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At What Point Do Horror Experiences Become Un-Fun?

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If you didn't know, the anticipated horror game Outlast 2 was shown off during PAX East.

And here are just a few of the eye-catching headlines from sources that went hands-on with the terrifying new adventure:

"I got my d*ck destroyed in Outlast 2" -- Destructoid

"Outlast 2 - You are going to need some new underwear" -- GamersFTW

"I'm never playing Outlast 2 again" -- Twinfinite

"Outlast 2 is Terrifying -- GameSpot

A few things come to mind when reading these reports and commentaries. Firstly, I used to be shocked at just how desensitized we've all become but I'm no longer surprised at what has seemingly no effect on people. Secondly, this reaction reminds me of that P.T. demo - you know, the one for the "Silent Hills" game that never happened - and how it really hit home for lots of gamers. Hell, I remember being decidedly on edge when playing. But thirdly, and perhaps this is a ridiculous question for true horror fans who understand this better than I, I have to wonder: At what point does this stop being entertainment?

I get the basic premise, of course. Humans have been listening to scary stories since the dawn of time; there's just something about them that caters to the dark corners of the psyche. I've known several people who have always lived for the thrills and chills in a good horror movie (and when I say "good," I'm referring to the quality films that understand the nature of suspense and fear, as opposed to gore-fests that are only about titillation and general shock factor). But I'm not sure they know where the line is, or even if there's a line that separates "fun" from just plain terrified.

And what really is "fun scary," for lack of a better term? Is Outlast 2 pushing the boundaries here? Are people really going to actually dislike playing it because the scare factor is simply too high? Can it even be too high? What happens if a horror fan experiences a "too high" fear factor? When they realize it's no longer fun, that they just want to stop, is that, in and of itself, "fun?" It's kinda like this bizarre circle that I can't quite figure out and defies logical explanation.

As for what it can do to somebody psychologically, that's another subject for another time. Let me just say that people who believe it has zero impact whatsoever are absolutely clueless. The impact is definite; it's just a matter of whether or not it can actually affect our behavior, perception, daily lives, etc. And I'm not about to get into that now. I just want to know where the "fun" line is when the horror starts to escalate...

Related Game(s): Outlast 2

Tags: outlast 2, outlast sequel, horror games

4/24/2016 9:18:10 PM Ben Dutka

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Legacy Comment System (14 posts)

Monday, April 25, 2016 @ 12:13:59 AM

When they are no longer 'scary'.

To be more specific, when these horror games rely too much on the 'shock' factor to get a response from you. That's not scary; it's just annoying, and the same thing can be achieved in a non horror setting.

Maybe some people enjoy the thrill from that, but when it is overused in a game, I find it very cheap.

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Monday, April 25, 2016 @ 8:59:20 AM

Comments like the "I got my d*** destroyed in Outlast 2" is pretty much the reason i avoid scraping-the-barrel cesspool sites like Destructoid.

Outlast, Amnesia & all these other countless FPS cheap scare horror games just don't do it for me unfortunately. They're just too predictable. Sadly i feel that good horror games passed long ago.

I mean, i was playing Silent Hill 4 The Room recently just the other night which puts most of these new "horror" games put out today to shame & that had stuff like screaming babies birthing from walls, giants heads stuffed in rooms staring at you and monsters that were actually disturbing in their symbolism.

Nothing like that now imo.

Last edited by Kevin555 on 4/25/2016 9:01:47 AM

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Monday, April 25, 2016 @ 7:36:06 PM

I don't remember SH4 being so scary, just disturbing.

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Monday, April 25, 2016 @ 11:31:30 AM

I think they stop being fun when they make you uneasy before and after you 'play' them. I think they cease to be 'fun' when they shock the crap out of you (or should), or make you feel ill at the sights being shoved through your eyes at your brain.

Any time any form of media can accomplish those things, I think we need to question why we're participating, what kind of minds dreams up that crap, and what the hell happened to those poor individuals who think it's 'fun'.

Games such as these are the kinds of game that continue to perpetuate one of the myths about gaming and gamers. I honestly can see no good reason to make games such as these. It's like those god awful modern 'horror' movies that are more accurately described as torture porn.

I love freedom of speech but when the sole defense you have for producing a game that is otherwise offensively horrifying and disturbing is to fall back on artistic freedom of speech - "Because we can" - it's time to re-evaluate your game and yourself. "Because we can" is a terrible reason to do anything, it's the kind of reason that immature teenagers give when they'd done something wrong, that they know is wrong, and have no other reason than "because we can".

