Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Decision Making in Horror

Outlast Shows How It's Done
One of the oft-forgotten tricks of a good horror game is that it best revolves around the choices you make and the choices that denied to you.  You can't simply choose to make an infection curable or to deny someone else being infected at all, but you can choose what to do about it and it is that choice that makes the whole thing scary.

Do you leave the room now when there's a creature potentially lurking out there or do you wait?

Do you fight or run from the creature oozing from shadows?  If you fight, will that inevitably lead to you wasting ammunition and health levels and potentially dying?  If you try to run, is there anywhere you can go?

You don't know the outcomes but you do know the questions and in it is within those questions that most of the fear springs.  After all, there is a sort of peace in inevitability.  If you only have one option then at least it's not your fault if something bad happens but what if you could have done something differently?  What if your favourite NPC - your character's daughter - only lost her fingers because of a decision you made?  What if it's your fault?

If you'd only been smarter, brighter, braver, you could have succeeded where now you have failed....

Yes, I know, once that failure hits and the shame and bitterness wells up you've fallen into tragedy (which can be good, too) but it's that fear of entering the world of tragedy that makes fear so salient.  It's the fear of loss, the fear of suffering and pain, that stays with you.

Horror can be made up of many little elements - disgust, shock, pain, scary truths, and strange ways of looking at things - but fear is always anticipatory.  The reality may be terrible but the fear is always of the next step.  So if you make the next step meaningful, if you allow the onus to fall on the player characters, you can create a deeper, richer and more frightful game.

What do you reckon?  How does that sound to you?

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