I Cannot Play Horror Games, But I Wish I Could

I Cannot Play Horror Games, But I Wish I Could

Are you enjoying Alien: Isolation? What about PT, or any other big horror game? Are you thrilling at the scares, revelling in the fear, shivering at the spooks? If yes, then know that I envy you.

I tried playing Alien: Isolation this week, a title that on paper should be my Game Of The Year. It's an incredibly faithful recreation of the original film's universe and aesthetic, and getting the chance to basically walk around inside Ron Cobb's brain for a few hours sounds like the game of my dreams.

Yet I can't play it. Well, I could, for the first hour, since that was the part where I could walk around and poke at the walls and admire the detail and chuckle at the old cassette players everywhere.

From the moment the alien first shows up, though, I was done. The first time you escape the beast, as you agonisingly wait for a tram to arrive while you look over your shoulder, the music building, the tension unbearable, I hit the quit button and probably won't be back.

Not because of some dry sense of subjectivity, where I processed a harmless thought that "no, this is not for me". I was physically affected.

This is nothing new for me. I've been a video game "coward" for as long as I can remember. From Half-Life's underwater sequence (I HATE SHARKS) to PT's, well, everything, I've struggled through some of the biggest games, and in some cases I've been unable to even get started on them. I'm the same way with some horror movies. The Ring, Evil Dead, I can manage, but the really creepy stuff, no thank you.

I wish I wasn't! I look around me, at my colleagues and my friends, and how they find enjoyment in terror. They obviously go through the standard response to such experiences: namely, that when confronted with horrifying imagery or frights, their bodies start releasing the "fight-or-flight" hormones adrenaline and cortisol, and as a result they feel more "alive". It's a rush.

I Cannot Play Horror Games, But I Wish I Could

Me, I don't get the "rush". Well, I do; I've experienced it in actual fight-or-flight situations, whether it's been from car crashes, sports or, well, fights. But when it comes to horror in video games, I get sick, and dizzy, but not in a euphoric or liberating or relieving way. I just feel, well, sick, in a sucky, wish-I-wasn't-feeling-like-this kind of way. Which is why I rarely play scary video games. If I'm not getting some kind of enjoyment out of it - and indeed, am feeling the opposite of enjoyment - why bother?

I don't know if this is because I've got a few pieces of wiring wrong, or whether it's just a difference in people's reactions to media. Loads of people hate horror movies, for example, for similar reasons to my own.

But that's what interests me about horror games, and my aversion to them. While plenty of folks will avoid horror movies, and be up-front about their reasons for it, I don't see the same kind of talk around horror video games. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only person on the internet who literally cannot play a scary video game.

I know it's not because I can't process genuine fear, as that's something I've had to deal with countless times in the real world. My best theory (WARNING: I AM NOT A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL) is that it's got something to do with control. In the real world, I guess I have some semblance of control over my actions and reactions to things around me.

So perhaps it's the fact that when I'm playing a game or watching a movie, I'm locked into a ride, and have to experience what's coming completely outside of my ability to escape it, avoid it or influence it (at least outside the developer's limited options in the case of a game). Which part of me obviously cannot abide, to the point it makes me ill.

Which when you think about it is crazy. Lots of games, from loot-grabbers like Destiny and WoW to free-to-play mobile titles, play upon weaknesses and compulsions in the human mind, but how many other genres are so reliant on a physical response as horror games are?

And how many other genres/styles of game, then, can manage to exclude people from playing, not because of some thematic dislike but for reasons of physical aversion? (I can think of certain FPS games and those affected by motion-sickness, and...that's it)

That kind of extra-sensory rush, beyond the usual gaming effects like a raised heart-rate, make me jealous of those who do/can enjoy horror games. It sounds exhilarating! The pleasures of regular gaming with an added and expanded physical rush!

So the next time you're playing a horror game and the frights kick in, and you start to feel that exhilarating sensation, spare a thought for poor folks like me, who genuinely had to ask their lady friend for help in the Assassin's Creed IV diving sequences (AGAIN, SHARKS) because they were too frozen to do it themselves...


    I find horror games a real challenge... I'll play in the dark, keyboard lights off, headphones on, volume cranked... and, I think this is almost unfortunate, I have absolutely mastered by ability to suspend disbelief. I can let myself go with any fiction, no matter how bad, and just soak up all that belief.

    Can you imagine, then, me in my darkened PC room at midnight, being hunted by a merciless force of nature... it actually causes me physical pain as my joints tire from ceaselessly holding my body in check for the next scare.

    It's thrilling, and it's very, very hard... but I cannot give it up.

    I used to be able to play Resident Evil no worries at all back in the early days. It'd be tense as hell, but I could do it. Not so anymore.

    I downloaded P.T. the other night and got as far as the fourth or fifth loop. Then the fucking ghost came out of nowhere and killed me. I screamed. I mean I literally screamed in horror. I quit after that. I just can't take it. Too fucking scary. I wish I could, because I love the whole premise of it, but i just can't do it.

    Holy crap! Amen to this article. I'm exactly the same.

    I tried watching my son play Alien Isolation and he was just in the very first hour where no alien will get you. He was wandering through the station when something ran out across a hallway. I was drinking tea at the time, and I jumped and threw it in my own face!

    I sat down with my wife and watched Supernanny instead... :(

    I have played through a couple of horror games but i cant handle being chased by something, really makes me jump when i see a figure charging towards me, i instantly alt + f4 and close my eyes.

    There has been only one game that I have had to turn off because it got dark and I just couldn't face it.

    System Shock 2

      hahaha same here dude, first time I've feared a game

    I'm loving Alien Isolation but every say hour or two I just hit a point where no brain, knowing it's a game, still just packs in and says NOPE NOPE NOPE.

    Take a breather for half and hour and I'm usually back again. It is torture though.

    Does anyone else find they can watch scary films all day and night long but the second you boot up a decent horror game all bets are off?

    My best theory (WARNING: I AM NOT A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL) is that it’s got something to do with control.

    Or you could just have an enlarged amygdala :D.

    I'm glad to see there's so many people like me who don't play scary games because it will leave you rocking in the corner, wrapped in a blanket saying 'can't sleep, clown'll eat me'. Someone will probably disagree with me on this, but I liken this to eating super spicy food. I eat for nourishment and sometimes enjoyment, so why the hell would that involve setting my mouth on fire and sweating profusely like Oscar Pistorious?

    On the topic of sharks get off me, Far Cry 3 can piss off too—I basically have my syringe bag with animal repellent at all times. The jump scares from other animals attacking you out of nowhere is just as bad.

    And what I remember about FEAR is that it was a psychological ambush. The developers butter you up with being a kick-ass soldier guy shooting up the place, and then that fcuking little girl in red shows up. Piss right off.

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