What's the best way to play a horror game?
Horror comes in many forms and mediums. You may find yourself immersed in a Stephen King or Clive Barker novel, or watching an '80s slasher movie, or more modern psychological thriller. You may even be into playing a video game that's heavy on chills. That is the wonderful thing about horror, it comes in so many forms. This allows us to experience it in a wide variety of ways.
Surrounding yourself in horror through a TV
Playing a horror game on a big HDTV is a lot like watching a horror flick in the theater. By dimming the lights and shutting the blinds, you're creating a creepy setting that perfectly sets the mood for the terror that's to follow. If you've got a snazzy surround system at home, you're even more well-prepared for the scares that you're about to experience whether you're playing Until Dawn or Resident Evil.
It's truly spectacular to be able to see the gore and ghouls of a good horror game on a big TV. It's an experience that's theatrical and encapsulating. You're essentially grabbed by the shoulders and put inside the game. Unlike watching a movie, you're so engrossed in the actual playing of the game, you're never allowed to look away. Even if a certain cut-scene or gameplay sequence is too bloody, or even if the game you're playing delivers a perfectly placed jump scare, your eyes are locked on the screen.
You sit there, controller in hands, staring wide-eyed at the fate of your character and, to a degree, your own fate as you take control of said character. That's the beauty of horror games, especially when compared to horror movies: You literally can't look away, because if you do, you'll probably meet a terrible fate.
Gripping the Fear in Your Hands
The movie Hush is an excellent example of horror. The film follows Maddie, a deaf woman who's trying to survive after a deranged killer invades her secluded home. Through its use of ambient sounds and minimalist aesthetics, the movie successfully creates white knuckle suspense that's absolutely incredible. Like a good horror game, Hush employs a perfect mix of audiovisual elements to create a gripping experience.
Hush is vastly different from Sleeping Beauties, the latest novel from Stephen King, who collaborated with his son Owen to write the book. The two experiences couldn't be any more different. Where Hush is great because it's such an exciting and suspenseful viewing experience, Sleeping Beauties is engaging because it allows you to get lost within its pages.
In that sense, reading a horror novel is really similar to playing something like Lone Survivor on the Vita. You're not surrounding yourself with the scares you'd normally get on a big screen; you're holding them close to your face and diving head-first into them. There's something inexplicably intense about holding a 3DS up close while you follow the chilling narrative of Corpse Party. It's a more personal, intimate experience that's simply not possible on a big screen TV.
Facing Your Fears (Literally) Through a Computer Screen
Playing Little Nightmares on your TV or Danganronpa on your Vita may compare to watching It or reading The Hellbound Heart, but what about horror games on PC? Like a handheld horror title, playing SOMA, Layers of Fear, or Perception on your computer is a much more personal experience, but it also shares the bigger, surrounding vibe of enjoying a game on your TV. As such, playing horror games on PC offers the best of both worlds — to a degree.
While you certainly get some intimacy and grand spectacle when you play a game like Five Nights at Freddy's on your computer, neither is at the same level as playing on your handheld or TV. But that's not a bad thing, because you get something completely different: You get to look at the horror unfolding before your very eyes. The closest thing I could think to compare this sort of game-playing experience to is sitting on the floor, staring into an old CRT television set and watching Creepshow or Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Though you could draw similarities between experiencing horror games on a handheld device and on a computer, holding a Vita to your face and sitting hunched over in front of a computer screen are two vastly different things. Neither is necessarily better than the other; they're just different, and they can create two varying kinds of horror.
There's No Wrong Way to Enjoy a Good Horror Game
Just like it's great that horror movies and horror novels make for massively different forms of entertainment, it's also awesome that playing horror games on a TV, handheld, or PC do so as well. It’s wonderful being able to play The Last of Us, or getting completely lost while playing Home on the 3DS. Having titles like Amnesia, Inside, and Outlast available on home consoles and PC give players two different experiences from the same game.
What's your favorite way of enjoying a horror game? Do you prefer the home theater setting? Are you more into the personal vibe that comes with playing a game on a handheld device? Or would you rather sit in front of a computer screen and get your horror fix that way?