LAN Party (Let’s-Analyze-Now Party) is a monthly feature where we ask With a Terrible Fate’s analysts to answer a prompt about their personal experiences with gaming. Answer the prompt for yourself, and join the discussion!
Welcome to an extra-spooky, Halloween-inspired edition of LAN Party. For this article, we asked the video game analysts to reflect on their experiences with horror in gaming. The prompt was short, sweet, and to the point:
What’s your scariest gaming memory, and why?
Kent Vainio (Video Game Analyst)
I don’t play many horror games, but one of the scariest experiences I have had is playing through most of Dark Souls 3. The game is a truly fantastic journey through a desolate and crumbling world, and many of the environments are just genuinely quite scary, such as dark prisons filled with enemies that scream and jump out at you from nowhere, poison bogs with enemies that can kill you in one hit, and dark chasms with shadows that attack you from behind. Overall, I was on the edge of my toes throughout my first playthrough of the game!
It is this very creepy aura that really immerses the player in the game’s world and makes them feel the extent of its decay and advanced decrepitude. If you haven’t played Dark Souls 3 before, or any of the other entries in the series, be sure to check them out for some great scares and a fun, but also solemn, Halloween experience.
Skylar Cohen (Video Game Analyst)
I played the latter half of Undertale’s pacifist run in one sitting in the middle of the night, while I was home from college on winter break. I had somehow managed not to spoil myself as to the existence of Photoshop Flowey and the True Lab’s Amalgamates, and it was a lot to take in. Combine these grotesqueries with the emotionally overwhelming finale, and I wasn’t able to sleep at all that night. I’m very grateful I had the full emotional experience of playing Undertale without knowing anything about the plot, because the depths of horror and peaks of emotion I felt that night were like nothing I’ve felt before or since.
Jaron R. M. Johnson (Video Game Analyst)
As a huge fan of anything horror-related, I, like many gamers similar to myself, spend a large portion of my time playing horror games. For a short while, a colleague of mine and I released videos as “The Scare Bears,” wherein we played horror games cooperatively.
This, for me, was the freshest spin on horror games I’ve ever experienced, and it was fun to create it. Most horror games are single-player, and most of the very popular ones are PC-specific. So, to add a unique element to our playthroughs, one of us would control the mouse (the visual field), and the other of us would control the avatar movements. This often required high levels of cooperation, but also provided a new sense of fear—specifically, a lack of complete control over your avatar.
For me, the greatest experience in our videos came from a playthrough of the horror game SCP — Containment Breach. This game is based on the SCP Foundation, which is a mockumentary-esque, fictional, wiki-style collection of horrific, unimaginable artifacts, relics, and creatures, almost all of which present some form of threat to humanity. SCP — Containment Breach requires the player not only to look around and move, but also to blink. This mechanic in itself wouldn’t provide a great deal of horror—that is, until you introduce a monster that can move swiftly, but only while not being observed. This created some really scary sequences where we would round a corner and be face-to-face with the creature, having to quickly back up into a safe room before our blink meter ran out, under the threat of total evisceration.
Peter Finn (Video Game Analyst)
My beloved, launch-model, backwards-compatible PS3 giving me the dreaded yellow light of death.
Laila Carter (Video Game Analyst)
It’s a tie between the Valhalla ship in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption and the scene in Bioshock where you find the shotgun.
In Metroid, Valhalla is a federation space ship that had been attacked by space pirates, and it is up to you (a.k.a. Samus Aran) to venture inside and figure out what the heck happened. Corpses of both federation troops and space pirates litter the area, evil Phazon creatures pop out of boxes, Metroids (the life-sucking parasites) are everywhere, and, to top it all off, the music is the creepiest soundtrack ever. I played this in the 8th grade, and I had to stop a few times because Valhalla was my first scary gaming moment.
The shotgun scene in Bioshock was scary because of more practical reasons. Bioshock was the game where I learned how to use first-person shooter controls, and, let me tell you, I was bad (and still am). So, when I found the shotgun in the game, all the lights went off, and deranged enemies started springing out of the darkness from every direction, I was a little panicked. I didn’t know how to aim, enemies were screaming at me in the darkness, and I would get hit from behind and not know how to turn around effectively.
Talk about a nightmare.
Nathan Randall (Video Game Analyst)
I’m not a horror guy, usually. As such, I nearly always play horror games with a friend for emotional support. So I’ve taken to playing horror games in the same cooperative manner described by Jaron above. I’ve played many games this way, including the recently released Resident Evil VII. So, instead of talking about what my scariest gaming memory is, I’ll explain how much I love playing horror games this way with a particular example.
