Horror games are fun because they aren’t fun

Ty Mcphee, Columnist

Silent Hill, Slender: The Eight Pages, Five Nights at Freddy’s, Phasmophobia, Amnesia, Resident Evil, Outlast. These are horror games that a good majority of people would say they don’t enjoy playing because they dislike being frightened while others may say they specifically play it TO be frightened. I will admit that I fit into that play horror games to be frightened category and I love it.

Early video game YouTubers’ careers were built on the backbone of horror games. Seeing someone’s reaction to a scare, whether it was genuine or forced, was entertaining for a lot of people. 

Pewdiepie’s second Let’s Play video for the game Amnesia: The Dark Descent had well over 2 million views. His latest revisit to the game garnered him 6 million. 

Markiplier is another video game YouTuber whose career was sparked from playing horror games, and his revisit to Amnesia brought him 16 million views. So, the genre is without a doubt popular.

A new game to the table, Phasmophobia, has players working together to utilize ghost hunting tools in order to identify, photograph and communicate with ghosts in order to level up and unlock higher difficulty levels and paranormal encounters. 

I’ve been playing it with friends and am looking forward to any new investigations we do because it’s pulling me back in with how easy, difficult, intimidating and innovative the game is. 

According to Steam charts, in the last 30 days the peak number of players playing Phasmophobia has reached 70,195 players with the average being 25,417.5. To put that average into perspective, the United States Census Bureau estimated that in 2019, Ellensburg would have a population of 21,111. So, everyone in Ellensburg could be playing this game and there would still be more people outside the city playing it.

It doesn’t help that virtual reality (VR) has been on a very, very, very slow climb and developers are designing horror games that work best when players are immersed in their virtual worlds. 

Phasmophobia can have both desktop and VR players working together, but Resident Evil 7 was designed for the PlayStation 4 and had support for PSVR at launch. PC players had to wait one year for VR mode to come to them.

The horror game I’ve had the most fun playing both in and outside of VR is Alien: Isolation. Not only is it a horror game, but it’s a horror game set in the universe of Ridley Scott’s Alien. I absolutely loved both Alien and Aliens growing up and after the abysmal release of Gear Box’s 2013 Aliens: Colonial Marines, I was skeptical of a video game developer making anything good in the universe that Scott crafted. 

I was absolutely blown away and terrified. Your first encounter with the alien isn’t explicit. You don’t see it clearly and only get a glimpse of its tail as it pierces your partner’s chest and pulls him into a vent. 

You’re then left to run from this thing and plead that it doesn’t come for you next as you wait for the longest elevator to show up. I’m sure it wasn’t long, but when you have suspenseful music playing and are hearing sounds of hissing and banging metal, one minute sure feels like an hour.

Then comes the real encounter. After finding the black box of the ship from the original Alien movie, the security alarm goes off and you need to stop it. 

I had not gotten to this part in my first attempt to play the game and was now doing it in VR. Your character presses a few buttons on a keyboard and then it comes from the vents; horrifically and gracefully, this predator of beauty and terror comes from the vent right in front of me and I scream. 

I was in love with how I felt. Yes, I was terrified and glad I had gone to the bathroom before this segment, but I loved that I felt like I was there with it and genuinely fearing for my life. I play video games to be immersed into a world and to feel for the character, and while I can’t go to space and get chased by aliens, Alien: Isolation brought me to that world, and it did it hard.

It also doesn’t help that while you’re playing Alien: Isolation, the alien is literally an animal and has two brains. Tommy Thompson from AI and Games did an amazing video essay on the alien and how it works in much more detail.

I know that I’ll never be able to convince my 54-year-old father to play a horror game since he grew up playing Mario and Halo instead of Fatal Frame or Silent Hill, and that’s totally acceptable. I know when I’m older I’d prefer a much more casual experience when I get home from work instead of forcing myself into yet another stressful situation. 

Video games are like movies but with a bit more interactivity. Everyone has their likes and dislikes, but I and a lot of other people like things we don’t like. Being in the comfort of your own home and knowing you’re safe without having to worry about the actions of the character or characters you’re controlling is a feeling that a lot of people can get behind.