Judged Dread

While there are games that I will generally avoid, there are others that I often wish I had the courage to play. And courage is more than apt. Yes, I’m talking horror. Blessed (or cursed) with a somewhat lily-livered disposition when it comes to ‘scary games’, I feel like my fear of ‘things that go nom in the night’ is leading me to miss out on some fantastic experiences. I was never a PlayStation gamer until this generation, but it wasn’t just the lack of a PS console that led to me missing out on the classic Silent Hill series from industry shit-the-bedders Konami. Over the years, I have seen, read, and listened to anecdotes and articles, terrified live-tweetings, and heard from folk with no small measure of respect for the generally disturbing series. However, I now own several generations worth of PS consoles. I could venture into the warped world of Silent Hill. I should – even just to experience it, to see what the fuss is all about, especially since Konami have now, essentially, set it on fire and then buried the ashes in unconsecrated ground beneath a statue of a giant middle finger. But it looks tense and terrifying. And probably has that curse of gaming: the jump scare.

And jump scares are one of the big red flags I look out for when assessing a game for purchase. That said, however, I tend to scrutinise games before buying anyway, because I’ve just never been one for horror in any media – not just games. By horror I mean everything that appears to pass for it these days, from psychological fuck-with-your-mind stuff to night-stalking slashers, to pointless torture porn. I’ve never seen the appeal.


I have a relative who thrives on that stuff and who is constantly pushing for me to play all manner of things, from The Lost Crown to Scratches. I have always been ready with an excuse. ‘I’m not playing that while pregnant’. ‘I’m not playing that while feeling blue’. ‘I’m not playing that when I’m ill or busy’. ‘I’m not playing that while wearing green and having walked the wrong way around the kitchen counter on a Tuesday’. The excuses ran thin and then ran out. ‘Fine’, I’d snap. ‘Does it have jump scares?’ I would then begin the interrogation while carefully watching her face. She would have to admit that, yes, yes whatever she was trying to get me to play (usually The Lost Crown) does have jump scares. Hah! Back on the shelf. What about this other one, you say? Wait, was that the one where you said you go and answer the door a few times and there’s no one there… and then on the way back down the hall the lights go out… and then you hear the door open. ‘Yes’, she concedes. Fuck that. SHELF. What’s this one? Is that the one you told me about, in which the lights steadily go out along the corridor you’re in; the blackness sweeping toward you. ‘Yes.’ SHELF SHELF SHELF. Put them all on the fucking shelf.

judgeddread3If I want to get my heart racing, I’ll inject a vat of McDonald’s shite directly into my system. I’ll ride Thorpe Park’s Colossus in the front seat. I’ll watch Naked and Afraid while trying not to want to stab some selfish fuckhead to death with a primitive spear. I will not, however, buy a DVD that has a freaky looking child-ghost thing on it, corpses hanging from trees, clowns, or Donald Trump. And the same for scary games. However, games, can be tough to call – at least on the face of it. While DVDs aren’t backwards in coming forwards with their ‘gonna shit you up’ intentions, putting it all out there on the covers, games can be insidious little bastards at times. I’ve learned that you never know when a jump scare will creep up on you. And I think that is where the problem lies.

So many games have relied heavily upon them. Something dashes past the camera, or leaps out, or false-alarm cats you, only to give you a kicking to the left ventricle. And you expect them. And yet they still get you. And you hate the game for it. But it’s your own stupid fault because you opted to play it. But some games sucker you in. They look sweet and innocent. Oh, they may have a few skulls laying around on the corner of the cover, but you trust them. Kind of. My biggest experience of being suckered in was The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. I had a sneaky feeling that it may get a little scary – after all, the story and description suggested that the game would be heading along potentially unsettling lines. But I was so pulled in by both the story and the beautiful setting that I took a breath and played it.

No joke, I positively inched through the first part of the game, constantly looking around and behind me, expecting any minute for something to happen, for something horrible to jump out. And it didn’t. I was so terrified of a jump scare or something awful being presented to me that I refused to explore for a big part of the game and therefore missed two fucking puzzles. Once I realised that it wasn’t that kind of game, I relaxed and enjoyed it. Only to get hit by a fucking nerve-shredding jump scare much later on, with buckets of added tension as I raced around the [redacted for spoilers], desperate to get out before it happened again. Bastards.


