Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Musings on Horror Games

I'm playing Alien: Isolation on PC right now. I'm not very far in, but I've found some stuff I wanted to talk about (which I recorded the audio of while playing but the file corrupted or something).

I want to make a horror tabletop RPG at some point. This is something I have been interested in for a while but have not had the capacity to do as I don't have a ton of experience with horror games. I've played some tabletop horror RPGs - Don't Rest Your Head, Black Stars Rise, and a fantastic game by +Nick Wedig that should be published if it isn't already (I'm a little behind on Nick's work.) (ETA: I've also played Dread, very late at night at a party, and it was pretty great). These games are good, but they require two things: good, experienced players, and a great GM. The systems do some of the work, but I feel like they wouldn't work as well without the support of the players and GM. I want to make a game approachable to new players, which is challenging for me in the first place, but I also want something compelling.

There are a few things I want to avoid that I have found to be way to common in various horror media (games, television, movies, etc.): boredom and sexually predatory themes. The former is just wasting time, but the latter actually kind of pisses me off. I feel like I should be able to avoid that kind of trigger in horror instead of being constantly confronted with it, so I've tasked myself with aiming for the kind of horror - maybe dread? - that avoids that specific trope.

Things I want to include: suspense, vivid descriptions, and the ability to run and play the game without tons of tabletop experience. Much harder than it sounds.

Part of me wants to interrogate the people I know who are good about horror, but at the same time, I feel like I need to focus on what makes me scared in order to satisfy what I want.

One of the feelings I want to incorporate is that feeling of "I know what's going to happen, I can't stop it, and it's terrible," that dread. One of the movies I was unable to finish because of how distressing and dreadful was Buckets of Blood (1959). Part of this is because I for serious cannot handle harming animals in film (we shut it off before the first icky part, admittedly), but part of it is that kind of dread just shakes me up. I would love to capture that in a game, but how do you do that? I feel like there needs to be a script, so I'm wondering how you include three things:

  • The illusion of free will
  • Freedom of description 
  • Compelling story

I mean, part of it is that I'm just not a super experienced writer or designer. Part of it is I need to consume more horror media, but I don't want to consume too much and lose my focus, you know? I think video games are a really good place to focus because I am learning a lot about games and interaction from them (I'll eventually write another post about some of the games I'm playing now).

 Avoiding boredom is suuuuper hard. This is my biggest problem with horror movies and games. If the suspense isn't done right, or things are too repetitive, I totally lose focus and interest. Sometimes this is useful because there can be jump scares, but jump scares are not only hard in RPGs but can be kind of silly. I don't want players to be uninvolved enough that they want to start checking their phones or having side convos.

That's where I am right now. I'd appreciate your thoughts!