Dread and Gaming Emotions

Image by Flickr User brava_67
Image by Flickr User brava_67

Most games are experiences that are easy to jump into, they are easy to play and easy to enjoy. There is another other kind of game though. The sort that is most definitely fun, but demands consideration; taking it in as you go along. Fans of horror games, RPGs and perhaps even adventure games probably know the feeling. It’s an odd sense, one of feeling like you’re a part of everything that’s going on on the screen even though you’re really just an outside observer. You’re definitely not there, yet none of what’s transpiring onscreen could have happened without you. 

Like most entertainment, games have the capacity to play with our emotions in unusual ways. Take the emotion of dread for example. Dread usually isn’t an “odd” emotion; in fact it’s rather clear-cut. It’s a negative emotion, a warning. However, with horror books, movies, and especially video games, it becomes an essential ingredient to an enjoyable experience. Silent Hill, Eternal Darkness, Amnesia, Five Nights at Freddy’s. All of these are built around filling the player with a sense of dread, and then manipulating that feeling to twist it into something fun. After all, in horror…well anything really, the fun isn’t in the actual scare but in the build up to that scare. The scare is all well and good, but the anticipation is what a player ends up carrying with them, and is what inspires that aforementioned sense of dread before starting up that game again.

I suppose i just find it incredible just how much and how often our games are able to to turn our emotions on their heads. Dread is turned from something unpleasant into something fun, happy times can signal something bad on the horizon, sadness can take a character or story and make it endearing. Granted, most forms of entertainment can prompt these, but games have the ability to drive them home. We’re “there” with our characters and NPC’s through all of it, so in a sense we’re able to share in everything that goes on. Be it alone in the claustrophobic halls of the USG Ishimura, exploring the stars with Commander Shepard and crew, or saving the world in a “Tales” game, we get to share in all of it.

What sorts of games most easily draw you in? How much of that sense of sharing are they usually able to get across?

7 Comments Add yours

  1. cary says:

    Though I’ve not played many horror games, I definitely think that “dread” has tended to draw me into the ones I’ve played. This is absolutely true of DOOM and DOOM II where everything is about the atmosphere — the creepy looks and sounds all add to that impending sense of dread that both makes you hesitate and move forward. Allowing players to experience that terrible sense of angst, and yet also letting them know that they can come out victorious, helps to separate the simply “scary” games from the more cerebral of the lot. Alan Wake (given that I only played a few hours of it) instilled and used dread very well.

    But I think the games that draw me in the most are those that allow gamers to be curious. Linear storylines and mechanics are all well and good, but when a game really lets you wander at your own pace and make discoveries on your own, that’s when things really shine. The Metroid games are great examples of this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. duckofindeed says:

      I love dread in games, too. I’d rather spend time worrying about what might happen than play a game where I’m assaulted by gruesome monsters. The dread is what makes the fear unbearable, when we don’t know what’s coming, or when, and our imagination gets the best of us.

      I love exploring, too. I agree that the Metroid games were great with this kind of thing. I definitely like when the player is in charge of what’s happening in the game than linear games that control the player more. The best games give the player room to explore.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. duckofindeed says:

    That’s so true about these “negative” emotions becoming something good in certain games. I love games that make me sad, for example, because it gives the game more meaning to me. I was disappointed when Slender became less scary because it was the fear that made it enjoyable.

    I think the games that draw me in most are those that make me feel something. I’m currently playing Ni no Kuni, and I love it because I felt attached to the characters, world, and story very quickly. It just felt like a world I wanted to be a part of, and the characters felt real to me. That’s likely a big reason why this RPG stood out to me over those where I didn’t care about the characters or plot. Because the emotional aspect is there.


    1. Hatm0nster says:

      How did Slender become less scary? Repeated exposure? Did something happen to the game?

      I like your description of Ni No Kuni. It kind of makes the point that games have a greater potential for emotional responses than other mediums. If the world feels alive enough, it’s easier to want to be a part of it and to place yourself there while playing.


      1. duckofindeed says:

        I think I just played Slender too long, and I got used to it. Once Slenderman caught me enough times, I was no longer as afraid of him. Oh, hello, tall guy in suit, yawn. He caught me again….


  3. simpleek says:

    I think any game that’s able to elicit some kind of emotion in me during the time I play it makes the game much more memorable to me. The Bioware and Telltale games are great examples of games that I’ve played, and no matter how much time has gone by since I’ve beaten them, I’ll always remember the kind of emotions I felt when I experienced those games. It’s really quite powerful and it makes these games much more meaningful to the player.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. duckofindeed says:

      I really enjoy games that make me feel something, as well. I love games that make me feel sad, for example, because I feel more like a part of the game if I can cry during a sad scene. Final Fantasy X, Okami, Ni no Kuni. All those games really made me feel something, so they have a special place in my heart that other games can’t match.

      Liked by 1 person

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