Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
Scary Game Findings: A Study Of Horror Games And Their Players
View All     RSS
October 24, 2014
arrowPress Releases
October 24, 2014
PR Newswire
View All

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:

Scary Game Findings: A Study Of Horror Games And Their Players

September 7, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 5


Actual combat is not as scary as the implied threat of combat. The biggest cares result from moments devoid of any physical combat; instances in which players anticipate or fear they are about to fight, but do not actually end up doing so.

Cutscenes are generally not sources of fear for most players, but casual players react more strongly to them. Core players seldom find cutscenes scary. Most players find cutscenes to be a respite from the game itself, though a minority of players is capable of being scared by some videos.

The first confrontation is almost always the scariest. In every game, across all player experience-levels, the first encounters with the enemies are much scarier than later ones.

Repeat failure prevents scenes from retaining any initial scariness they may have had before. Whenever players repeatedly die or spend too long struggling with navigation, frustration replaces fear. If major usability issues exist/occur, then players will be far less scared.

Gore in isolation can be provocative, but not scary. In some cases, the grotesque can make scenes scarier, providing there are other factors also contributing. Players are frightened even more when normal scares are accompanied by disgusting or shocking content. This gory material alone, however, fails to scare players.

Casual players are more easily scared than core players, but also enjoy the games more. Experienced gamers' familiarity with the medium, and their existing expectations of it, means they are less likely to become scared than casual gamers.

The closer a game resembles film, the more casual players are scared. Conversely, the less scripted a game is, the more the core players are scared. Third-person, tightly scripted events are scarier to casual players than to core gamers, while first-person, generative events are scarier to experienced players.

Heightened tension can be created by a potent atmosphere. This will keep the player engaged and ultimately make the scares bigger. Games which keep players engaged even when events are not occurring (by presenting a stimulating atmosphere) are more likely to scare players when those events do occur.

Large numbers of enemies makes games less scary. Once players are asked to dispatch more than two or three enemies at a time, they become less scared. Familiarity with enemies renders them less scary.

Scariest Game Rankings: "The scariest game on the Xbox 360"

Based on our observations and analysis, as well as direct questioning of the players themselves, the following order was determined:





Dead Space 2

Dead Space 2



Alan Wake


Alan Wake

Resident Evil 5


Resident Evil 5


Biometric Storyboards

(Where conflict between player experiences exist, core players were used for these storyboards rather than casual)

Conduction and analysis by: Joel Windels with Graham McAllister, Adam Smith, Gareth White and Pejman Mirza-Babaei

Article Start Previous Page 5 of 5

Related Jobs

Next Games
Next Games — Helsinki, Finland

Senior Level Designer
Magic Leap, Inc.
Magic Leap, Inc. — Wellington, New Zealand

Level Designer
DeNA Studios Canada
DeNA Studios Canada — Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Analytical Game Designer
University of Texas at Dallas
University of Texas at Dallas — Richardson, Texas, United States

Assistant/Associate Prof of Game Studies


Robert Boyd
profile image
Fantastic study! Only change I would have made would have been to include the PS3 game, Siren: Blood Curse, since IMO that's the scariest game released on this generation of consoles.

Kris Graft
profile image
There are probably a few games that could take on Dead Space 2... yes, Siren, but also Amnesia. I'd break their sensors playing that game.

Robert Boyd
profile image
Amnesia would be a great game to have included as well and like Siren, it lends credit to their finding that "Actual combat is not as scary as the implied threat of combat."

Joel Windels
profile image
I agree, especially with the comment about Amnesia. However, with this study, we were only using games available for the xbox 360 platform

Matt Ponton
profile image
Any of the Fatal Frame games I would have loved to see being done. However, it's last generation (Still waiting for my Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 version!!!)

Douglas Burton
profile image
Love seeing studies on fear in games. The idea that combat is prohibitive to inducing fear I think is most noticeable in the game 'Amnesia:The Dark Descent'. Along with avoiding combat, the inability/penalty for even looking at the enemies keeps the enemies scary and mysterious. The first person view and amnesia of the main character helps to almost force the player to fill the void by imagining themselves as being in the same peril as the player character.

A fear inducing game where combat isn't a main gameplay element would greatly benefit a study like this. Games such as Amnesia or Which(Adventure game from early 2010).

