Why do we love horror games? Psychologists explain our morbid curiosity

True horror is something that no human being would want to experience. Few people actively want to put themselves in a defenseless position against a life-threatening situation or scary creature. Wouldn’t it be easier to watch these things through a TV screen with scary movies or auditory creepypasta? It is through external curiosity that humanity has created so many ways to witness nightmares without having to actually put ourselves through hell. And one way is through video games, one of the most interactive and immersive ways to go on a journey of terror in a much safer way.

But as an active fear hound, I always wonder, “Why?” Why do we love taking a step out of our comfort zone into this crazy reality? I love haunted houses even though I’m scared of the giant animatronics which are awesome. Likewise, I love horror games even though I hate the discomfort of being helpless while being stalked by a terrifying attacker. So, what is it in our brains that makes us want to go beyond observing horror through movies and become active participants through games? The answer lies in our psychology.

Recreational fear

There are some study of the science of fear This shows that this sensation makes humans feel “natural”. Our adrenaline rises, endorphins and dopamine are released, and we become excited from this brief moment of fear. That’s why the game is like that Silent Hill has so much anticipation built into it. Like waiting for Mr Evil Residence 2, we are building and then releasing all these chemicals, and this gives us a huge advantage and a rush that keeps us moving deeper and deeper into the shadows. Such experiences, going to a haunted house, or even riding a rollercoaster are categorized as recreational fears, and that’s what horror writer and psychologist Mathias Clasen specializes in.

Mr.X opens the door in Resident Evil 2.

“I think it’s in our nature to find pleasure in what we call fear-inducing recreational activities, that is, activities that make us afraid,” Clasen told Digital Trends. “Horror is just an intense type of recreational fear. We evolved to find pleasure in playing with fear because we learn important things about ourselves and the world that way – what dangers exist in the world, how we respond to fear itself, and how we can overcome negative emotions such as fear and anxiety. .”

That’s why horror has developed into such a powerful genre in every medium and takes so many forms: Horror has always been a glimpse into the inner human soul. It gives us a visual way to experience and confront our fears, insecurities, and sin. You can find it on display in classic horror films such as Silent Hill 2a game featuring protagonist James Sunderland facing the existential horror that he may be the worst monster of all.

You’re not in any real danger when playing horror games, and you know it.

Since the beginning, horror games have thrown us into emotional situations that we wouldn’t want to experience in the real world — aside from featuring some strange creatures. 1988 classic splash house is about killing monster after monster, but the most terrifying moment occurs when the protagonist’s lover becomes another demon who must be destroyed. It plays with our emotions and destroys them, making them more personal. A game doesn’t have to be a terrifying horror experience to produce that sensation. Even the game is like a spirit Limited to earth translating childhood and growing up fears into a charming RPG. These games throw us into conflicts we would never have voluntarily experienced, allowing us to look inside ourselves and learn something new or overcome past trauma.

Horror sweet spot

For some people, the digital experience may be too real. Is there such a thing as going too deep when dealing with such strong emotions? This is where the latest technical evolutions in gaming come into play: VR horror game. The technology is still young, so it’s no surprise that VR horror titles haven’t attracted as much attention as franchises like Dead Space or Resident Evil. However, it may not just be about the headset’s low adoption rate. Clasen argues that most players don’t want to get too close to their fears.

“You’re not in danger when playing horror games, and you know it,” Clasen said. “When you forget that — when you become so immersed that you forget it’s just a game — it stops being fun. This was no longer a playful fear, no longer a recreational fear, but a real fear, and it was not pleasant at all. I think that’s why VR horror games are a niche market. It was too real for most people.”

This is where psychologist Coltan Scrivner’s “horror sweet spot” comes into play. For him, the best experiences require careful planning to ensure there is no fear of too much or too little. Too much, and the terror eventually surpasses recreational fear. Too little and it ends up being too boring. That’s why the best entries in the Resident Evil series are so good; the fear is always there, but not too strong. The third-person perspective makes it less personal than first-person games, but you still feel a little helpless in the process — at least during your first playthrough before you figure out where all the monsters are hiding.

Ellie and Joel hide behind the table from the clicker in The Last of Us Remake.
Naughty Dog, PlayStation, Sony

When talking with Scrivner and Clasen, it became clear why the zombie horror subgenre is so popular. As Seen In The last of usTelltale’s Walking Dead series, and even The devil’s residence, the human element brings limitless emotional possibilities. Meanwhile, zombies keep appearing, which activates some of our primal senses as we stand guard waiting for an attack. This creates an almost recreational experience of fear.

“Zombies activate many aspects of our morbid curiosity,” says Scrivner. “Their rotting flesh arouses our curiosity about bodily injury. Their predatory nature exploits our curiosity about violence and predators. And their nature – neither dead nor alive – taps into our curiosity about the paranormal. So zombie horror usually has something for everyone.”

Zombies may be popular for a reason, but it doesn’t matter what subgenre you’re interested in. All horror games use different pathways in our brains. While so many gaming experiences attract players with positive feelings and rewards, horror is a particular draw. We want to be afraid. We want to be powerless. And through those seemingly negative experiences, we discover something within ourselves that reminds us why we love this genre all the time.

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