How do you scare a player?

Seeing as my research project is about creating the ideal scary level, it goes without saying that I must look into what techniques and elements come together to scare someone. Admittedly, last week I jumped the gun looking into lighting in level design.

Firstly, I feel it’s important to collate and distil various factors people consider make up a scary level. My reasoning for this is that if I can discover these individual factors, I can create a survey displaying these elements, and ask those who take the survey to rate, from highest to lowest, what scares them the most in games. With that knowledge at hand, I’d be able to use the information as a framework and integrate more of the scarier aspects into the final level.

“Create scary situations for an Avatar with whom the player feels an Empathetic Connection.” – Mike Birkhead, Lead Designer, Section Studios

In an opinion piece written on Gamasutra, a respected Game Development website, Mike Birkhead compares horror games to horror films, and explains that something horror games rarely get right compared to films is that horror games rarely manage to successfully create an emotional connection between player and character, and as such players may not fear for the protagonist/their avatar and their protective instinct may not necessarily kick in.

Birkhead then argues that the feeling of fear doesn’t come from the location or a character, but rather from the situation the player/protagonist would find themselves in and the overall context of the situation, and presents an aquarium as an example. He says that you may be staring through a window, looking at sharks in the shark tank, and all is well and normal. However, if you found yourself on the other side of the window and bleeding, knowing the sharks would be drawn towards you, the entire mood would change though the setting remains the same. It’s an interesting way to think about it, and as such I’ll have to investigate how to create a scary situation.

Thanks to the following pages for the valuable insight:

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