Halloween and New Years Eve are generally considered to be alcohol-friendly events, and even drinking promoters. In this regard, they are distinct amongst the major holidays; it’s unusual to hear about raging Thanksgiving house parties, or Easter night blackouts.
This is fine if Halloween happens to fall on a weekend. College kids would even take a thirsty Thursday. However, if Halloween falls on, say, a Monday, most kinds of alcohol-related activities are much less likely, and this year, that’s exactly what’s happening.
While there will probably be house parties and bar events going on the Saturday before, it still leaves a deficit of festivity for the day of. Workweek obligations take priority and looming responsibilities tend to harsh the buzz further.
Children will be participating in the age-old tradition of trick-or-treating regardless of it being a “school night.” Parents may find themselves committed to monitoring the progress of their little ghosts and ghouls around the neighborhood, or else devote themselves to delving out candy at the door.
For those that fall in neither camp (the majority of UAA students), the old standard for a weekday Halloween probably involves some variation of scary movie screenings.
Ever since the silent era, horror films have been crafted to trigger a base human emotion – fear. Often treated as a weakness, Halloween is one day where being afraid, allowing fear to consume the viewer, is encouraged. As Halloween falls on a Monday this year, it allows that kind of fear to be unperturbed by copious alcohol consumption.
Basic cable stations will play “Halloween” or “Friday the 13th” on a continuous loop, and there are always contemporary theatrical releases during October, with “The Thing,” “Red State,” “Paranormal Activity 3,” (turn to B2 for TNL’s review) and others among this year’s offerings.
However, there is an alternative – horror video games. While DVD players are definitely more common than game consoles, streaming services like Netflix have made consoles more of a household staple and thus little hardware is required for amateurs to pick up a scary game and give it a try.
The scares offered by movies of the genre generally have a very short lifespan, sometimes only lasting seconds with what are known as “jump scares,” or those moments where there is rising music or silence pregnant with suspense, followed by sudden loud noise or image flash. These kinds of scares, while immediately frightening, tend not to last with the viewer after they conclude.
With games, the scares are created not only instantaneously, but built gradually, atmospherically. As the player is in direct control of the characters, there’s a psychological disconnect, creating a more immersive experience. Columnist for Wired, Clive Thompson, calls this effect “proto-interactivity,” and attributes it to a power that is above mere movies.
“Terrified viewers, screaming ‘Don’t go in there!’ at the screen, [wish] they could somehow reach out and personally guide the [characters] to safety. In a game, of course, […] you actually do have the choice about whether to go into ‘The Bad Room’ or to run screaming,” Thompson writes.
Established scary game franchises such as “Resident Evil” and “Silent Hill” have cultivated this type of experience through the “survival horror” genre of games.
In this genre, the game’s environment is inherently hostile, and the difficulty is intentionally high. Through these preparations, game developers intend to force a level of stress on the player. In an interview, Shinji Mikami, creator of the original Resident Evil series, said, “The player feels [a] zombie getting close and tastes the ‘fear,’ and begins panicking, like, ‘I don’t have enough ammo!’ This level of stress created by unfavorable circumstances helps to further challenge the psyche of the player.
Team Silent, responsible for the first four “Silent Hill” games, are generally considered masters of the emotional craft of the fear genre. By using more in-depth psychological story-lines, the “Silent Hill” franchise has produced some of the more chilling video game experiences, often cited as revitalizing the genre with the 2001 title, “Silent Hill 2.” In this game, the environment is the titular Silent Hill, an abandoned town consumed by fog, and augmented with psychological elements of the protagonist. “The look of the town touches audiences in a deeper level. I tried to depict a town that is desolated, filled with sorrow yet you cannot stop loving it,” said Takayoshi Sato, CGI director for the first two “Silent Hill” titles. Newer titles such as “Dead Space” continue the survival horror tradition.
These various effects, coupled with inherently hostile game environments and longer-running plots, give scary games a leg-up over scary movies. Since games require a much larger investment in the investment of both a player’s attention and time, the pay-off in terms of fear is thus much more substantial. When it comes to Halloween on a Monday, far and away the standard is to rent some scary movies and jump and scream with the cheap scares they employ. However, if people are looking for a more lasting, deeper-rooted scare that will last past Halloween, or else simply something new, scary games create a legitimate alternative for a sober yet scary Halloween activity.