Survival Horror: Why we Love to be Scared

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.

  7 comments for “Survival Horror: Why we Love to be Scared

  1. blissfulmomo
    March 20, 2015 at 12:12 am

    This was a great article because it makes me think about why I crave horror movies. It also made me think about horror games, I love them to death but end up never getting the chance to play them at any point where I wouldn’t be scared out of my wits for the entire night. While movies and games are very different perspectives on horror, I feel like it’s also the sheer ridiculousness. I know I watch gory horror movies, because they are gory horror movies and I enjoy every element ingrained into the movie. I feel like this is the same for horror games, especially since they have more creative license to create the most ridiculous stories, like Evil Within. Evil Within would be an extremely hard to create in movie format. Those elements that can’t be replicated anywhere else are like this unique element that you can’t find anywhere else.

  2. isolemnlyswear
    March 20, 2015 at 1:23 am

    I enjoy horror game myself and have thought a lot about this question. I agree that a lot of it is the adrenaline rush. Everyone wants to feel excitement and a perfect why to do that is through horror games. I think that for some people, horror games are a means to block out anxieties and fear but it also creates new fears for some people. I remember people talking about the nightmares they had because of the horror games they played. I understand why it people would play games to block out fears but it would be interesting to look into the reasons behind players that commonly have nightmares about horror games continuing to play them. I also think that it has a lot to do with the humor aspect of it. A lot of people will watch let’s plays of people reacting to horror games for the humor or play the game themselves and laugh when they get scared. Overall, this is a good question to think about because there are so many different reasons behind why people play horror games.

  3. jblocky
    March 20, 2015 at 11:59 am

    Horror is my absolute favorite genre because it keeps me on my toes, and it’s downright impossible to lose focus, for fear of a possible jump scare. I will admit that before reading this article, I couldn’t tell you why I enjoy horror movies and games so much, simply because I never thought about it. I agree that it is because it stirs up raw emotions and builds up adrenaline, which makes for a more exciting experience. Also, I know that my friends and I would all get together freshman year, turn out all of the lights, and take turns playing Slender. For the people watching, it was like watching a horror movie, but for the person playing, it was like they were fully immersed in the environment of the game. I think that people play these games, because it is hopefully the closest that they will ever get to living in a survival horror world.

  4. gsmith5
    March 20, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    I really like this article because I love horror games and movies. I always try to think about why I like the horror genre and I’m never really sure so your article brings up good points. I wish you would have gone into the points more though because there are so many different reasons people like horror games. I know I like the stories in the games but why I like the stories and being scared, I don’t know. I like the idea of projecting real fears onto something fake though. I have never heard that reasoning and its worth exploring more.

  5. mfierro
    March 20, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    I really don’t like anything that has to with the horror genre in general, but for some reason I really liked Outlast for some reason. It scared me senseless but for some reason I was hooked. I think it was the anticipation of getting scared that was the turning factor for me. I definitely would jump whenever something happened. I like how you included Slenderman in one of the pictures because although you are just talking about Outlast you are adding depth to the survival horror genre. And you do make a good point, why do we stick to the horror genre? Why are we so addicted to getting scared even though we don’t like it? I totally agree I think it is the adrenaline rush we get after getting scared in the game itself. Good Job!

  6. March 22, 2015 at 5:57 pm

    Horror games and I have a strange relationship. I will hurriedly watch someone else play them but I would never really play them myself. Even now my game of Amnesia is dusting in the corner somewhere. However, I love horror games. Most have an engaging plot and one that makes your jaw drop (the good ones at least). Everyone has experienced jump scares and in that one moment life is terrible but afterwards I can’t help but laugh and giggle at how scary it was. It’s even better when you’re watching someone else play it and you can just repeat their reaction over and over again. But still, that phenomenon is so strange. You get scared and then laugh about it. Why is that? Why do we enjoy being scared? It’s just like riding a roller coaster. You know you’re going to freak out but the moment you get off you immediately want to do it again. That one moment of terror is nothing compared to the fun and excitement you feel afterwards.

  7. Sweetman
    April 3, 2015 at 2:32 am

    The horror genre has always been a weird and interesting genre since those who love it love it for the terror and fear it instills. I play horror games a ton and love to see the hell which people drag out of their own minds to share with people and try to terrify them with at the same time. Sadly, I haven’t found many as having the best atmosphere or even the appropriateness to be truly called horror. I much more prefer the indie games which take away your ways to fight back since it removes some of that primal fear of “I can’t fight so I must flee.” Here’s hoping however that Del Toro with his new Silent Hills game comes out and is the kind of terror we all love to cringe at and scream about. (P.T. is the demo for this game if wondering)

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