Just to be completely honest I don’t remember ever playing a horror video game but somehow when coming up with ideas for video games the one that was the most doable was a horror game. I have played quite a few horror board games though and the board game shelves in my house have an absurd number of lovecraftian inspired games on them. I’ve tried to do a decent amount of research into horror as a genre because of my lack of hands on video game experience.
So why do people enjoy horror? Well according to the University of Chicago Press Journals(1)
“Investigators generally use one of two theories to explain why people like horror movies. The first is that the person is not actually afraid, but excited by the movie. The second explanation is that they are willing to endure the terror in order to enjoy a euphoric sense of relief at the end. But, a new study by Eduardo Andrade (University of California, Berkeley) and Joel B. Cohen (University of Florida) appearing in the August issue of the Journal of Consumer Research argues that neither of these theories is correct.
“We believe that a reevaluation of the two dominant explanations for people’s willingness to consume “negative” experiences (both of which assume that people can not experience negative and positive emotions simultaneously) is in order,” explain Andrade and Cohen in their study.
They continue: “The assumption of people’s inability to experience positive and negative affect at the same time is incorrect.”
In other words, the authors argue that horror movie viewers are happy to be unhappy. This novel approach to emotion reveals that people experience both negative and positive emotions simultaneously — people may actually enjoy being scared, not just relief when the threat is removed. As the authors put it, “the most pleasant moments of a particular event may also be the most fearful.”
Andrade and Cohen developed and utilize a new methodology to track negative and positive feelings at the same time. Their method could apply to other experiences that seem to elicit terror, risk, or disgust, such as extreme sports.
“When individuals who typically choose to avoid the stimuli were embedded in a protective frame of mind, such that there was sufficient psychological disengagement or detachment, they experienced positive feelings while still experiencing fearfulness,” the authors explain.”
Dr. Griffiths complies a number of other reasons in his article Why Do We Like Watching Scary Films?(2) “According to a 2004 paper in the Journal of Media Psychology by Dr. Glenn Walters, the three primary factors that make horror films alluring are tension (generated by suspense, mystery, terror, shock, and gore), relevance (that may relate to personal relevance, cultural meaningfulness, the fear of death, etc.), and (somewhat paradoxically given the second factor) unrealism.”
Unreal-ism seems like an odd factor to consider in the enjoyment of a video based medium. It plays into the idea though that movies and video games can be a vicarious way to experience emotions. You might be very scared but you know you are actually safe. This was a common theme in most of the articles I read on horror video games. Perhaps as video games mature as a genre of entertainment we will begin to see more horror games or maybe they will always be a sort of outlier when compared to fantasy RPGS and FPS games.
(1) University of Chicago Press Journals. “Why Do People Love Horror Movies? They Enjoy Being Scared.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 July 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/07/070725152040.htm>.
(2) Mark D. Griffiths Ph.D. “Why Do We Like Watching Scary Films?” Psychology Today. Oct 29, 2015< https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-excess/201510/why-do-we-watching-scary-films >