As some of you may or may not know I am currently playing Silent Hill 2 for the first time on PS2, well first time properly since I tried before many years ago and got terrified so I turned it off. Now, I’m further in the game than ever but I’m still terrified, the fog hides any creature that can attack me, every strange footstep coming from behind me makes my hairs stand on edge and the sudden sound of a metal gate slamming in the distance has me on edge.
And it’s not just Silent Hill that’s done this, Bioshock has me creeping alongside the wall, keeping an eye around corners for Splicers. In Fallout 3 I flat out refuse to go into the Dunwich building and it’s sequel New Vegas, every time I see Deathclaw or Cazador I’m running for my life, firing every bullet I have at these monsters.
Call me a wuss if you will but it’s only video games that cause this kind of terror, I can watch The Shining or The Exorcist and be scared but not for long and not to the same degree of a video game. The reason for this is the fact that games create a deeper emotional response with the player character, whereas movies will have you act as a third person, watching these people make their own choices and their own mistakes a game has you controlling the protagonist, it’s your choices, your mistakes and for a few moments you believe that it’s you wandering the foggy streets where anything at anytime can reach out and kill you.
This emotional connection means that even the simplest of thing can terrify you when you’re playing a game, a sound from behind, a shadow in the distance, blood stains on the floor, all of these are things that can be and are in a lot of horror films and yet they don’t have the same impact. Because you have that connection with the player character your mind messes with you more, something movies can never do as well (Books probably could, it’s the same problem with movies in that you’re a third person watching these events unfold but at least a book allows your imagination to run wild).
It’s strange though because a video game character is invincible, with checkpoints and auto-saves a character can die and come back just as quickly and yet you don’t want them to die. You’ve immersed yourself into this world, you’ve become this character so when they die, for the briefest of moments you think that it’s you. It’s a testament to how video games can make you think, make you react to something you’ve seen a thousand times in film with the same terror as seeing it in real life.
If there ever was a conclusive argument to the ‘Video Games As Art’ argument the survival horror genre is the answer. No other genre in any other medium has the same emotional power.