If you were a teenager around 2012, then you remember Slenderman, everyone’s favorite tall, suit-wearing, faceless dude who follows you around. Back in the day, an amazing designer named Mark Hadley decided to make a game all about being pursued by Slenderman while running around in the dark. This game was incredible in and of itself: the controls were remarkably simple, simply looking at Slenderman decreased your health, and your flashlight had a tendency to die out rather fast, leaving you vulnerable in the dark. Every bit of the game furthered the paranoid feeling that you get walking around at night: the feeling that someone might be right over there, hiding in the bushes and watching you. If you’re interested in hearing more about this game in particular, check out Richard’s response below.
But even better than the game itself is the way that a friend of mine and I played it in high school: one person controlling walking around and the other player controlling the camera. This took the game from simply being a (incredible) game about hiding from a monster and made it a (even more incredible) game about being a very clumsy, uncoordinated, two-minds-in-one-body person hiding from a monster. Our idea for playing this way originally came from here, and I suggest trying it out sometime!
Richard Nguyen (Video Game Analyst)
To this day, there has never been a horror game quite like Slender, which catapulted a little-known urban legend into a household name and social phenomenon. Many horror games have borrowed from its example, but Slender is the breakout game that fundamentally changed the genre for the better. In its glory days, I, like many other morbidly curious youths of the day, would gather my fellow high-school chums in a dark room to attempt to escape the grasp of this voyeuristic, lanky man in a suit. The simplicity of its premise, its limited first-person perspective, its minimalist design, and its insta-death mechanic made for an endlessly replayable, memorable, and visceral horror experience that never overstayed its welcome, and defied the player to comprehend its obtuse objective.
Slender, in its minimalist form, deftly captures a horrific experience without needing to guarantee eventual player success. At any moment, the player can die and fail, ultimately needing to start over from the beginning. But more than that, the player understands that they must outrun an immortal, unstoppable threat that will never stop on the player’s behalf. It’s a relentless experience that directly inspires the feelings of paranoia and fear of the classic “night-in-the-woods” scenario.
Matt McGill (Video Game Analyst)
I’m going to preface my answer by saying that I love watching horror movies, and I don’t hide under the covers or get nightmares afterwards. I just recently watched Suspiria, which I completely recommend! It’s an old Italian film that uses music beautifully to convey emotions and atmosphere.
Now, when I was younger, I was a little more easily frightened, and the first game that ever scared me was Luigi’s Mansion. I know it’s not a horror game per se, but it has all of the themes of ghosts popping out of nowhere, lots of darkness, and a great soundtrack. The music can be soothing, creepy, or just startling, and it really adds well to the overall atmosphere of the game; my favorite track is used as the “outdoors” theme—for example, when you’re exploring a graveyard. One of the scariest parts of the game for me was when the power gets shut off, and Luigi has to travel back through the mansion to find some ghost. You travel through areas that you’ve already cleared, which once were full of light and devoid of any creepy music, and it is all just very unsettling.
Luigi’s Mansion is a great game and I encourage you all to play it, or replay it—you won’t regret it (or will you?).
Aaron Suduiko (Founder, Chief Video Game Analyst)
Even though Bloodborne has far and away been the greatest influence on my views about horror in gaming, my first and most visceral horror gaming experience came years earlier, when I was still a little kid discovering video games for the first time.
I don’t play many PC games these days, but I had a lot of fun with a variety of point-and-click PC games back in the day—games like Myst, Riddle of the Sphinx, and Lego’s first, web-based BIONICLE game. I loved those games as a way to get acquainted with video games’ capacity to surround players with rich, interactive, fictional worlds.
Then I encountered a point-and-click game named Dark Fall: The Journal. It was a horror game that I was smart enough to play with my lights off. I wish I could tell you what the story was about, but…
Well, at one point, still fairly early in the game, my avatar was investigating an abandoned hotel—going room to room, looking for clues and puzzles to solve. Then I noticed that, as I was progressing down the main hallway in the hotel, the lights were shutting off.
Every time I took another step, it got darker. Then, I was in total darkness.
So, I turned my computer off. And I never played that game again.
What games still get you scared when you think about them? Let us know in the comments! And, if you liked this article, check out the content from With a Terrible Fate’s 2016 presentation at PAX Australia, in which we analyze all aspects of horror storytelling in video games.