I think any developer/publisher who's reason for making/releasing a game of this ilk is "because we can" needs to trash the trash and go back to their drawing boards and find a game with better reasons.

Last edited by TheHighlander on 4/25/2016 11:32:22 AM

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Monday, April 25, 2016 @ 12:09:02 PM

But Highlander, the horror genre has existed long before video games. And I think an interactive media is the best medium for the horror genre, so naturally there will be games for it. I believe the best ones suspend your own beliefs and really pull you into that world, and I think that's where the fear comes from.

I don't know where you are getting the 'because we can' thing from. Everyone has their tastes, and if these games don't float your boat, don't play them!

But generally, I do see where you are coming from. You just have to look at the fatalities in the latest Mortal Kombat games and tbh I think we have crossed the line. These kinds of games would probably be illegal if the graphics weren't a little on the cartoonish side, but after seeing some of those fatalities, it does make you wonder 'what kind of minds dreams up that crap'.

I think a lot of us have become desensitised to these sorts of things, to the point where it no longer 'bothers' us, when it should...

And I can't help but see the connection when you turn on the TV and see some of the wars/conflicts we still have going on today, and you see people suffering and it no longer 'bothers' us as much as it should, since the reality of it seems so far away...

And I feel like these kinds of themes present in our entertainment media is a reflection of the darker sides of ourselves. It simply wouldn't exist if it wasn't already present in our collective psyche, or had no basis to reality.

After all, fiction is inspired by reality.

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Monday, April 25, 2016 @ 2:45:25 PM

I'm well aware that the horror genre has existed since well before games. Our ability to depict certain things visually has advanced far in excess of our ability apply self control to that creation.

The "because we can" defense is all you are left with if you have a product who's only merit is that it is an expression of artistic freedom.

I agree about the progressive desensitization, but my problem with the thought that the games and other media that focus on the violence and horror side of things is not so much that it's a mirror reflecting our darker side, I think it's more like an amplifier. As we become more desensitized as a species, the darker side of our humanity becomes progressively worse.

Fiction is indeed inspired by reality, however there are also plenty of examples where reality was inspired by, if not prescribed by fiction. There is a feedback process at work that constantly drives a progression in desensitizing us against particular things.

At some point someone has to make the decision that just because we can depict something on TV, in a movie, game or VR experience, it does *NOT* mean that we should do it. Society created limits a long time ago for sexual material. Those standards too have been eroded over time, and there is a decent argument to be made that some of the standards have been too strict. But what standards have we set for violence?

I mean, seriously, without wanting to get into a debate about this; we have reached a point in games where the photo-realistic depiction of the player killing another person can portray the death in gruesome and realistic detail. Something that were it done on actual film would likely be the subject of a ban and criminal investigation to prove no one was harmed. I don't think that that kind of depiction serves any useful purpose what so ever.

Are our games there yet? Yes, in some ways they are, and it makes me very uncomfortable.

Last edited by TheHighlander on 4/25/2016 2:47:52 PM

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016 @ 7:41:07 PM

Yes I find this all very troublesome also...

But what are we to do?

Because from this point on, I don't see things getting better; only worse. Especially when games are still trying to reach 'new heights' & push boundaries even further...

And what are those boundaries anyway? And who sets them? You're right, as a society, I don't think we have a real standard for violence or even lewdness.

Whatever regulations/rating systems are set in place now, they are bound to change & adjust to our desensitisation levels as they have clearly done so over the decades. You only have to look at what is passing as PG and/or teen oriented content today, and then compare what was acceptable back then.

Today, I think it is safe to say that much of our media has become hyper-violent and hyper-sexualised. What kind of effect will that have in the long run? Perhaps in many ways, we are already seeing that impact now...

So 'someone' should so something about it, but aren't we as consumers voting what we want to see with our wallets? It's the consumers who are supporting these kinds of media, which sends the signal that more should be created. The producers are just going to produce whatever they think will sell, give or take whatever artistic freedom there is within that capitalistic structure. So yes, 'someone' should do something, but that decision for any large blockbuster isn't going to come from top-down, it'll be us as a society who ends up deciding on these things, and I believe this applies to pretty much everything else across the board.

But like you say, there is a feedback loop going on here, as these kinds of media act as amplifiers for whatever they are presenting. And I'm not like some of those naive people who think that the various media they expose themselves to have no real impact on their lives, it has 100% impact if not consciously then most certainly subconsciously, and there is plenty of evidence to support that.

The real question I'm grappling with here is this: Are we supposed to find a balance with the idea of 'total artistic freedom where anything goes', while still trying to be within the confines of some un-codified moral/decency standard? (which is clearly subjective & subject to change over time)

So what happens in the near future when we reach better than real-time graphics and possibly even surpass the 'uncanny valley'?

