We seem to talk a lot about horror on this blog, don’t we? This is kind of odd, since I myself am not the biggest fan of horror games, being far too squeamish and otherwise ‘delicate.’ I was trying to ponder on why we end up talking about the subject matter so much if this is the case, I do end up playing quite a few of them when together with my bros. My brothers and I have been fans of gaming since ours early days, and so it’s natural that we try and integrate them into the (unfortunately few and far between) days we can hang out with each other. Since good three player games that all of us unanimously like are a little difficult to come across these days, a good alternative is to find a game that we can alternate control between the three of us, which is fun enough to watch in the meantime. By chance, a lot of these tend to be horror games.
There are practical reasons for this: horror games by nature don’t have hugely complicated control schemes, which means alternating control between three people isn’t too much of a problem. Likewise, since horror games often have an ebb and flow for each individual scary moments (ie, the save rooms in the old Resident Evils marked safe breaks from the otherwise relentless manor), it’s easy to decide when to pass control onto the next player. On a more personal level, all three of us grew up playing the classic Resident Evil games, so we’re all fairly familiar to the general workings of the genre (coincidentally we’re playing through Resident Evil VII right now). However, the more I thought about, the more I began to wonder if experiencing horror with a group doesn’t come with its own set of advantages just by its nature.
The reason these games and other horror media is enjoyable to experience is because it allows you to be scared in a controlled fashion, which allows you to feel a cathartic rush of adrenaline in an actually safe environment. However, it’s also very true that seeing others be scared is also quite enjoyable, a fact that is probably based a little bit on schadenfreude. So seeing people you know get freaked out by something while ALSO getting freaked out yourself is basically an all-in-one package, and is something only a piece of horror media can provide. You get the rush of being frightened by something while also having the enjoyment of sharing that fright with others, which makes your freak out feel even more entertaining. Hell, entire YouTube channels have found immense popularity from this one concept.
This set up does come with draw-backs, of course. The fact there are other people in the room likely means that the scares are less effective overall, since the presence of other people will likely reassure you enough that you don’t get as freaked out as badly. Additionally, the game can lose some of its atmosphere if you’re constantly chatting back and forth with your buddies, since you don’t have your full attention on the game itself, which can be pretty damaging towards a genre where atmosphere is pretty important. This is especially true for games that have subtle or harder to notice elements; the unexplained and foreboding whispers that play on the edge of your senses are certainly creepy, but it’s moot if you were too busy talking about something and completely miss it.
These drawbacks aside, however, horror games are an oddly decent fit for a group activity. For one, horror games usually come with a fair amount of spectacle: the ebb and flow of building up tension and placing strategic surprise scares means it’s easy for a group to become immediately engaged with the experience, regardless of how invested each individual member of the group is. This is greatly helped by horror games usually having an at least decently presented story, regardless of whether that story is the campy Resident Evil or the more serious Amnesia. I’m of course not saying other games don’t have similar or greater levels of spectacle; just that horror has an uncommonly strong ability to grip an audience of a varying level of personal investment to the game. Just as an example, compare the level of spectacle in something like Outlast to something like Devil May Cry: the latter is definitely visually impressive, has cool set pieces, and looks great in motion, but the one playing it will definitely have a much higher investment in the game than anyone watching, since they had to actually take the time to learn all of the combos and tricks. While the one holding the controller is no doubt paying at least a little more attention to the game, it’s easy for a group to share the feeling of fear that a horror game is no doubt producing.
Alongside this, another positive that playing a horror game in a group allows for more than perhaps other games is that they produce a fair number of reasons for group discussion. While you can talk about pretty much any game in existence with a group if they all share enough of a common interest, horror games lend themselves well to creating topics of discussion, since both the mechanics and style of horror games are in a slightly more ‘obscure’ vein. The limited supplies and ammo, combined with the often tough and fatal enemies and bosses, mean that it’s likely you’ll have a constant running discussion on how best to use what few weapons you can scrounge up. Likewise, since many horror games like to keep some element of the story or lore hidden from plain sight, it can be fun to try and riddle out just what the heck is going on with your group. While there are other games that do something similar (the Demon/Dark Souls games practically made an art form of the technique), the relatively small time required in completing most horror games means that it’ll probably be easier to keep the group together long enough to puzzle out the whole thing.
Just so we’re all clear, I’m not saying playing horror games as a group is the absolute best way to play them. By their nature horror games are scarier to play by yourself, since nothing ramps up creeping dread like isolation, and of course the main objective of horror games is to freak you out. This was merely offering an alternative point of view, or maybe just an exploration of why horror games can be quite fun to play as group. Of course, the idea of horror/thriller games being fun to experience as group isn’t an original idea: the developers for Until Dawn are even making a game with specific mechanics that allow for up to five or six players because they saw how well Until Dawn went down for groups. Still, it’s interesting to look at how one of gaming’s scariest and most terrifying genres can bring people together almost as well, if not better, than its party games. Although considering how many friendships have been destroyed thanks to Mario Party and it’s ilk, maybe it’s not that surprising…
In any case, thanks as always for stopping by! The tease I gave out about more/additional/different kinds of content coming has been delayed slightly due to elements out of our control, but it is hopefully still on the horizon somewhere. Until next time, take care!