PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Games

Horror with Friends

The Cursed Forest, (KPy30, 2014)

Fear is strangely an experience best shared with others -- even in seemingly less than social mediums, like single player video games.

I'm not especially fond of horror as a genre. Maybe it is because horror is not often the best written genre in cinema. Maybe it's because I really don't enjoy viewing things that are gory.

That being said, I do find that generally horror is a highly moralistic genre (maybe the most moralistic genre), since it tends to portray good and evil in the starkest terms possible (there are typically no fine lines between ugliness and evil, for instance, in horror). I tend to find this vaguely interesting, as I am drawn to works that are concerned with morality and ethics in the philosophical sense. However, that also being said, I more often find that revenge films and even exploitation cinema are more interesting than the typical horror film in exploring these ideas (give me Quentin Tarantino over Clive Barker any day of the week).

The other element of horror that does interest me, though, is its social nature. Like comedy, I think, horror is a genre that benefits from having someone to share it with. While many people view films at home these days on Netflix or on DVD, I don't think too many people (except, perhaps, the most hardcore fans of the genre) fire up a horror film or comedy alone. While cinema is often viewed as a non-interactive form of entertainment, given its voyueristic aesthetic, the pleasures of horror and comedy are often accentuated by awareness not only of the images on the screen but an awareness of one's fellow audience members.

The audience's laughter in a comedy encourages your own. Essentially, the jovial mood of the crowd helps to put one in a "laughing mood." The potential terrors of a horror film are intended to provoke fear in you, the viewer, but fear, like laughter, is strangely an experience best shared with others. It is a pleasure both to hear the shrieks and screams of others when you know that it is just make believe things that are shocking them. Additionally, I suspect that there is some sense of safety that is created by knowing that others around you are sharing your fears. (My brother once told me about the time that he took a date to a horror film. When he got up to go to the bathroom, she clutched his arm, and whispered, "You can't leave me here," from which he derived an enormous amount of pleasure. Though he did go off to the restroom anyway.).

I have said on a number of occassions that horror benefits from a medium that is explicitly intended to be interactive, like video games. Ignoring the social interactivity that I just described for a moment (after all, most horror games are single player experiences, and ones in which the player may not be joined by others to experience, since only one player can fully experience such a piece of entertainment at a time), horror games do something that a horror film does much more indirectly. A horror film can make you fearful for your own safety indirectly, the horror game makes one feel that one's safety and security might be in jeopardy in a slightly more direct way. Certainly, the audience still knows that the horror game is a fiction, but the fact that the player is the one directing the protagonist to explore the haunted house or to stupidly investigate the basement changes the relationship that the audience has to the fiction. That one can "die" as well in most games of this sort adds an illusion of real stakes to the experience of horror as well.

Now, I do probably play more horror games than I do watch horror films and probably for the aforementioned reason. The sense of fear that the genre intends in its audience seems to me to be more effectual than in cinema. It creates a more successful illusion of peril because I am, in part as "myself," interacting with the fiction. I also do play a fair amount of single player games of many genres, which also means that I play a lot of games alone. I am very happy when my wife and kids sit down on the couch and watch me play a video game, as I like to talk about what I am doing or simply share what I think are good moments in games with them. However, very often if I'm playing a game, especially one of my own genre prefrences, open world games, I find that they easily grow bored watching me travel across landscapes or grind for levels and soon enough leave the room looking for something else to do.

The one type of game that I do find makes them stick around, though, is the horror game. Both my wife and kids still talk about the terrifically terrifying pleasures of watching my playthrough of Alan Wake some number of years ago, for example. An experience that I, too, have fond memories of because I thoroughly enjoyed them begging me to get out of the forest and back into the light because they thought the shadows were going to get me (I, of course, gleefully pressed my luck with these grotesque forms of evil because my family's terror escalated the more that I teased them by not playing it too safe).

Since we record our podcast on video games here at PopMatters in advance, this summer Nick Dinicola, Eric Swain, and I have already been planning a Halloween episode of the Moving Pixels podcast. We selected three free indie horror games to focus our discussion on this year, so I have been playing a fair amount of horror games this week. While two of the games strike me as less than effective in provoking terror, the third game, The Cursed Forest, I found myself jumping at -- alot. Since I was playing the game on a PC in my office, the experience was a less than social one, though. I was enjoying the game and really admiring its design (it is exceptionally clever in creating frightening moments, then creating an expectation in the player that one should expect to be frightened in a similar circumstance, then taking advantage of that expectation to shock you in an entirely new way when a similar circumstance arises again), but while I was enjoying it in an academic sense, its full pleasures seemed vaguely lacking.

Nearing completion, I actually restarted the game and called my wife to the computer, insisting that she play it. My daughters and a friend of my oldest daughter soon followed us into the room, and the six of us were soon deeply enmeshed in the story of a cursed piece of land haunted by a spirit in need of being put to rest by gathering her remains, some ritual items, and performing an exorcism of sorts to cleanse the land of her evil. As you might guess what was already clearly a superbly designed game suddenly became an even more superb shared experience, as one of my daughters shrieked, "Don't look in the window! Don't look in the window! Don't! Don't!," as she covered her eyes with her hair and as I baited my wife to make sure she ended up experiencing the complete scares in the game by saying things like, "What does that note on the bed say there? Maybe you need to get a little closer?"

Nearly two thirds of the way through the game, I got up to go smoke a cigarette outside, and everyone began to shout, "Dad, don't leave us! You can't do that!" I stayed on then to the bitter end.

Strangely, fear binds us. Experiencing it together, even in this instance by experiencing it fictiously, renews a sense of security in those around us, driving us away from those things that trouble us and towards those we trust.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

Music

15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Music

Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.

Music

Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.

Music

Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.

Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.