I don’t really like horror. That is, unless it’s happening in a video game like Resident Evil 2.
I haven’t watched much horror in my life for the simple fact that I don’t particularly enjoy being scared. I don’t like watching characters that I’m supposed to root for go through harrowing, terrifying scenarios. On top of that, I’m not really a fan of gore.
But put me in control of the situation and I’m all in.
My first experience with a horror game was Resident Evil 4 in 2005, a few years after I saw my first spooky movie, The Sixth Sense. I’m not sure what compelled me to play Resident Evil 4, considering seeing The Sixth Sense haunted me for a very long time, but I did, and I loved it.
Something about being in direct control of the character in the scenario is intensely appealing to me. It’s almost like going through a haunted house (something that I also do not like) in that I get to move at my own pace through something scary without the threat of actual danger. In a game, I get to choose what I look at. I get to choose how quickly I move. But there’s an added layer between myself and the spookiness.
Even with that disconnect, I’m able to lose myself in the experience.
Let’s look at one of my favorite horror games, Resident Evil 7. Throughout most of the game, I was afraid of pushing forward. The swampy house that the main character finds himself in is home to a terrifyingly sadistic family that plays host to horrible mold colonies, disgusting bug infestations, and all kinds of repulsive, unsettling things. It’s not exactly a warm, welcoming vibe.
With the possibility of so many awful things popping up at any moment, my focus peaks.
But I did push forward. Slowly and carefully, sure, but I pushed forward.
After working through a section of the horror house, I became intimately familiar with every inch of it. The added emotion of fear in a video game acts as a catalyst for increased awareness. With the possibility of so many awful things popping up at any moment, my focus peaks as I scan every part of every room looking for either things that will hurt me or items that will help me.
And once the danger is gone, I double back and check everything again in case I missed a box of bullets or ever-helpful green herb. It makes the whole immersion aspect that much more intense.
That immersion and connection to the character can make it hard to push forward, not knowing what lies in wait.
Every closed door that you open in a horror game has a chance of being your least favorite thing you encounter, whether it’s shockingly scary, intensely challenging, or just plain gross.
Dead Space 2, another favorite of mine, has a notorious section where you have to make your way through a nursery full of grotesquely mutated toddlers and babies who swarm you in these awful little herds and try to kill you. Not only is it extra scary because they are children, it’s a difficult section to get through because your targets are so small and fast.
That gratification helps push me onward.
But after you get through it, that feeling of relief and accomplishment can’t be beat.
This feeling is part of what makes horror games so successful to me, and it’s also what draws me to extremely challenging games. Getting through a challenge, whether it’s mechanically or mentally demanding, is so gratifying.
Making it through particularly intense rooms or scenarios in Resident Evil 2, even if they aren’t that tough gameplay wise, give me the same feeling as making it through particularly tough sections of games like Celeste or Dark Souls. And that gratification helps push me onward.
Resident Evil 2 had a lot of rooms that I didn’t want to go through, like the kennel with its zombified dogs or the nearby jail filled with locked up zombies that I just knew would be unleashed on me at some point.
But after making it through and shooting/juking my way past the vile enemies to trigger a cutscene, I was so happy. I was ready to keep playing even though just a minute ago I was about to turn it off for the day.
It’s a complicated feat to balance these moments of terror with moments of calm, and games that do it well like Resident Evil 2 make for some of my favorite games — even though I don’t really like horror otherwise.