Jeremie Sinic
profile image
Thanks for the great feature, it's very interesting.

However, I am left wondering about the "scare" concept, possibly because English is not my native language. I mean although it's a useful term for the sake of this study, "scare" as I understand it is like fear, which bears a too strong connotation.

That's why I prefer to use the words "tension" and "horror", because although I totally understand that a game can provoke sudden surprise or high degree of nervous tension, --even biometrically measurable--, I wonder when we can actually talk of fear. I mean, no sane adult can possibly fear for his own life when playing a game. Yet, I totally admit I was startled the first time the zombie doggy break through the window in the first Resident Evil.

Another interesting aspect of the study is the difference in the perception of fear between core and casual gamers, especially the big difference of ranking for Condemned, which I agree is one of the most tense and unsettling video game experience I remember having, due to the unpredictable attacks from enemies. Still, I remember Condemned more as a tense experience, like a nerve-testing game, but not much as an horrifying game. In terms of horror, I consider Silent Hill 2 as the reference (until I try Amnesia probably :).

Michael Dreyer
profile image
First off, your written English is fantastic for a non-native speaker; really impressive.

To address your question of "fear", it's not necessarily about making the player actually fear for their own life (or even for their character's/avatar's life I would argue) but about eliciting emotions in the player that they themselves can't really explain or rationalize why they are feeling that way.

Fear itself is irrational, as is proved by the fact that once you see something you begin to understand it better, and therefore become less scared by it. Fear lies in the unknown, in our own imaginations. If you can take control of and make a player fear their own imagination, then, in my humble opinion, you've successfully scared the player.

Remember watching horror movies as a kid, scared out of your mind, telling yourself over and over again, "it's not real... it's not real... it's not real..." but still being so frightened that you have to look away? That's true horror; when you are no longer able comfort your own imagination.

Jeremie Sinic
profile image
Well, I guess I had forgotten that but it does make sense. Thanks for your reply.

David Serrano
profile image
@Michael Dreyer

"Fear itself is irrational, as is proved by the fact that once you see something you begin to understand it better, and therefore become less scared by it."

Actually, that's not true. Fear is part of the fight-or-flight response. In a non-stress filled environment, curiosity will motivate the initial interactions with an unknown. If the interactions establish it is not dangerous or a serious threat, you do not develop a fear of it. But when the initial interactions establish it poses a potentially fatal threat, the reaction is to fear it. Rationally, you'd avoid it whenever possible, you'd only observe or engage it from a safe distance or you'd flee if you encounter it at an unsafe distance. Engaging it from an unsafe distance would be the last resort.

Radek Koncewicz
profile image
Very interesting findings, especially the differences in how the games were experienced between "casual" and "veteran" gamers.

John Mickey
profile image
I must be the only person in the world who found Amnesia to be laughably NOT scary. At first it was, but eventually you realize that the game must be beatable without engaging in combat. That realization actually empowers the player. Sure, you sometimes have to run from monsters and hide in a corner while your vision goes screwy, but there's a continual assurance that the game must provide dark places to hide, and, if there aren't any dark places, you must be safe. The game never deviates from this pattern.

Where Amnesia went wrong was in providing no form of combat, even a weak one. In a game like System Shock 2, you're often underpowered compared to your enemies and low on resources - constantly fearing that you don't have the equipment or health to make it much farther. Thus, every encounter becomes tense and unwelcome, and more likely to induce panic or fear. With Amnesia, you always have the resources to survive - not to mention the free break you get at every flashback scene, most "puzzle" rooms, and areas without dark hiding spaces.

Amnesia was like a haunted house - constantly pulling tricks, but only scary as long as you ignore the smoke and mirrors.

Dan Jones
profile image
Interesting article. I always find these kinds of biometrics studies fascinating.

I only wish Resident Evil 4 had been used instead of Resident Evil 5, but as far as I know it wasn't/isn't yet available on the Xbox 360 so I suppose the blame lies with Capcom rather than Vertical Slice. ;)

My own personal metric for the "scariness" of games is my wife, who watched me play through RE:4 in its entirety because it was "like watching a scary movie," yet who could barely muster the interest to watch me play more than 10 minutes at a time of RE:5 because "meh, it's all shooting."