There seems to be a question about whether video game horror is a legit horror subgenre, at least among the geeks and nerds I talk to. Most of those who question whether it’s a legit subgenre seem to be non-gamers, so let’s explain what video game horror is.
First, I’ll define the subgenre. And second, I’ll look at four horror games: Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Dangonropa, and BioShock. And when this is all over, you’ll either agree that video games can be scary or I’ll send an evil character from a game to your house to prove it to you in person.
Can non-gamers ever accept video game horror as legit horror?
If a video game intends to disturb, frighten, or scare, then it stands to reason it’s horror.
One of the aspects of video game horror not understood by non-gamers is that such games regularly do something that other horror subgenres like movies and books rarely do — games place you, the player, into the story as one of the characters, which can make situations more scarier than they are in a movie or book.
“Horror enthusiasts are really missing out on that fright potential when they look past video games, because games have that special aspect of dropping you, the player, right into the experience,” said Florida cosplayer Saraphim.cos (below), who shares her thoughts about BioShock later in this blog. “It’s embarrassing to say, but there are some horror video games I cannot play because they’re too scary and suspenseful.”
Another aspect not understood by non-gamers is the impact of the soundscape in horror video games. Most video games include sound that augment the experience. But sound plays a much more prominent role in horror video games. The sound in horror video games is as important as the music in horror movies, telling the player or viewer how to feel about what’s happening. And not surprisingly, the best horror video games have excellent soundscapes.
Lastly in my attempt to help non-gamers see the light, I turn to science. A 2016 study reported that video games have a bigger impact on fear than classic horror films. The research included recording reaction times to horror video games.
“The response to the scary computer game appears to exceed everything we’ve seen before,” the Denmark researcher said. “We project ourselves into the game and become more scared. Horror in literature and film doesn’t have the same effect,” said co-author Jens Kjeldgaard-Christiansen, who studies popular culture at Aarhus University, Denmark.
5 types of video game horror
There are 5 types of video game horror: Survival horror, action horror, psychological horror, jump scare horror, and reverse horror — all of which separate the subgenres from other video games while moving into the category of horror.
- Survival horror is one of the most common types of horror games. The games focus on the survival of the player-character in a horror setting who has limited resources to survive.
- Action horror games involve physical challenges like hand–eye coordination and reaction-time in various styles like fighting games, beat’em ups, shooter games, and platform games — all of which makes them more fast-paced than survival games.
- Psychological horror games scare the player through emotional and mental means that are not seen.
- Jump scare horror games generate moments that surprise or shock the player when least expected, as well as creating a sense of dread in anticipation of the next jump scare.
- Reverse horror games have a player scaring others, rather than the player being scared — a reversal of player roles where the player is the antagonist, like assuming the role of a villain.
Resident Evil, one of the most popular and influential horror video games, was released in 1996. And the Resident Evil 4 video game remake is being released in the spring, showing the longevity of not just the game but also of fans of video game horror.
Resident Evil is second highest-grossing video game film series. And it spawned a franchise of live-action film series, animated films, television series, comic books, novels, audio dramas, and other media and merchandise — all of which makes Resident Evil among the the highest-grossing horror franchises.
WHY IT’S HORROR
There doesn’t seem to be much of an argument against Resident Evil video games being legit horror. But for the contrarians, I’ll make the point the video games spawned a series of horror movies starring Milla Jovovich.
HORROR CON SUNSHINE CITY SCARE TO FEATURE RESIDENT EVIL VOICE ACTOR
Sunshine City Scare is a horror convention that features anime horror and video game horror as well as horror in movies and a very special guest. The new breed of horror con is set for May 13-14 at the historic Coliseum in downtown St. Petersburg. And the voice actor who voices Claire Redfield from Resident Evil 2 will be there! Stephanie Panisello is the voice of the beloved zombie-killer.
Silent Hill is a franchise that started with the video game and expanded into movies, books, and comics — and lots more video games. In fact, the video game series is one of the most influential of all time. And if you want to know the 10 best Silent Hill games, at least according to GamesRadar, you can check out their ranking. Also for a deep dive, the video below is a Silent Hill story summary.
WHY IT’S HORROR
There are two reasons why the video game Silent Hill is legit horror. First, the video game is based on a real events in a real haunted town. Second, the video game spawned two horror movies. Both easily place Silent Hill into the horror category.
Silent Hill, PA
Silent Hill may be a fictitious town, but it’s based on real events that occurred in the real town of Centralia, Pennsylvania (though commonly known as ‘Silent Hill, PA.’) And the backstory is quite interesting: In 1962, the local fire department was burning trash without regard to the danger of potentially igniting a nearby coal seam that could cause an underground fire. Well, guess what happened? And the underground fire could not be extinguished. The town co-existed with the mine fire for more than two decades until the federal government declared it to be hazardous in 1984, moving all of the residents out and all of the structures destroyed, though the road and sidewalks were left intact — all of which made for a spooky-looking place not to visit. The mine fire still burns today, and is expected to continue for another two centuries. For an entire backstory, check out the video below.
Silent Hill movies
The video game spawned the Silent Hill movie franchise, with the first one in 2006 being considered one of the best supernatural horror movies of that decade. If you want more on the movies, check out the blog ‘9 Reasons The Silent Hill Movies are Underrated‘ by Screen Rant.
