When it comes to video game immersion, horror is king

Whenever horror games come to mind, I’m always thrown back to my first time watching the original. resident Evil do it again via a YouTube playback. As a kid, I was too scared to touch a horror game, so I settled for watching someone else play it on TV using the old Wii Opera internet browser. I remember seeing all the goofy cutscenes, laughing at Wesker’s stale deliveries (“Jill, no!”), and thinking the game wasn’t that scary. “Maybe I can really play this,” I started to think.

Resident Evil Remastered First Zombie Scene

Then I saw that dreaded scene which acts as the perfect introduction to all things Resident Evil. Jill walks through the hollow hallways of the Spencer Mansion. The game quiets down to the point where you only hear footsteps. Suddenly it turns black; all I saw was that door, joined by the strange sound of it slowly opening. I turn a corner, and suddenly I find myself face to face with an undead monster.

Needless to say, I immediately opened the home menu and started playing Mario again.

Despite my fear, it was a pivotal moment for me and my relationship to video games. It wasn’t just the moment I realized I loved horror games; it was then that I began to understand how important immersion is to the medium and how it can give video games a feeling that no other art form can replicate.

Immersion in games

Before Resident Evil, I never fully understood the concept of immersion in video games. My gaming history consisted of arcade titles, platformers, fighters, beat ’em ups and shooters on Sega Genesis, Dreamcast and Nintendo GameCube. I was not a child of “reading games” (what I used to call role-playing games and text-adventure titles); I wanted to get in on the action and start running with Sonic. But delving into the horror genre made me realize that video games were capable of so much more than just fun.

Luigi’s Mansion Door Unlock Cutscene

If you’ve ever played a horror game, you’re probably familiar with the general design philosophy of the genre. The developers and directors want you to be so sucked into their gruesome worlds that your mind warps alongside that of the character you control. Without this factor, a game will have a tough job of making you feel scared or uncomfortable. When this immersive idea is handled well, it can push your experience to new heights.

Have you ever noticed how many horror games revolve around hunting for items while moving through dark and murky environments? This is because you are placed in the shoes of a horror movie character. You are a trapped rat looking for the needle in a haystack to help you escape any abomination that comes your way. It is this philosophy that has made PTa demo for a canceled reboot of Silent Hill, so memorable and terrifying.

There are several factors that go into creating a truly immersive horror game. Visuals, solid sound design, and a truly menacing monster can all contribute to this idea. Games like the early installments of the Resident Evil and Silent Hill series are classic examples. They throw players into claustrophobic environments, whether that suffocating feeling comes from a cinder fog or a city on fire. In these games, you are constantly pressured by the unknown and put into a fight or flight mentality as a result. The feared moans of the undead and the footsteps of unknown assailants accompanied by white noise or haunting music heighten the mood, creating a horrifying world you can’t wait to escape.

Horror has evolved

Games rarely force you to really step into a character’s shoes like these games do, and the genre has only gotten better as technology has advanced. Two horror titles that really drive this evolution home are Alien Isolation and the release recently The Last of Us Part I. The first throws you into a desolate ship, where you’re constantly forced to troubleshoot while being chased by a Xenomorph. It’s a tense experience that makes you feel like you’re being hunted alongside your character.

The Last of Us remake, on the other hand, uses plenty of modern technology to its advantage, including features exclusive to the PlayStation 5. Rich 3D audio and haptic feedback help put players more in the shoes of Joel, making every clicker encounter that much scarier. You’ll almost feel like you’re holding your breath as you move stealthily around a horde of sound-sensitive monsters.

An alien xenomorph approaching the player in alien isolation.

I had no idea games were capable of transporting me to another place like this, but the horror genre helped me see it. And as I soon learned, immersion wasn’t an idea exclusive to horror games. As I played RPGs, they made me feel like part of their fantasy worlds. I learned that I loved the experience of being so quiet that I could hear my breath and hitting those classic slump games as I shrank back in my chair. And while I’ve found this experience in many other games, I still find that nothing does it as well as a great horror game.

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