which we are victims, advances slowly, but when it reaches its climax, do it in a brutal, sadistic way and as twisted as it is uncomfortable. Only in this way will we get our minds to crumble until we succumb to a great avalanche of pain and horror.