Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Virtual Reality Horror and the Potential for Subtlety

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 19, 2015

With consumer Virtual Reality on the horizon, PEGI is considering changing its rating systems to handle VR horror. The reason? Horror in VR is likely to far more intense than horror on a wide-screen video game (which is, in turn, more intense than horror in a movie).

Based on my limited VR experience, I’d assume that yeah, the intensity levels are going to go way up. There seems to be dozens of VR-based horror games in development right now, so it seems that it’s not an unusual opinion.

VR is a surprisingly different experience from other types of games, including “first person” games. The borders of the screen provide an unexpectedly powerful anchor to the real world that I aren’t noticeable until they are gone. At least in my brain, VR transforms the experience from playing a game in a world that exists behind the screen to being “in” the game world. That’s what it feels like. All the efforts to provide “immersion” with a 27-inch screen seem adorable by comparison. Sure, playing with the lights off and headphones on helps a lot… but it’s not the same.

We’ve come a long way in the last few years with figuring out how to do horror in video games. The result works, although to my disappointment it tends to depend on heavily scripted sequences and jump scares. Subtle is not something that works very well in video games, and although the best horror games have learned to utilize subtlety to build the big scares, they still rely on the good old-fashioned jumps. The equivalent of those stories like “Taily-Po” and “Golden Arm,” with a mixture of in-your-face gore.

With VR, the intensity¬†gets ramped up. Two of your most major senses get hijacked with simulation, which is enough for your subconscious brain to accept it all as real even as your thinking brain says it’s not. When it comes to emotion and instinctive / trained reactions, that subconscious guy is in the driver’s seat. That’s a lot of power.

Already, people are talking about when (not if) the first person dies of fright from a VR game. It happens at amusement parks, and not always for people with known heart conditions.

But here’s my thought: If the intensity scale does go up, does that mean that the more subtle levels that barely register in a standard game might now become significant? Or even too intense?

At this point, it seems that VR experiences are trending that way – smaller areas with more detailed experiences. With less emphasis on whizzing past scenery at high-speed dodging bullets in high-speed action games, maybe there’s finally a place for doing the dramatic and subtle. In horror games, instead of in-your-face monsters, we can finally have just plain creepy and disturbing. ¬†More Twilight Zone or The Others, less Saw.

If I get the chance, that’d be one kind of game I’d love to make in VR.

Filed Under: Indie Horror Games, Virtual Reality - Comments: Read the First Comment

  • lakerz said,

    We are on the precipice of a fabulous step forward in immersive horror. As a fan of the genre, I can’t wait! Some people will likely get heart attacks or whatever, but that is a risk that all thrill seekers are willing take.