HORROR CON SUNSHINE CITY SCARE TO FEATURE SILENT HILL FILM ACTOR
Sunshine City Scare features a live-action actor from the Silent Hill film. Jodelle Ferland — who played Alessa, Dark Alessa, and Sharon Da Silva — will be at the con both days. In the movie, Alessa is a psychic who is persecuted and sacrificed, Dark Alessa is the manifestation of Alessa’s rage, and Sharon is the manifestation of Alessa’s innocence.
In addition, Sunshine City Scare guest cosplayer Kolackitty will be displaying her Pyramid Head cosplay, which won an award at the St. Pete Comic Con 2023 Cosplay Contest. Also, she was featured, with her cosplay on the cover, in the February issue of Florida Cosplay Digital Magazine. The up-and-coming cosplayer will be judging the cosplay contests and co-hosting panels.
Dangonropa is a video game series so popular it birthed a franchise that includes manga, anime, and novels (not to mention tons of merch).
High school students are imprisoned with an evil robotic teddy bear name Monokuma to play a killing game. To escape, the 16 Japanese students at the elite high school of Hope’s Peak Academy must satiate Monokuma’s sadism, which includes mercilessly murdering each other. Dangonropa, a series of horror video games, had sold 5 million copies worldwide by 2021. To see a ranking of the best video games in the series, check out the blog ‘The Best Dangonropa Games (ranked worst to best)‘ by Gamers Decide. For a story summary, watch the video below.
WHY IT’S HORROR
Some bloggers don’t consider Dangonropa to be a horror game, though the game defines itself as such. The most common rationale is that the game lacks jump scares. But I agree with bloggers who don’t define video game horror so narrowly. “It conscientiously creeps under the player’s skin, as opposed to sloppily slapping them with a jump scare,” says Goomba Stomp in a blog titled “The Despair Inducing Horror of Dangonropa.”
Also, consider that the Dangonropa video game series spawned anime horror shows like Dangonropa: The Animation, which is widely considered horror. And you cannot separate the seed, the video game, from its frightening fruit, the anime. It’s all horror.
Florida cosplayer Sarahphim.cos (seen below) agrees. “At times, it may not seem like a horror due to the cuteness of the characters, for example, the talking bear, Monokuma,” she said. “However, the suspense, gore, and psychological mind games that the anonymous ‘mastermind’ of the school forces them to go through is truly terrifying and only gets more eerie as the anime commences. Dangonropa is truly a horror anime.”
HORROR CON SUNSHINE CITY SCARE TO FEATURE VOICE ACTORS FROM DANGONROPA: THE ANIMATION
Sunshine City Scare features the character Celestia Ludenburg from Dangonropa: The Animation through the voice actor Linsday Seidel.
Review aggregator Metacritic reports “universal acclaim” for BioShock, which received an average review score of 96/100 for Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows, and 94/100 for PlayStation 3. Some consider BioShock to be one of the greatest video games ever made and a demonstration of video games as an art form. The game is set in the fictional underwater city of Rapture with nightmarish inhabitants that you must battle to survive. For a more in-depth story, view the video below.
WHY IT’S HORROR
BioShock is one of the world’s most popular video games, but whether it qualifies as horror is a controversial topic.
The website This is Horror that reviewed (and raved about) the game is among those who deem it horror. In particular, consider the series’ initial two games. BioShock 1 has several elements of a survival horror game such as a creepy atmosphere, a dark story, and a few jump-scares. And BioShock 2 has Little Sister, who is absolutely horrific.
Many believe the third installment, BioShock Infinite, shifted somewhat from its more horrific roots — diluting the horror of the entire franchise. But most of my researched gleaned a common answer: BioShock is horror that’s mixed with other genres like thriller and action/adventure.
LexLex Cosplay, a skilled cosplayer whose characters have included Elizabeth from BioShock Infinite (photo below), shared her thoughts. “The content you experience during the game is unsettling, which is what horror is about,” she said. “It’s a dark story with some characters who have seen suffering and violence while others, the Little Sisters and Big Daddy, who have been experimented on. And the content and vibe are eerie enough to fit the horror genre. But to me, it’s a softer horror game that also includes action and adventure.”
And a gamer website agrees. “The game is certainly not without its scares, however, it also has a lot of elements that make it more of a thriller or action-adventure game,” said website Game Specifications in its blog “Is BioShock A Horror Game: The Best In-Depth Analysis.”
HORROR CON SUNSHINE CITY SCARE TO FEATURE BIO SHOCK VOICE ACTOR
Actor Jodelle Ferland is the voice of Little Sister in BioShock 2. She also is a live-action actor who has appeared in many horror movies like Cabin in the Woods and Silent Hill (not to mention Twilight and ParaNorman).
Be part of Video Game Horror at Sunshine City Scare
Sunshine City Scare is a new breed of horror convention that features video game horror and anime horror as well as horror in movies and a very special guest. The event’s celebrity guests include voice actors and live-action actors who have voiced, portrayed, or created wonderful horror characters in the various horror subgenres.
In addition, the horror con will offer various contests, including two cosplay contests (one each day), a lip sync competition, a Tiktok Film Festival, and a fan art contest. Applications for contests are available.
Event tickets are $25 for a single day, and $40 for a weekend pass (prices increase $5 at door).
Need help finding cons in Florida?
Florida Comic Cons has the Con Calendar, a curated calendar of comic, anime, horror, and other pop-culture conventions to keep you, the fandom, informed and apprised (you’re welcome). Quit wasting time with internet searches that take too long and still leave you asking questions. The Con Calendar’s event listings include all the con info like ticket prices and links, vendor registration, and lots more!