Halloween is just around the corner now so here’s a question for you: what frightens you? Does the thought of playing a horror game alone in the dark terrify you, or do you laugh in the face of all things spooky and gladly pick up the controller?
It’s a mixture of both in the Later Levels’ household. As I’ve mentioned several times before on the blog, I’m a complete wimp; I don’t mind watching some else play a scary release while I’m hiding behind my cushion but there’s no way I’d want to be in the driving seat. My other-half however is the opposite. I’ve never known him to do anything more than twitch slightly at jump scares when it comes to the horror genre and he’s looking forward to playing Resident Evil 7: Biohazard in virtual reality (VR).
This explains why when Kevin from The Lawful Geek (the game-master for our fortnightly Shadowrun session) suggested last month that we play Project Zero live on stream, Pete jumped at the chance and ordered a copy for our PlayStation 2 immediately. I on the other hand felt more apprehensive. I was already aware of the history of this title: also known as Fatal Frame, the series is full of vengeful spirits you can’t fight off and is declared by many to be one of the scariest ever made.
In preparation for our first stream, I had a cushion positioned nearby in case I needed something to cower behind – but I found that wasn’t the case. The same was true for our next session. We only made it through those two streams before Pete became so frustrated with the controls that he experienced a small fit of gamer-rage on Twitch and announced that he was never picking up the game again. He’d had enough of the changes in camera angles between scenes and slow movement speed when trying to photograph the ghosts.
It got me thinking though: why was Project Zero not having any effect when watching horror playthroughs usually scared the hell out of me? Kevin had been certain I’d end up screaming on stream and that my other-half would at least be frightened, but the game had had little to no impact on either of us. This finding led me to analyse the things that scare me and why, as well as look back at some of the titles which have caused the hairs to stand up on the back of my neck.
Hearing something scuttling out of sight
Kevin believes that the reason why we didn’t flinch at the game was because we couldn’t hear it properly. I think he might have a point: we couldn’t have our speakers up too loud during the stream in case of feedback through our microphones and I don’t like wearing headphones for extended periods of time. During one scene, we’re sure we’d vaguely heard a child laughing in a background and that’s something which is usually immediately frightening in horrors! Perhaps a release like this one is best experienced alone for full effect.
Catching a glimpse of something in the shadows
Something else that Kevin picked up on was that we were playing Project Zero with the lights turned up bright. It’s another limitation that came from streaming the game: if we’d turned off our key lights, the friends watching us would have been left seeing a black box rather than our camera and that’s no fun for anyone. Pete has been preparing for our next horror though by purchasing a night-vision camera so we can play Amnesia for Halloween in the dark. Now that’s going to be far scarier.
Experiencing someone else’s fear
Today’s graphics are far more advanced than those the PlayStation 2 allowed for but there was something I couldn’t get over in Project Zero: just how straight protagonist Miku Hinasaki’s face remained despite being confronted by all those ghosts. She barely even pulled a surprised expression and I think that dampened my own fear. If a character is scared, it makes me scared – take the surgery scene from STASIS for example, when John Maracheck’s screams are so horrible to hear.
Not knowing what’s stalking you
I already knew a lot about Project Zero before going into our stream and it’s explained almost immediately in-game that you’re being hunted by evil spirits. I think having the element of surprise removed in this way meant it had less impact because I’m far more frightened when I don’t know what’s coming. Look at Until Dawn as an example. The first half scared me when it was obvious something bad was happening but the characters didn’t know what was happening, but the effect was lost once it was revealed to be the Psycho.
The things you can’t see
Although Project Zero’s ghosts have a habit of randomly disappearing when you’re trying to photograph them, it’s the psychological things that remain unseen which are more likely to get the hairs standing up on the back of my neck. You know what I’m talking about: those moments when your brain keeps turning the same question over and there’s a slow dawning of terrified realisation. SOMA handles this perfectly, and for weeks after playing I was left considering who the real monster in the dark was.
The ultimate horror
In terms of antagonists in video games, supernatural and spiritual enemies freak me out way more than physical monsters do. The other thing I really hate is levels which take place underwater; there’s just something about the possibility of not being able to breathe or move quickly enough which makes me shudder. So what if someone created a title which took place in a watery world where unseen ghosts were chasing you, and we could play on stream while in the dark using the night-vision camera? There’d definitely be screams on screen.
Have you played Project Zero and, if so, did it frighten you? What things in video games are likely to get you hiding behind a cushion? Pete and I will be working our way through Amnesia on Twitch on Saturday, 31 October 2020 to celebrate it now being 10-years old, so come join us if you’re in the mood for a spooky evening.
Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.