Gamasutra is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
Scary Game Findings: A Study Of Horror Games And Their Players
View All     RSS
April 2, 2020
arrowPress Releases
April 2, 2020
Games Press
View All     RSS

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 4 of 5 Next


Outline of Play

Condemned is the oldest of the games in the study, but it was agreed that it was renowned as a scary game, and is certainly still appropriate to examine. It opens with a criminal investigation, within which the player is given increasing degrees of control. The player finds out more about the context of the murder at hand, using various pieces of gadgetry and by listening to the other characters.

After 10 minutes of play, the player is left alone to investigate the dark, abandoned building to find the fleeing suspect. The player is attacked by a hooded man, under an implication of otherworldly influence. Long periods of navigation through the building follow, before further encounters with enemies occur.

Players generally stopped playing around the point at which they are handed an axe by another detective, but never before they have experienced the weapon-based melee combat.

Analysis of Play

Criminal investigation. The pacing of Condemned is the slowest of the games studied, and the opening 10 minutes feature no conflict whatsoever. Players got to grips with the investigative tools, but were not scared at this point.

The flash-back style cutscenes did evoke biometric reactions from at least three of the players, but Mike and Rosalind countered suggestions that they were scared with the notion that their intrigue was piqued, and had become eager to embark upon the game proper.

Mike's GSR peaked enormously during the flashback cutscene, but his regular, unchanged respiration rate backed his claim that he was merely intrigued, rather than scared: "It's all very nasty, but I don't feel any immediate peril"

First combat. Once the players were left alone to explore the building, they were almost immediately confronted by a surprise attack. This scared five of the players, as they were facing the wrong way at the time of attack. Matt dispatched the enemy in a single shot, and was lucky enough to be facing in the exact correct direction to witness the attack comfortably, so did not react strongly. The other players all elicited a strong biometric reaction to this surprise encounter. Two players (Mike and Olivia) yelped, and most of the participants said this was the scariest moment of the game.

Rob is engaged as the cues for the imminent encounter play out; the provocative noises and warning from the officer both make Rob tense as he prepares for the impending fight. He is attacked from behind and responds in an accordingly frightened fashion.

Exploration and rest of level. Every player struggled with navigation as they explored the building. This whole sequence had few standout moments, but different players had specific parts at which they found to be scary. Olivia jumped and shouted when she heard a loud moan, and Rosalind was shocked when she was attacked by another hooded enemy -- both backed by an observable biometric response.

There were also some players that found the flashback cutscenes to be scary, and others that found the scripted non-controlled attack upon the player very frightening. Nevertheless, there was no one standout moment that universally scared the majority of the players.

A great number of subtle responses were also noticed, with the noise of footsteps, the player's own shadow and hinted-at enemies all provoking mild responses in the participants. The adjectives used to describe this stage were "atmospheric", "spooky", "sinister", and "haunting", among others. After 10 minutes of this, fatigue set in, as players became frustrated at their lack of progress. None of the casual players reached the predetermined end point of the test, receiving the axe from the officer, and much of the tension experienced earlier on had faded by the end of the session.

Kira found navigation slightly frustrating, but remained absorbed in the atmosphere. Even 30 minutes in to the game, and over 10 minutes since any significant event, she was still responding to the game. She said that she found the atmosphere to be very tense, instilling a "medium" level of fear in her.


Interestingly, the core players were far less frustrated with the game than the casual ones. Indeed, the shocks and jumps were greater in core players, and they also retained their engagement with the game for a longer time than the less experienced participants. They were quicker to progress though the level, and also to absorb the exposition at the start. It is possible that the relative lack of scripted or obvious events confused the less experienced players, and the unpredictable nature of the game unnerved the core players.

Mike, Rob and Olivia (casuals) all said they found it to be confusing, especially in terms of navigation, and any scariness they felt at the start began to wane by the end. Conversely, both Matt and Rosalind said the game got scarier as it developed, with the tension in the building rising gradually as they progressed.

The core players were still engaged by the end of the session, and also demonstrated greater peaks and troughs, with the first encounter and later tension both proving memorable. The casual players were less engaged, and also less scared, but still found the first encounter particularly memorable

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 5 Next

Related Jobs

Infinity Ward
Infinity Ward — Woodland Hills, California, United States

Senior SP Game Designer
Heart Machine
Heart Machine — Los Angeles, California, United States

Level Designer
Airship Syndicate
Airship Syndicate — Austin, Texas, United States

Senior UX Designer
Remedy Entertainment
Remedy Entertainment — Espoo, Finland

Senior UX Designer

Loading Comments

loader image