segunda-feira, 7 de setembro de 2015

Horror ludens: using fear to construct meaning in video games

Fear is one of the most ancient feelings orbiting the human existence. The feeling of fear, historically, has been a fruitful basis where different writers, filmmakers and many other storytellers seek the inspiration to create their works. Video games, legitimated as “forms of media, human expression, and cultural importance” (FLANAGAN, 2009, p.67), were not left out of this list; the sophistication of the latest generations of consoles elevated fearful ludic narratives to a new frightening level.

In this context, we can discuss how fear could be a powerful element to construct meaning in some specific video games. Titles like Evil Within, Alan Wake, Slender and many others help us find some answers in this scenario, but in this post, we intend to focus our attention on the game Outlast (Playstation 4, 2014). Created by an independent studio named Red Barrels, the game sets its action in a psychiatric hospital in which the player takes the role of a reporter looking for clues of some bizarre experiments made with the patients. Without weapons or special powers, the player has only one hand cam to help him through the journey. Hide and run are the only options to escape from some creatures and tormented patients of the hospital. This kind of fear-based game, unlike other game genres, e.g. role-playing, first person shooters, puzzle, action, sport games etc., focuses on stimulating the player in a negative way. Check the trailer/gameplay below:

In this situation, fear is understood as creative “fuel” to develop narrative, gameplay, experience and immersion. Spinoza, in his book Ethics (2005), set out to analyze the origin and the nature of human affections taking as its starting point the desire, joy and sadness. Spinoza postulates that human beings, by nature, are passionate and affected by external forces to it. The Dutch philosopher drew a deep observation about feelings/passions that underlie human existence, complying aspects of fear.

The rhetoric of fear allows the development of games with meaning based on horror and terror like Outlast. About this, Ghita (2014, p.58) says as a refining of fear, ‘terror’ constitutes a multifocal aesthetic emotion, whose main feature is the state of anxiety, brought about by a well-balanced series of artistic elements: plot, atmosphere, characters. As an intensification of fear, ‘horror’ represents a unifocal aesthetic emotion, whose main feature is the state of revulsion, brought about by the paroxistical development of the afore-mentioned artistic elements.

In the context of game design using fear/terror/horror to create meaning in Outlast, it has been possible to identify three specific elements as Nielsen and Schønau-Fog (2013, ps.52-53) propose: 1) a deep narrative that allows the player to invest emotions into the character; 2) a deep sense of freedom to establish a connection and a deep grade of immersion on the player; 3) and, finally, the player should feel like a victim rather than a contender. Another point to highlight in this category of games is the use of “illogical architecture to turn houses, gardens and streets into great mazes which would make no sense in the real world” (NIELSEN; SCHØNAU-FOG, 2013, p.45). In Outlast – our main example for this post – we can identify these previous elements strategically hybridized with many different aspects of terror and horror, the narrative works alternating these both aspects to create a stronger immersive experience for the players.

Maral Tajerian, in an article for the site entitled “Fight or Flight: The Neuroscience of Survival Horror”, says that anxiety is a point to highlight in terror games. This author also says “next to fear, anxiety is perhaps the most prominent feeling experienced in video games. Unlike fear, which is a response to an imminent threat, anxiety is a response to a future potential threat”.

In this ambient full of “ludic fear” there’s a crucial question: why do some players search for fear and other bad feeling in games? To solve this puzzle, we quote Suits (2005, p.55) who says, “Playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles”.

Now on to your opinion.


FLANAGAN, Mary. Critical Play - Radical Game Design. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009.

GHITA, Catalin. Discussing Romanian Gothic. IN: KATTELMAN, Beth; HODALSKA, Magdalena. Frightful Witnessing: the rhetoric and (re)presentation of fear, horror and terror. Oxford: Inter-Disciplinary Press, 2014.

NIELSEN, Danny Langhoff; SCHØNAU-FOG, Henrik. In the mood for horror: a game design approach on investigating absorbing player experiences in horror games. IN: HUBER, Simon; MITGUTSCH, Konstantin; ROSENSTINGL, Herbert; WAGNER, Michael G; WIMMER, Jeffrey (Eds.). Context Matters! Proceedings of the Vienna Games Conference 2013: Exploring and Reframing Games and Play in Context. New Academic Press: Viena, 2013.

SPINOZA, Baruch. Ethics. London: Penguin Books, 2005.

SUITS, Bernard. The grasshopper: games, life and utopia. Broadview Encore Editions: Toronto, 2005.

Um comentário:

  1. This post is really helpful, I've recently finished a game design course and want to get in to indie game design and one of my ideas is for a horror game, this post has definitely given me a lot of tips on what I would need to make it truly feel like a horror game. My new blog also covers games and will feature some of my game design in the future, thanks for the good read!