The uncanny aspect is where horror can really stick in your mind and make you paranoid. Now, let’s talk about paranoia and how we can get our players to play with the lights on.
Paranoia To Fear
Paranoia for our definition is suspicion and mistrust of people or their actions without evidence or justification. Now, the key point is the mistrust of people and their actions. Note, these people don’t have to be close friends with the person; they can be any group of people that impact the player’s life. For example, someone may be extremely paranoid about posting any information online because they believe they’ll be hacked. However, the chance of that happening to the average person is slim. This becomes a true fear, however, because they are uninformed about hacking. In a single word, they are dealing with the unknown. Now, as developers how can we leverage this?
Creating The Unknown In Games
As developers and designers we have to create the unknown by not straying too far from the beaten path, but first, let’s provide an example of something that’s not the unknown. Zombies and many popular culture monsters are not unknown; people have a working definition of a zombie. That working definition dispels the magic. So instead, we need to create something that can’t be explained easily. We can accomplish that by coming closer to home.
Have you ever played a game and a phenomenon occur that you can’t explain the first time through? This phenomenon has no clear definition of what it is but interacts with you anyway. You have no classification for it and that’s the key. Here’s an example: You interact with someone that you just met and you have a good idea on who they are. You also stay with them for a few days. At night, you hear unexplainable sounds coming from their room. Furthermore, you feel an ominous pressure pressing down on you every night. At this point, you’ll want a logical explanation and if you can’t find one you’ll feel the fear, plus paranoia set in. Another good example is from PT; the family was murdered by the father for an inexplicable reason. Now, the player character is traversing their home as he starts interacting with the dead family members. Now, the reason why the player may become paranoid is that the family they’re interacting with can touch and feel him (this means they’re not ghosts in the literal sense) in-game. Furthermore, they’re not zombies; they appear to have conscious thought. This makes the player ask questions to define a definition of what they are. These qualities combined put the in-game family in the area of the unknown. And that is what both examples here in common along with not being too far away from reality. Being close to reality creates the thought that “this could happen to me.” So, how do we use this in our own games?
Adding Paranoia To Our Games
Taking from the examples above, creating an experience that leaves the player paranoid involves two concepts. Managing Reality and Possibility Factor.
To manage reality means creating characters that could exist in the real world. After that’s done, you add to their character while finding a balance between real and crazy. For example, taking an ex-boyfriend and then turning him into the ex-boyfriend stalker that tries to murder or get rid of anyone who interacts with the female main character. This personifies the female player fears and ties into our next concept of the possibility factor.
The possibility factor is what are the chances this could happen to the player. A stalker ex-boyfriend is very possible. Losing all your personal information to a hacker also possible. Your house is haunted by the family that lived there earlier — very possible on one condition. How much information does the player have to make a logical decision on the chances of something happening? Answering this question directly affects the possibility factor, thus affecting how paranoid, fearful and creeped out the player gets. Consider this when looking at your target audience and managing the horror you want to use in your game. For example, Five Nights At Freddy’s may not be very realistic to adults, but it can play on childhood fears of animatronics, and with a good backstory, can leave players wondering if Chuck E. Cheese.
Now, with that said, I hope you all gained something from this post. A new lens to use when putting your game under the microscope. If you have any other thoughts on the horror genre, please comment down below; I’d love to hear them.