It wasn’t until I had finished Ethan Carter that I started to try and pick apart why I had gone into it with a feeling of dread. Of that expectation. Part of it is my general disposition and set of preferences, but I also blame Amnesia: The Dark Descent. I have few bad things to say about the game – indeed, I gave it a 10/10 some years ago. But it was perhaps the most terrifying, tense gaming experience that I have ever had. By now the scares have likely been massively diluted by the plethora of YouTube reaction vids, etc., and there are those who will, undoubtedly, scoff and pour scorn, and question. But it was genuinely disturbing and fucking smart with how it tweaked and teased the player’s fear-strings. That game knows how to trowel on the tension and lure the player through it, without having to resort to the cheap gore and shock trickery of other titles.

From about half an hour in I knew I had made a mistake by opting to review it. I was already shaky and terrified of every corner and door in case it turned out to be ‘that bit from the trailer’ (little did I know at the time that the trailer had been specially created, and that sequence did not ever appear in the game – bastards). The more I played, the more dread I felt until just opening up the menu filled me with despair at having to go back into that world. I would leave the game, shaking, after bite-sized sessions. But I had opted to review it and threfore considered that I was honour bound to do so. Also, no other bastard would have had the guts to do it.

judgeddread5I had (and still have) never experienced anything like it. To be that immersed in a game in which, let’s be honest, nothing much truly happens, but which succeeds in feeding you slowly through the wringer based on what you expect and fear, utilising some smart psychological tricks and inspired gameplay elements, was special. I also think it shattered me for other games. Now, with that experience firmly entrenched in my gaming psyche, I am highly suspicious and wary of other games and what they may have in store. I worry whether or not I can tolerate as much as I did with Amnesia, and whether or not I want to. Although it was tough, Amnesia gave me a gaming experience that I never expected to ever have and, despite the trembling and dread at the time, one I am actually pretty grateful for. I have a great deal of respect for it and how it expanded my gaming horizons, just a crack. But should I let it haunt my present and future gaming choices?

I honestly don’t really like scary stuff, and I don’t think that will ever change… but sometimes the story and/or setting can be just enough to tantalise. To make me pause and consider. Which is why, when browsing the Steam store, I now find myself lingering on certain sales pages, wondering if the fear factor will be worth the payoff in story and gameplay. Trying to judge just how bad the scary stuff will be based on the description, covers, and even reviews. I must have opened and closed Homesick dozens of times. I think I looked at Kholat on Amazon maybe fifteen times before I jumped in and bought it. I am even considering playing Asylum when it finally gets released (hah, but probably not! Have you seen the trailer?). Does this method of judging mean I risk missing out? Probably. And that is a shame. But some things do slip by. Not many, but more than before.


So what’s happening? Maybe I am letting some of the fear go, or at least walling it up in some dark corner of mind. Did Amnesia secretly do me a favour by setting the bar so stupidly high that other games can creep beneath it? I don’t know. But what I do know is that stories make my heart sing. I will usually follow a good story and haunting setting anywhere… even if it now occasionally means down dark and fear-stained paths.

Additional: Since imaging the article up, and having seen a whole slew of Silent Hill screenies, I have concluded: fuck that. Seriously.

Last five articles by Lorna



  1. Chris Toffer says:

    Great article Lorna. You and I are of a very similar breed. Love a story, hate a scare :)

  2. Richie richie says:

    Great article.

    I’ve only ever truly been cacked up by the PT demo (which was a trailer for the now-cancelled Silent Hills). I thought I was going to fucking die playing that!

  3. Rook says:

    The first Dead Space had plenty of that jump scare tactic to it too; you’d see something twinkle down a corridor that you had to check out. Apprehension of a jump scare made it tense, especially as nothing happened… until you made your way back along that corridor. The anticipation of a scary moment, accompanied by a sudden loud musical cue, when it happened, made it a game that I only played one chapter per night. Apart from the last two chapters which I played in one session but I did have the light switched on during those.

    The other games in the series got significantly less jumpy tactics, or maybe I got accustomed to them. Scary games or movies just aren’t my thing either.

  4. Edward Edward says:

    “So many games have relied heavily upon them. Something dashes past the camera, or leaps out, or false-alarm cats you, only to give you a kicking to the left ventricle. And you expect them. And yet they still get you. And you hate the game for it. But it’s your own stupid fault because you opted to play it.”

    This. Exactly this is why I don’t watch horror and why I try not to play horror games. I hate knowing what’s going to happen and still be scared by it, it doesn’t make sense and makes me feel like a complete idiot.

    Amazing stuff as always, Lorna. :D

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