Second survey – Analysis of section 4

The final section of the survey was focused on giving general horror tropes as statements, and having those who took the survey rate which they found scariest. The survey results are visible here.

Overall, the majority of people found being unable to defend themselves scarier than having a limited means of defending yourself (Lending to the cliche)

All but 1 found the constant pursuit of enemies scary, though 33% were indifferent to it, so I should take care to use that technique in limited capacities.

The majority of people found knowing there are enemies, but not knowing what they look like very scary – Adding to the theme that the unknown is a very powerful tool. Bundled with this, not knowing the enemy’s behaviour was also scary to players.

The majority of people found the sound of something moving closer to the player scary, while complete silence (Which I assumed would cause tension and anxiety) was a 50/50 split in terms of effectiveness, again I should take care not to use that too much.

Darkness was found somewhat scary, with the majority of people being indifferent to it, but nobody finding it not scary.

The majority of people found fog to be scary, I should definitely incorporate some form of fog or mist in my level.

As shown earlier, most people didn’t find water scary, and more people found murky water scarier.

Not knowing where to go was mildly effective, but I should take care not to have it result in frustration for the player.

Almost universally, most people found unexplained events such as doors suddenly opening scary.

And finally, and interestingly, many people found going through a door (Having to open a closed one) to be scary – Possibly due to the anxiety of not knowing what may be behind the door.

Closing thoughts provided by those who took the survey

I got some fantastic feedback from  those who took the survey, most of them focusing on a variety of aspects. Some are affected moreso from a strong atmosphere, some are especially suceptible to sounds, one pointing out that in a different game, hiding from an enemy while you can hear it searching for you is terrifying. Some found that being defenceless wasn’t too scary if they knew they could escape from monsters, while another found that being entirely defenceless is the most scary as tension is lost when they are finally armed.

This however was a spectacular response, and I’ll have to leave it here for you to read should you wish. It was incredibly valuable and I’m incredibly grateful for the time the responder took to write this out for me:


“My favourite horror game is Alien: Isolation because of the cat and mouse gameplay and its setting. I believe that the xenomorph is also one of the greatest creatures in media – as Ash describes it in Alien, it’s the “perfect organism”. The game uses an incredible interplay of menace and safety, dosing out the danger at the perfect pace to maximise the player’s sense of dread. Even when you’re heavily armed, in the light and far away from the xenomorph, a single mistake is all it takes for it to crawl into a vent and drop down on you. There are so many elements that can attract its attention (setting off an alarm, shooting, running, even using the radar, and so on) that the player ends up in a near perpetual state of risk. The unpredictability of the alien is unsettling enough to fear doing basically anything at all, in case it hears or sees you. Combine that with the humans and androids, and the entire game almost punishes you merely for daring to exist within its world.

Although no longer my favourite, I would also say that Amnesia: The Dark Descent is the best horror game. It goes further than Alien: Isolation by removing all methods of self defense, increasing the tension between systems, and obfuscating more information about the world, story, enemies and even gameplay. In Amnesia, the very darkness that envelops everything becomes an affordance for stealth; however, that very same darkness also weakens the player by turning the playable character insane – spawning creepy cockroach infestations, unsettling noises, enemies, and even eventually killing the PC. This interplay between darkness being safe and dangerous creates permanent tension and turns it into a tangible threat. The medieval-cross-Victorian setting helps exploit this darkness massively, with towering armour sets, heavy curtains, oppressive furnishings, dim candles, grisly paintings and more enhancing the sense of dread and unwelcomeness. It’s familiar enough for the unease and danger to make it feel tainted, like this once beautiful and majestic place is now a crumbling, ruined ode to the madness that pursues the player throughout the game. It is that madness, which works so well as a mechanic, which turns a static environment into an active threat: progressing requires illumination so that the darkness doesn’t turn you insane, but you can’t hide in the light from enemies, and seeing those enemies also drives you mad, so your only option is to run and hide in the dark, which will slowly deplete your sanity. You can hide in a room, close the door, stack crates and chairs against it and then hide in a cupboard and close the doors behind you, but it’s on,y a temporary solution. The monster won’t disappear, and hiding needs you to light a candle to avoid insanity; between the limited amount of tinder for lighting candles and the permanence of danger, there is an inherent tension between progressing and surviving that goes far beyond Alien: Isolation’s comparative ease.

I could go on all day long, but the conclusion is essential,y that fear, in my opinion, comes from the unknown. That fear can then be exacerbated, principally, with: fragility, an active my dangerous environment, limited resources, occasional moments of relaxation, the corruption of a previously welcoming setting, audiovisual trickery, and a permanent tension between systems that avoids frustration and instead builds upon the sense of dread. An underlying sense of tension, sparsely used big scares and occasional moments of release is, ultimately, much more effective than the reliance solely on jump scares which killed off the horror genre in the early 2000s.