Does Gaming Understand "Scary" Better Than Hollywood?
As movies have gradually declined in quality, and as they've worked very hard to insult any viewer with half a functioning brain, the gaming industry has gained. Granted, we probably shouldn't say that all video game scripts are brilliantly written - although we maintain Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots's storyline is better than most of the crap that Hollywood churns out - but that's not the question today. The question today is, has the gaming industry fully understood and embraced the concept of fear?
Those who know anything about fear and how we become frightened know full well that our imagination can create far more horrific visions than anything we'll ever actually see. It's the way the brain works. The rule is simple- the anticipation is supposed to be more terrifying than the encounter itself. These days, Hollywood seems to bypass this theory and go straight to the gore, which makes sense, considering the typical audience for those movies. But none of that is frightening; it's just sick and twisted. Disgusting, yes, but hardly scary. But look at a few of the recent efforts in the gaming industry: first of all, even though the controls drag the game down a bit, Silent Hill: Homecoming excels - as every previous entry in the series - in the realm of subtle terror. It's what we hear and can't see, it's the atmosphere, it's not knowing what's around the corner; by the time you're fighting anything, you're actually coming down from the initial fright.
It builds and builds and builds, jacking your heartbeat and anticipation through the roof; your palms are sweaty and you're gradually moving towards the edge of your seat. This is what Silent Hill has done amazingly well over the years, and although Resident Evil has been more Hollywood-esque, it too has its moments. Survival/horror aficionados will also point you towards the Siren games, which are typically scary as hell. Lastly, Dead Space is out this week, and from what we've heard, it's one hell of a freakish experience. Quotes like "world's scariest game" get us very excited, and we can already feel the blood pumping. There's no doubt that gore is part of these games - especially EA's apparent masterpiece - but that plays second fiddle to the aforementioned build-up. This is what sets such titles apart from the rest of the crowd, and by all rights, it should also separate scary movies from all others. But unfortunately, gross garbage has apparently replaced finely crafted, fear-inducing settings.
Why? Because it takes more work. It takes more skill to craft. Anybody can slop a bunch of guts together and throw it at a camera, but it takes a true artist to produce something that will make us leap at every tiny sound. Hollywood isn't into effort these days (obviously), so maybe we shouldn't be surprised when movies like "Hostel 2" and "Saw V" are supposedly "scary" movies. There have been a few other, more effective movies in the past, though; like "Descent." It remains one of the few "horror" movies I've seen in the past five years or so that actually worked, and didn't continually assault me with a barrage of filth every ten minutes. And of course, film buffs can mention many of the scariest movies of all time, but most all of them are at least a decade old, and there's a reason for that. The only problem is, the gaming industry is once again making Hollywood look bad by giving us entertainment that is legitimately frightening. So should the movie makers take a cue from certain developers...?
It's an interesting discussion, surely. Some may want to list plenty of movies they've seen recently that they deemed "scary," and not just gratuitously nasty. But when I do that, I only come up with old movies. And when I ask myself about truly scary entertainment experiences, I almost always have to turn to games. That's all I'm saying.
10/14/2008 Ben Dutka