You drive up the side of a mountain on a long, winding dirt road. It is a windy dark night, you can’t see anything except what is illuminated by your headlights. You drive around a corner and there it is, Mount Massive Asylum. You don’t know much about it, only that you have been sent here to investigate rumors of unspeakable experiments done on the patients. You are completely alone, you have no weapons and no idea what could be inside the asylum. Why don’t you just put the controller down, or play a different game? You know that whatever is in there is going to be terrifying, so why go in?
I promise its scarier in context.
For many people those questions would never have to be asked. Many of people would never pick up a game like Outlast in the first place, but for some of us we just can’t resist. It has been a life long love affair for me and the horror genre. When I was little I used to love watching old black and white creature features. As I got older I began to seek out more and more scary movies, and most recently video games. What really got me started in the genre was the indie game called Slender that became popular my freshman year of college. It was a simple enough premise, walk around the woods collecting notes and avoiding the monster known only as Slenderman. Despite its simplicity the game does a wonderful job of building atmosphere. Slenderman is always following you, turning corners becomes a constant source of anxiety and the game is truly terrifying to play alone in the dark.
More recently Outlast was brought to my attention by a friend. We played the game together in his dark basement and about 5 minutes into the game, the first time I had to open a door in fact, I screamed involuntarily for the first time in my adult life. I had to put down the controller soon after that, but after that experience I just could not get the game out of my head. So, I bought it for myself and have since beaten it (in several terrified sittings) but the question has always remained in my head, why did I want to play that again? Why did I want to feel that terror?
There could be a multitude of reasons, maybe horror fans have some kind of weird psychological condition that makes us crave terror, maybe its all about the adrenaline rush. I think that its a way for us to project our real fears onto something that we know is fake. Everyone is afraid of something rational, be it their grades, their job, family issues, something. So playing a survival horror game or watching a scary movie might just be a way for us to block out our anxieties with fear of the fake boogiemen that are the draw of the genre. It might also be because it is a challenge. As a fan of horror its not terribly easy to scare me, a lot of things that I see in movies doesn’t phase me anymore and I’m constantly looking for something that can make me feel such a strong emotional reaction. Even if that reaction is an involuntary scream of terror. And maybe that is the answer, maybe us horror fans just want to feel some kind of raw emotion even if it isn’t exactly a positive one.