[In Other Words] Horrible Horror

When I’m at work, one of my favorite things to do in terms of background noise is to find someone who has a bunch of Let’s Plays for indie horror games on Youtube (preferably in a playlist) and set it to run throughout the day.  I prefer the ones that have game commentary because — since I’m working — it helps me keep up with the story progression.  To paraphrase that tired old chestnut, I like horror games for their stories over their scares — but I think that stories are what should make a horror game, and certainly the best ones I’ve audienced and played have been the ones that focus on substance and style rather than just style.

I am super easy to startle; it’s something I have always had a problem with.  Even when I know a jumpscare is coming, it can still “get” me and I will still startle and react; I still get that tiny adrenaline spike that comes from it.  I think they’re useful as a mechanic for what they are — a way to help ratchet up the unease/paranoia factor in a horror scenario — but I hate when a game (or a movie, or any format of story, really) relies solely upon that sort of thing to be “scary.”  It can be effective, and they often are, but overusing them just sort of feels cheap and I end up not feeling scared, but instead cheated.  I’m pretty bad with excessive gore, too; I can handle it better when it’s animated or written or drawn, but anything live action and/or photorealistic tends to get me good and fast.  Which isn’t to say that it’s all a bad thing, because gore usually relates to body horror and/or the fear of death, which frankly are visceral things for me to react to, as an audience member.  But my tolerance tends to waver on a razor line; if it feels like “well, we’re lacking scares, so let’s throw in a sudden mutilated body! dropping out of nowhere when you least expect it!  that’s scary, yeah!” the whole thing just feels heavy-handed and that’s not what I’m looking for at all.

My favorite horror pieces are the very subtle ones.  The ones that creep up on you when you least expect it, because everything seems normal and then suddenly the pieces click into place and you as the audience realize there is something very wrong going on.  I don’t want to be smashed around with cool dramatic visual effects and have that carry the burden of making me scared; I appreciate them, but I will always prefer substance over style.  As much as I really really enjoy paranormal things, my favorite horror stories are the ones where there is nothing supernatural at all — no demons, no weird magic cults, no spooky rituals, just people being creative and awful with the resources available to them.  I like when there is a mystery element to the horror, because those tend to be better at slowly building their reveals and play their cards one by one, rather than simply flinging them all out into the open.  They (when they’re good) follow the logical rules of the real world; they feel like they could happen, and there’s a weight behind the old “this happened to the brother of a friend of my roomate’s” chain of events.  When I was a kid it was easier to get me, because I had an active enough imagination that I did believe that the climbing jasmine over my window looked like fingers at night, or that the oak tree by the guest room window was some bony-fingered creature trying to get inside.  Nowadays, while I hesitate to say I’m jaded, I prefer when people try to put a little more effort into their stories.

I still enjoy ghost stories, too, and stories about demons.  I am not picky if it’s well-written and there’s a good story.  But my favorites, where I feel like the horror is well and truly executed, are the ones that freak me out because they could have genuinely happened, and what if it happened to me?

With that, I’ve noticed a lot of indie games (since I am more familiar with them these days than movies — I am the Absolute Worst when it comes to watching movies ever) tend to follow a lot of the same trends — you’re searching for pieces to a solve a puzzle of some sort (a lot of knockoffs of Slender’s “find the eight pages” mechanic), you’re in some poorly-lit area with limited help from your flashlight (if you’re even given one), and a lot of times there is some aggressive thing in the darkness trying to eat you.  And a lot of those are well-done; a lot of those are extremely cool!  But what I really want to see is something different — and granted, indie games are pretty different from the big Triple-A releases, and thank goodness for that — but I want to see something that doesn’t require the search-things-out-or-die mechanic; I want to see things where, instead of exploring some ruined haunted mansion or dark prison or anything, the slow corruption of horror into one’s everyday life; I want to see something that utilizes bright lights and white spaces and really stark negative space.

And if someone can recommend me more LPers on Youtube, that would be pretty great too.


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