To end this month of horror game related posts, I thought I’d talk about what might be my favorite kind of horror, and that’s psychological horror! Unlike with shock horror, that mainly focuses on things like jump scares and freaky imagery, psychological horror generally requires a bit more thought. It focuses more on dread and lingering fears, preying on specific thoughts. It can be a bit hard to pin point what makes psychological horror ‘horror’ really, but I feel like the big difference between it and shock horror is that it’s not as in your face about what is actually terrifying. In someways that makes psychological horror a bit more approachable than shock horror as you don’t have to worry about things popping up at you for a quick and easy scare. Psychological horror is normally rather thought provoking. In that way it gives you something to think about, it ends up lingering in your mind leaving that much more of a lasting impact in the end.
Something I want to address first and for most is that I do not think that psychological horror is ‘better’ than shock horror or vise versa, it honestly just comes down to preference. While both are ‘horror’ they are also very different kinds of horror. In fact, I’ve heard the argument that psychological horror isn’t all that scary and I actually completely understand this perspective. As I was saying before, psychological horror is a lot more subtle than shock horror. Because of this, it doesn’t exactly have that sort of ‘pop’ to it. Shock horror is instant, it gets your heart racing in that moment and puts you on edge immediately. A masked killer jumping out and screaming at you is obviously going to give you much more of a fright than watching that killer slowly begin their process of staking their prey, learning about their methods or lack there of as you come to have a deeper understanding about them. But after that shock, it’s done. The horror leaves as quickly as it came unlike with psychological horror that sticks around. For a good comparison of shock horror versus psychological horror, especially in games, we really just need to look at the differences between Resident Evil and Silent Hill!
Both series actually had a pretty similar start back in the PS1 era. They both played very similarly too as both games featured fixed camera angles and tank controls. You could honestly make the argument that Silent Hill was Konami trying to follow in Capcom’s foot steps with Resident Evil given how successful the series was. And while they both had similar starts, you really start to see the differences between them and the kind of horror they are going for as each series evolved. Resident Evil‘s horror is a lot more grounded than Silent Hill‘s in a way. Silent Hill deals with a lot more fantasy elements. The creatures and monsters you’re fighting in the foggy streets of Silent Hill come from the mind rather than being made in a lab like they are in Resident Evil. You fight monsters in both games but they are still fundamentally different! This becomes even more apparent with Silent Hill 2, which is when the series really took a dive into psychological horror.
Like every time I talk about this game, I’m going to do my best to avoid any spoilers when discussing Silent Hill 2‘s monsters and themes. Silent Hill 2 is often thought of as one of if not the greatest horror games of all time, it’s certainly my personal favorite, so I’d hate to go and spoil it here! Despite being consider one of the best horror games by many though, a lot of people don’t really find it all too scary of a game and I can totally understand why. While there are plenty of horrifying things that happen in the game, the real dread and fear comes from the game’s themes and characters. For example, while Pyramid Head is both terrifying and iconic, the scariest thing about him isn’t his looks, it’s his actions and what he represent as a character, and what he means to James, the main character of the game. This is where Silent Hill 2 really shines and shows how psychological horror can be so effective as it extends beyond just Pyramid Head. The game plays with your mind and thoughts, it doesn’t exactly trick you into thinking you’re seeing something you aren’t or anything like that, but it gets you to think more about what you’re doing and what exactly is going on. In a game like Resident Evil, things are generally pretty straight forward! Zombies are running around and you need to escape while also figuring out what started this current outbreak. Silent Hill on the other hand is a bit more personal with it’s horror, especially with Silent Hill 2 and 3. The horror goes much deeper than just getting attacked by scary monsters or needing to escape from a terrible situation. While all of that exists and plays a part in every Silent Hill game, there’s always something more to it. This can especially be seen with the series’ enemies!
At face value, the enemies of Silent Hill just seem like monsters with crazy creative and creepy designs, however most actually have a deeper meaning behind them. This is explored the most heavily in Silent Hill 2 where the game very much hints that each of the characters exploring the town is experiencing something different. James is seeing completely different things from Eddie, one of the other odd ball characters in Silent Hill 2, for example. You can see this when James asks Eddie if he’s seen that “red pyramid thing” and Eddie has no idea what he’s talking about. The game really wants to make you think about what is happening to everyone and through that you’ll start to piece together a lot of the deeper meanings behind the monsters and the town as a whole. There is always more to it and it’s not really spelled out for you. This is what I’m trying to get at when I say that psychological horror is horror that sits with you! It’s horror you have to think about and when you uncover that deeper meaning sometimes that can be more scary than any jump scare you might face. This is the exact reason why so many consider Silent Hill 2 to be one of the best horror games without it technically being all that scary! Resident Evil as a series has certainly made me jump and yelp more than Silent Hill has but I’d still say that Silent Hill is be the darker and scarier of the two. It’s the series I’ve thought about more when it comes to horror and the one I have a deeper connection to because of that.
When I think about on some of the most horrifying games I’ve played I always end up thinking about Silent Hill. It’s a series that might not make you jump but it will get under your skin. It’s a series that begs you to look deeper into it and that’s what I think makes psychological horror so much fun! It’s the subtle details and the things that you can miss that make it so rewarding when you do pick up on them. While you can very much argue that psychological horror isn’t really ‘scary’ because of that, you can’t argue that it isn’t horrifying in it’s own way. Psychological horror won’t make you jump out of your seat but the time you spend thinking about it means that it’s going to linger in your mind much longer than something with a cheap jump scare or gory imagery.
If you’re looking for some great psychological horror then I obviously recommend the Silent Hill series! Especially Silent Hill 2. I also recommend playing the original before even considering playing the upcoming remake. I actually have quite a bit to say about that remake but that is better saved for it’s own post sometime.
I don’t want to call psychological horror the “thinking man’s horror” because that sounds super pretentious and isn’t true in the slightest. In fact, I think anyone can get into and enjoy psychological horror! But I did want to highlight the fact that it does take a bit more thought and not accepting things at face value, and how rewarding that deeper analysis can be! Of course, if you want something more straight forward then shock horror is your go to and there’s nothing wrong with that. But psychological horror will always be my favorite kind of horror. It’s the kind of horror that makes me want to come back for more. It really does sit with, staying by you even after you’ve finished the game…
And with that, we’re all done with Spooky Month! I hope everyone enjoyed all the horror themed posts and discussions, and I really hope they inspired some of you to give horror games a try if you haven’t before. After all, now is the perfect time to play some with Halloween just around the corner. But regardless of if you watch a horror movie, play a scary game, or go trick or treating, I hope everyone has a fun and safe Halloween! See you all for the next post that I can promise will not be nearly as spooky but just as fun to read!