The Psychology of Fear in Video Games

GamePro.com has published my article about the psychology of horror games, so if you didn’t catch it in the print magazine a while back you can now. IF YOU DARE.

What does this blood spot look like to you? Ink! I mean ink spot.

I sent a moderately frightened Bobo the Quote Monkey to fetch something from this article, and he came back with this:

Researchers say some people just have the right kind of personality for appreciating scares because they’re sensation-seekers attracted to any emotional high, be it from sky diving, shark-punching, or horror films. Other personalities are drawn to situations showing the disruption of social norms in ways that will probably never happen in real life.

But perhaps a more encompassing explanation of horror’s inherent appeal is how it helps us master our fears. This seems to be particularly important for youngsters, who flock to scary media as an ultimately safe way to exercise their emotional chops and deal with real-life scary stuff. “Watching a horror film gives us back some control,” Weaver says. “We can experience an adverse event through film, and we know that it will end. We’ll survive it. We’ll go on with our lives.”

Interestingly, this co-opting of horror only really happens if the player or viewer knows that what they see is fake. In one famous experiment, researchers had subjects watch a movie featuring authentic scenes of live monkeys having their brains scooped out and of children-I kid you not-having their facial skin peeled away in preparation for surgery. Just reading this probably makes you squirm a little, and the vast majority of the study’s participants refused to finish watching the films despite that more grotesque movies playing at the theater down the street could outdo those scenes. We seem to need to know it’s fake.

Bobo is having a lie down right now, but you can read the whole thing here.

By the way, if anyone from Viceral Games or EA is out there, you should totally send me a copy of Dead Space 2. I’ll write about why it’s scary. 1

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Footnotes:

1. Or why it’s not, if it’s not.

3 thoughts on “The Psychology of Fear in Video Games

  1. Great idea to do a write up for, I read the section here and I’m intrigued enough to head down the link and read the rest. Thanks for posting , Good Luck with the “Dead Space” situation lol! Hope that works out for you,be sure to post your thoughts when you get a copy

  2. Sadly, gamepro.com was purchased out, and the article is no more. I would love to read it but so far I have had zero success finding it on the internet.

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