I think we really ought to re-evaluate our moral/spiritual values as a global culture, and decide what is actually important to us, otherwise we'll end up with hyper realistic war games and mortal kombats that are truly disturbing.

It's just... On an individual basis, this kind of situation seems out of reach & almost hopeless. All I can really do is support whatever resonates with me (whether that be media or anything else), while basically turning a blind eye to the things that I don't prefer.

But is that really enough anymore? I don't know...

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Thursday, April 28, 2016 @ 11:49:19 AM

Hanz, that was an excellent post, well thought out, I agree with a lot. I have a real problem with the idea of unfettered 'expression' as we approach or even cross the uncanny valley as you say.

It's already so visceral in some games that it bothers me. I don't want to imagine even higher degrees of realism. Actually, I can't help but wonder whether the developers themselves might not find their work disturbing them as we get closer to that scenario.

Ah well, thank you, a great discussion, and one I hope that gamers continue to have. For me the key thing about games is that although they feature violence, it was cartoon violence, or violence that was clearly pretend in nature, markedly unreal. That allowed games to be action, but be a game.

As we close the game between what games can depict and reality, the action is no longer markedly different, and I think that removes it from the 'game' category.

I'm sure that some will think I am in league with the ludicrous pro-censorship groups when I say this, but there needs to be some standard in place. We have to set limits on ourselves as gamers, and as developers. There really do need to be limits on what we will, and won't accept, participate in, or develop.

I'm just going to put this out there, and I know this is an older thread, so it may not be picked up by anyone. But, the kinds of killings that happen in today's most graphically violent games would be utterly illegal in real life. But it's apparently OK.

What if instead of a murder, it was a rape? That would never be tolerated (and bloody right too) in a game. So I honestly think we have to answer why the industry, and gamers in general apparently are OK with graphically depicted murder, but had a consensus that a graphic sexual assault or rape is unacceptable.

Both should be just as unacceptable to us as human beings.

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Monday, April 25, 2016 @ 12:22:40 PM

I love horror movies but can't stand horror games for some reason.Last one I played was Dead Space 2 which was great, also alone in the dark for ps3 was fantastic.

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Monday, April 25, 2016 @ 12:28:46 PM

I completely agree w/ Kevin555.

They really have to do a good job with the entire atmosphere - not just putting some cheap jump scares. It's pretty much becoming like those cheap Hollywood horror films these days - nothing scary but stupid random loud noises, children singing, and jump scares.

That ain't horror - not by a long shot.

Make a good game with an actually engaging mystery for once - so much to the point where players are actually engaged more in the MYSTERY/STORY such that when the directors do want to put in a jump scare- they get them good.

Atmosphere over cheap shots. - EVERY TIME

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Monday, April 25, 2016 @ 5:25:05 PM

I would say that p.t. wasn't fun for me. It really got to me, but I kept going back because it was so intriguing. Knowing the people involved, that was probably the goal the whole time. I wanted to get into outlast, but the frustrating environment interaction and semi omnipotent a.i. ruined it for me.

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Monday, April 25, 2016 @ 7:16:57 PM

The kind of 'scare' that The Last of Us gave me was my (personal) kind of fun horror. It wasn't scary just because of the jump scares (were the jump scares even that scary in TLoU?). No. It was scary because of the story. Because of the atmosphere. Because of what might happen to your companions. Because of the fate of both Joel and Ellie might be.

Alien Isolation was also "fun" for me, as was Until Dawn. But these two seemed to be much more fun when played alongside friend and family. Maybe their kind of horror was designed to be played amongst other people? I don't know.

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Monday, April 25, 2016 @ 7:45:35 PM

I imagine the threshold is different for everyone. I've said before that I can't play horror games, though I enjoy watching others play them. And I don't mean just the good ones, I'm a total coward for even the cheap jump-scare-train ones. But that's just me not being able to make myself continue even when I want to, hence my enjoyment of others playing them (and of horror movies).

All that said I don't think the line is easy to reach with video games, there's still that line of separation that's just hard to get over. In horror games, even if I can't continue I generally find the experience enjoyable as far as I manage to get. Lock me up in a mildly dark house old house with a few noises and I'll freak.

P.S. If it doesn't affect your behaviour, perception, or daily life, where's the impact?

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016 @ 11:57:03 AM

The impact is there, even if you think it's not. there is a reason that the phrase "cannot unsee" exists.

Appropriate meme image follows;

Last edited by TheHighlander on 4/26/2016 11:57:27 AM

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