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

September 7, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next


Outline of Play

Resident Evil 5 starts with a series of cutscenes, showing various acts of mild terror and providing exposition for its African backdrop. The play is very slow-paced, as the player is introduced to the controls and the setting. Before long, the protagonist Chris Redfield is confronted by a zombie, thrusting the player into the action. After this encounter, some fight/flight scenarios with further zombies are played out before a final showdown.

Another cinematic is shown, depicting in graphic detail the decapitation of one of Chris's acquaintances, followed by the ringleader's wild gestures in Chris's direction. An intense fight scene ensues, within which the player must defeat dozens of regular zombies and an axe-wielding superzombie. The play ended when players either completed this section (and thus the chapter) or when they died at a late stage in the chapter.

Analysis of Play

The slow opening of Resident Evil 5 meant that no significant events occurred until around the ten minute mark.

First contact. The primary contact with a zombie was the first major event for most players. This initial encounter made players modify their breathing and two players also showed a GSR response. The preceding cutscene was the cause of an initial peak, followed shortly after by another, when the player is left to fight the zombie.

Though it seemed that this scene may have been scary for players, particularly as it features some gory horror, none of the players agreed that they were scared at this point. The stimulation was deemed to be of a more excitatory nature, with players keen to engage in the upcoming action.

Response to this first zombie was mild, but Mike's gradually dwindling engagement was rekindled by this call to arms. His GSR rose slightly and his breathing became heavier, while his lowering temperature suggests he was enjoying playing the game: a sentiment he agreed with.

Mob encounter. The next key beat is when players face a large mob of zombies, prompting a flight-or-fight decision. GSR readings jumped for four players, and a shortness of breath/gasp was also observed. Only two players stated that this scenario was not scary at all, and no particular difference in reaction was noted between the core and casual gamers.

When players chose to shoot the zombies, a gradually decreasing level of engagement could be seen, while players that chose to flee the mob experienced a greater degree of emotion, with fear being the most common feeling. Some of the players said that this scene in general was at least mildly scary.

Kira chose to fight the oncoming horde of zombies. Her changing heart-rate and fluctuating GSR reading indicated she was engaged with the game much more than before this moment. However, she denied it was fear she was experiencing, and instead described this as anticipation of combat and the exhilaration of the combat itself.

Rally and beheading video. The main cutscene and precursor to the climax of the level is met around the 20 to 25 minute point. All of the players chose to watch this video in full, with three players demonstrating a reaction to the events unfolding, most specifically to the beheading. Players described the video as quite horrific, and perhaps a little scary, though Matt was keen to add "it's not really scary, more just alarming".

Here Rosalind's reaction to the beheading is the solitary response to the cutscene, which otherwise fails to provoke her very much. In this case, shock and gore manage to make the player feel fearful of the upcoming events, an anticipation-based fear that is independent of "scariness." We see another peak at the end of the video as play resumes.

Final shoot-out. The climax of the chapter saw players initially become very excited to be fighting against so many zombies. Most of the players stated that they were enjoying this scene, with casual players especially engaged with the action. There were no standout signature responses from the players, as each player approached the conflict with different tactics and skillsets. Even when struggling to survive, no player displayed any major biometric changes during this stage of the playthrough -- though sustained, minor stimulation could be observed.

Kira and Matt also noted that the flood of zombies actually detracted from any scariness they may have felt, and frustration at the size of the horde of undead, as well as difficulties in combating them, replaced any other emotions. Matt was alone in completing the level.

Although Matt is evidently regularly in peril and constantly attacked by the zombies, there were few moments where he was noticeably aroused, this bit being the most so. He even went so far as to say that parts of the finale were boring, due to the desensitization of the enemies.


Resident Evil 5 did not have many moments considered scary by the participants. Most players agreed that the game was enjoyable, and appreciated both the spectacle and the fun in the combat parts, yet denied they were "very scared" at any point.

  • "This is weird. More weird than scary." - Matt
  • "It's quite cool, but I'm not scared." - Kira

Despite limited amounts in the way of scariness through jumps or fear, Resident Evil did present a very atmospheric setting.

  • "It's really quite atmospheric actually." - Rob
  • "These dark tunnels are atmospheric; not really scary though." - Kira

The moments of gore also provoked a reaction in some of the players, particularly the casual gamers, which likely heightened the atmosphere and generated fear. This is a sentiment that was echoed by at least two of the players in post-play interviews. The game followed an upwardly-rising level of self-declared engagement amongst some of the players, with intensity high for the closing stages, though any scariness Resident Evil 5 managed to convey was during the middle sections, when the enemy was still an unknown.

Player Experience Graphs

When looking at the player experience graphs on the following page, it can be seen that for all players, they were stimulated by the first encounters with the zombies. This is largely an excitement response, but also moments of fear too. The casual players also responded to these moments in the same way as the core, but they continued to be engaged by the game by increasing amounts (though not necessarily scared), whereas the core players' engagement waned as the level progressed.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

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