If you can get your hands on the new issue of GamePro magazine (#267, December 2010 with Diablo 3 on the cover), check out my article on the psychology of horror. The timing with Halloween was better a week or so ago when the issue first came out.
This is another one of those topics that I was unsure of when the editor at GamePro asked me to tackle it. Not only did I not t really know much about the topic, I’m not even a fan of horror movies or games in particular. I’ve never seen a Saw movie or any other “gore pr0n” in my life, nor do I want to. Still, that’s why they call it “research” so I hit the library and found some more informed experts in the fields of psychology, media studies, and communications to help fill in the blanks. I got some great material, and the article turned out to be a lot of fun to write.
I turned Bobo the Quote Monkey loose on the article, and he returned with this:
Bobo want banana.
So I gave him a banana, reminded him about the performance standards in his contract, and sent him back. This time he came up with the following:
A second set of explanations for horror’s delight posits that we hate the horror, but like the proverbial man who bangs his head against the wall because it feels so good when he stops, we love the relief that comes at the end.
Excitation transfer theory, credited earlier with enabling spooky soundtracks to do their job, has also been hypothesized to give us a kind of “thank god that’s over” high. “People become physically aroused due to the fear they experience during the media event –and then when the media event ends, that arousal transfers to the experience of relief and intensifies it,” Sparks says. “They don’t so much enjoy the experience of being afraid –rather, they enjoy the intense positive emotion that may directly follow.”
Other explanations for the appeal of horror are cited, plus I also ruminate on what the research tells us about scary video games in particular. I really don’t have any feedback on how well these GamePro pieces are being received, so if you’re reading them, post a comment and tell me what you think.