Horror games can be more frightening than movies

November 7, 2016 - 06:15

Want a good scare? Opt for a scary video game instead of a traditional horror movie, suggests new study.

In a video game you live or you die because of the choices you make. This makes playing a scary video game more terrifying than watching a horror film, say scientists. (Photo. Shutterstock)

Halloween may be over, but it’s not too late to give yourself a fright.

If you want to be truly terrified, then do not waste time on a horror film. Reach for a scary video game instead.

Video games have a bigger impact on fear than classic horror films, say two researchers who have just published a new study in the journal Academic Quarter.

A more realistic experience

The researchers recorded people’s reaction while playing a scary video game and they have no doubt that games are more effective than horror films when it comes to giving us a fright.

“The response to the scary computer game appears to exceed everything we’ve seen before. We project ourselves into the game and become more scared. Horror in literature and film doesn’t have the same effect,” says co-author Jens Kjeldgaard-Christiansen, who studies popular culture at Aarhus University, Denmark.

Kjeldgaard-Christiansen, together with his colleague Mathias Clasen, who studies horror genres at Aarhus University, has studied players’ reactions to what many have dubbed the world’s scariest video game: “Amnesia: The Dark Descent.”

“What’s particular to video games, in comparison with a horror film, is that you’re responsible for what happens,” says Clasen. “It’s your fault if you choose to go the wrong way and towards the monster. Players become so immersed that they forget it’s fantasy.”

“The game gets us to feel that we are actually inside the game universe, and the more realistic the game, the stronger the effect,” says Kjeldgaard-Christiansen.

Read More: Your DNA loves horror movies

We evolved to feel fear

It is not unusual that we feel angst when we play a game like this, says Clasen. In fact we evolved to be afraid.

“The game invokes fear and disgust, which are ancient defence mechanisms that makes us better prepared to avoid, for example, dangerous animals,” he says.

We are also biologically prone to fear scary situations, he says.

“The game takes place in a dark room with very little information. People don’t see very well in the dark and so we feel a lack of control and expect to find evil lurking behind around every corner,” says Clasen.

In the horror game “Amnesia: The Dark Descent” players wake up in the dark, and do not know where or who they are. The game exploits our fear of the dark and loud noises that we have evolved to respond to. (Photo: Shutterstock)

The expectation of danger is often a good reaction to have, says Kjeldgaard-Christiansen.

“In nature it’s better to overestimate a sound and move away--instead of being too relaxed and then getting eaten.”

Read More: Your fear reaction is lightning quick

Some colleagues not convinced

Associate Professor Birger Langkjær from the Department of Media, Cognition, and Communication at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, is not convinced by these conclusions.

“I don’t necessarily buy the idea that you’re more immersed in your computer avatar than you are with the main character of a film. We are extremely good at immersing ourselves in films,” says Langkjær.

On the contrary, he believes that films have a much stronger effect because they only last for a certain amount of time.

“Films are planned and designed to give us specific experiences, which a computer game can’t do,” he says.

His colleague Andreas Lindegaard Gregersen, also from the Department of Media, Cognition, and Communication at the University of Copenhagen, agrees.

“The interactivity and the identification with the avatar in a game can create some truly eerie experiences. If you’re used to playing computer games, then perhaps you’d think that a horror film is tame in comparison because you’re just watching it,” says Gregersen.

“But the experience also depends on the users’ prerequisites. If they haven’t played the game before--and don’t know how to--then they might experience more frustration than actual fear,” says Gregersen.

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Read the Danish version of this article on Videnskab.dk
 

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Translated by
Catherine Jex