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I ain’t scared of no ghost! Now clowns on the other hand…
Posted on Monday, December 9 2013 @ 16:47:07 PST

I recently read an article discussing Shinji Mikami’s (Evil Within) revelation that it is simply getting harder to scare gamers. Sir, I agree! As I roll into my 30’s I have developed a rather tragic condition, called “Fearlessness”…nah just kidding it has simply become much tougher to get that old scary feeling. You know, the one where you are so scared you try to scream but nothing comes out (oh yeah that is some good scariness, and has only happened to me once). See, even writing about the fact that I don’t get scared easily anymore is in and of itself quite scary as I can only genuinely hope that no one on the internet is like, “oh, I’m going to show you scary”…please don’t.  I’m not interested in that type of weird scary…just make me a video game that scares the crap out of me and that will suffice.
When I was a kid my grandma would watch Return of the Living dead and it would scare the bejesus out of me. You go to sleep and when you wake up if the house is silent, it’s time to make some noise to remind folks that even with all those top notch special effects from 1985 this was not real. Childhood is a good time for being scared, with a lack of experience and knowledge you are ripe for the scaring. As time passes and you move into adulthood, your fears change from that which you don’t know and understand to more immediate and real fears. So the games that are scary for kids won’t simply work for adults. We all know adults still get scared, it’s just that different things scare them.  I have played enough scary games to know that regardless of the consequence I can simply restart and try again. So then how do you scare the crap out of adults consistently?
I honestly believe the key to scaring adults is going the psychological route vs. gore and shock. Here are some general features that would freak me out but have not been implemented as of late if ever. When I think of what would scare me now I instantly think of Psycho Mantis and the way in which the boss fight went far and beyond convention by literally taking control of different aspects of the then current console. It was so novel and yet has not been expanded or improved upon.
We have been well aware of the Rockstars, EA’s, Ubisofts, etc… collecting our gamer information, so why not utilize that information to tailor a uniquely horrific experience to gamers. One of the biggest issues with something being scary is novelty. If you don’t play a scary game soon after release some of the most shocking aspects are discussed due to the internet and social media diluting the effect for many late consumers, however if implemented correctly the story would actually by unique to specific gamer profiles. Think of walking into room in a game like Max Payne and being in what would be considered a thanksgiving scene only to see characters playing Madden specifically the last game saved on November 26th with teams and scores synced with the game. This would be subtle, as numerous other aspects of the game would be tied into gamer profile, trophy achievements, etc…It would be the subtly that would be unnerving. No one element would encompass what gives you that de ja vu feeling but rather it would be the sum of the experience having you wonder how much of my information is found throughout this game. This would drive you to also play on to not only see what information the use but how…nothing is quite as engrossing as trying to figure out what else makes my game different from my buddy’s and how much do they really know about me.
See, you would have the over arching story which I would aim at a current psychological thriller theme being populated with 50%-60% unique personal information. I would keep the character to one life with average abilities. No stat building or grinding, not even super action oriented. Slow down the pace but keep it driving maybe need to kill 1 person the entire game or piece things together a la Momento. I am thinking of maybe a Persona 4/Yakuza style of pseudo realistic with the ability to do side activities (such as games but good friggin game, like crazy taxi, etc...only maybe 1 generation behind, get some of those short pretty games from last gen launch and tie them in).
Now for some more fun, all we have discussed is the actual in game usage of personal info to freak you out. What about when you are not playing? The PS3 now has the ability to auto start to complete downloads and updates, how about tracking usage patterns of users and force start the PS3 when the game is normally played if in the drive and display a message like…,”are you there?”, “We’re waiting”. They are also now promoting cross play between the Vita, PS4, and Mobile Phones you gotta use this synchronicity to scare the **** out of people. Have the PS4 app change your phone desktop picture to reflect a graphic in-game screenshot from one of your recent forays into it.
Predictability is the bane of fear. When developers try to create a scary game they seem to forget that the system as a whole can accomplish so much more with regard to keeping an experience fresh and innovative. The first forays into this may need to be a first party developer/publisher because they may be permitted the most leeway with regard to modifying system code to allow for some of these ideas but I am telling you if Naughty Dog can create a horror game (not suspense LoU) and implement some of these mechanics you will scare the **** out kids and adults alike.
As an adult what makes games less scary is the idea that I understand that each and everyone has a start and end determined by when I turn it on and off but take away that control in a very subtle way and you would be surprised by the freakouts. I could just picture some kids sitting in the living room and the Playstation turning on and asking whether Frank is around? And then going into a full on script about how it feels for people to think it’s just a game and then start rumbling controllers, turning the camera on,  and google searching sentient beings etc…think evil GladOs. Putting a face (more accurately a persona) to the “They” are collecting my personal info will freak people out in and of itself. With so much potential you just gotta think about not only how can you create scary software but rather how can you maximize the overall fear experience via a combination of hardware, software, and accessories.
The cool part is you can get approval from the user to do all of this by simply putting a user agreement upfront and asking them to agree before they can continue. Apple says agree or take it back for a refund! 

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