Horror writers aim to get inside our minds and trigger reactions by showing scenarios audiences have been taught to fear. This has been adapted to gaming and with a significant boom in the horror genre in the last few years the gore and violence of industry staples such as Call of Duty have desensitised the gaming demographic. Just as gamers begin to get used to walking through dimly lit narrow spaces, slowly creeping past limp bodies slumped in chairs and accepting that everything is now spiders; it looks like Virtual Reality aims to bring terror a whole lot closer to the gamer.

[easy-tweet tweet=”Just as we accept what is scary; VR will bring terror closer to the gamer.” hashtags=”tech, gaming, horror, vr”]

Many of our current fears and phobias stem from back in our evolutionary past and darkness (the go-to setting for horror games) has a recurrent context for humans throughout history going back before we were the top rung on the food chain. The inability to see clearly what is around us combined with predators being far more adapted to darkness led to connotations of danger when thinking of the night which then grew into folktales associated with the night such as vampires, witches, ghosts and werewolves.

As a primary mechanism in early human development the notion of attachment means we are a social species (even if introverts deny it). Horror games leave your allies dead or missing and your character alone which triggers evolved mechanisms for heightened fear and vigilance for potential threats as nobody has your back.

Other cues thrown into the horror mix are children, usually barefoot and accompanied by nursery rhymes wandering around a scene where they don’t belong (F.E.A.R. is a classic example) – Psychology suggests we find their appearance scary because it adapts our own childhood memories into hugely negative cues that suggest nothing and nowhere is really safe. Religion makes gamers wary of surroundings and messing with practices that go against many people’s beliefs about what is good scares us. This belief goes hand in hand with the unknown. A classic way to ruin horror in any medium is to reveal too much about the evil – once it is humanised an audience can relate and it becomes less scary. This is because without any backstory we have no clue what to expect – we cannot understand the psychology of a demon, however, we can understand better the psychology of a human trapped in a demon’s body.

[easy-tweet tweet=”Our current fears and phobias stem from back in our evolutionary past” hashtags=”gaming, tech, horror, VR”]

Involvement with content is key to fear and the closer you can get as a gamer, the better! Third-person play-throughs such as the Resident Evil series (bar new upcoming entry Biohazard) offer detachment from the horror as you clearly control another person and can therefore distinguish the difference between game and reality. However, when these lines blur and games such as Outlast offer an immersive first-person experience set in a relatable location with a semi-believable story triggering the above fears it becomes far easier to reach for the television remote to turn the TV-set off and reset your sanity and dry your sweaty palms.

The next step in gaming is the massively hyped Virtual Reality experience and with both Playstation VR from Sony and the Oculus Rift finally getting a commercial release in the UK putting ourselves in the game is about to become a thing of normality. What does this mean for horror? It means your peripheries are about to be blocked and there will be no escape from the small pale child following you around the haunted asylum unless you completely remove the headset. Cheap jump scares will become nightmarish as creeps pop up literally in front of you to the extent where even Five Nights at Freddie’s can become scary again.

Games such as Alone, Alien: Isolation, Slender: The Arrival and Lost in the Rift all use darkness, character separation and negative cues to create a highly disturbing atmosphere in VR titles that will reignite fear inside gaming universes.

[easy-tweet tweet=”Putting ourselves in the game is about to become a thing of normality” hashtags=”horror, tech, gaming, VR”]

Virtual Reality isn’t the only medium of re-establishing fear in the horror genre, Augmented Reality (best known now by the success of the over-mentioned Pokemon Go) is being adapted to bring horror to your own humble abode with Novum Analytics’ Night Terrors app. The app that grew from an ‘indiegogo’ campaign promises to be the ‘scariest game ever made’ and uses smartphone mechanisms to log the shape of your house or flat and inject horror through the means of AR with ghosts and ghouls appearing on screen in an ultra immersive campaign that turns your smartphone into a vintage styled camcorder while accessing your camera’s flashlight to further control reality and immerse the user.

The ultimate aim can only be to combine these two disruptive technologies to allow gamers to roam freely while interacting with a real environment that includes aspects of AR gameplay. For now however, we can only enjoy what’s confirmed to come but with the likes of cult-horror sequel Outlast 2 being all but confirmed for a VR release it is an exciting time to be a horror gamer.