Issue 4.3: Games That Go "Bump" in the Night, Part 1
A Brief & Horrifying History of Horror Games [Part of Game & Word's First Spooooktacular Halloween Special!)
Game & Word Special: Halloween 2022, Part 1
Publisher: Jay Rooney
Author, Graphics, Research: Jay Rooney
Logo: Jarnest Media
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Table of Contents
Summary & Housekeeping
Feature: “” (~21 minute read)
Food for Talk: Discussion Prompts
Game & Word-of-Mouth
Welcome, everyone, to our…
Halloween Bonus Content!
New: Gaming Glossary!
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Feature: A Brief History of Horror and Gaming
👾🤔🤷 CONFUSED? ➡ NEW GAMING GLOSSARY! 📚💬🧑🎓
Confused by any of the gaming jargon, slang, lingo, or other “insider terminology” on this newsletter? Just click on the term and it’ll take you to its entry on Game & Word’s comprehensive and user-friendly Glossary of Gaming Terms!
🚨🚨🚨 SPOILER ALERT 🚨🚨🚨
This post contains spoilers for Resident Evil, Resident Evil 2, . You've been warned!
⚠️⚠️⚠️ CONTENT WARNING ⚠️⚠️⚠️
This article contains discussions of horror and everything that comes with it. If you’re easily frightened, please proceed with caution. Sections will not be individually labeled, as that would double the length of this issue.
⚖️⚖️⚖️ ETHICS DISCLOSURE ⚖️⚖️⚖️
This article contains affiliate links. If you click on any such link and purchase the linked product, Game & Word gets a small cut of the sale. This helps keep the newsletter sustainable without needing to put up paywalls or ads.
It’s mid-October, which means Halloween is just around the corner! This mysterious, mystical, and monstrous season has captivated the souls of millions worldwide. And why wouldn’t it? Halloween provides a socially-sanctioned and (reasonably) safe environment where indulging our deepest fears and most forbidden desires is not only allowed, but the whole point.
Monsters, magic, mayhem… all are fair game in this most liminal of nights. Whether it’s werewolves or sexy werewolf costumes, this holiday is transgression made manifest and unleashed into the world, if only until sunrise. The Trickster, the Wizard, and the Artist rise up to seize their evening in the spotlight. Halloween is truly one of Western culture’s sacred cultural gems.
And our media reflects this. For Halloween, and the weeks leading up to it, are the perfect time to immerse yourself in the horror genre.
A Horrible History
Horror is a genre (well, more like the genre) in fiction that aims1 to evoke fear in the audience. This is the through line that connects the seemingly disparate works in this unfathomably broad genre, from classics like Dracula and Frankenstein through the cheesiest 80s slasher flicks all the way to the comparatively more mundane (but no less frightening) psychological horror that’s currently in vogue.2 Every mass medium, from literature, film, and TV to music, comics, podcasts, and... yes, video games.
As I’ve mentioned countless times by this point, video games hold a serious intrinsic advantage for eliciting emotion—interactivity—that other media don’t have. The interactive element immerses the player into the story and, thanks to the magic of mirror neurons, makes her feel everything on a deep and almost primal level, as if she were actually experiencing the story as the character she’s playing.
Fear is no exception.
Indeed, video games have given the world some of the most viscerally frightening and disturbing experiences in the horror genre, across all media. Obviously, this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea—but if you’re a horror fan (or simply brave and open-minded enough), it just doesn’t get much better than gaming!
But alas, horror video games, like their visual counterparts in film and TV, don’t age very well. Even accounting for other factors like outdated technology, horror games often age worse, and more quickly, than works from other media.
After all, horror holds a mirror up to society’s deepest, darkest fears—so what we collectively find scary will ebb and flow with time. On top of this, the game industry’s proclivity for milking trendy tropes, genres, and conventions until they’re bone dry (particularly in the AAA space). Then on top of that, add the comparatively longer production cycles for video games (compared to movies or novels), and the result is a much smaller horror canon than in other media… but also one that leaves a bigger imprint on those courageous players who dive into them.
It also makes it easier to assemble a chronology3 of horror video games—chart the trends, and you’ve charted the history. So, let’s go ahead and do that right now.