It’s sort of the “dark” holiday. Like, every other holiday is about being happy and bright. It’s about Leprechauns and rainbows or a fat jolly man in a red suit or bubbly pink hearts or a joyful little bunny hopping around with a basket of eggs. But not Halloween.
Halloween is about gruesomeness. It’s about witches, ghouls, vampires, werewolves, zombies, and other frightening monsters. It’s about the paranormal and the macabre, quite the opposite of jingle jangles and cupids playing harps.
Halloween is the dark brother in the family of holidays. Rather than embracing a positive upbeat emotion like all the others, it taps into a rather deep shadowy instinct: the emotion of fear.
Sure, some people try to make it fun and lighthearted with glowy pumpkins, silly costumes, and smiling ghosts that shout BOO, but at its core, Halloween is about horror, absolute horror.
And horror is one of those things that keeps us on the edge of the seat. It gives us a sort of adrenaline rush. The “oh shit” moments trigger that pre-wired instinct of “fight or flight”.
While to some, that nerve wracking feeling of uneasiness can be quite unpleasant, to others, it’s quite the thrill to seek. I’m one of those that falls in the latter category. I love horror! Horror books, horror films, and of course, horror games.
Yeah, I’m a lazy dude who sits on the couch and spends a lot of time consuming horror media in some fashion.
Something about the “nerves on edge” feeling I find to be quite exhilarating. But not just on October 31st.
For horror fanatics though, this is a mere international celebration of what we do year round: scaring ourselves for fun.
Scaring yourself…*for fun?* ZOINKS!
I know( if you’re not into the horror genre)...sounds a little crazy. But being scared is actually quite the adrenaline rush and has some key benefits as we’ll get to
Anyway, let’s dive into why I love horror and what life skills it taught me, Halloween or not...
First and foremost, horror strikes the feeling of danger. A killer with a chainsaw stalking in the night or a possessed nun with a hunt for blood is a lot safer behind the television screen than actually in your bedroom.
Despite the obvious “fake” nature of the game, film, or book, senses are driving crazy. Your brain enters a high alert mode because it doesn’t differentiate between imagination and reality. It’s not that you’re watching a movie of a poor school girl getting chased by a deranged killer, it’s that killer is chasing *you*...or at least that’s what it feels like.
Your brain puts you in the scene as if you are the one actually experiencing it, even though in reality you’re just reading, watching, or playing it.
The combination of eerie cinematic lighting and tense musical scores add to scare as a whole.
Everything visually and auditory is designed to literally frighten you by triggering certain alert sensors in the brain.
Seeing a dimly lit knife dripping blood to the floor followed by a “strike” of a music chord as the shadowy figure lunges towards his victim all builds tension by creating an environment of terror.
Environment is key. In fact, I’d argue that the environment surrounding the murder can be much scarier than the actual murder itself. It’s the *build up* to that murder that’s *really* scary!
Sure, the “cheap jump scares” are the ones that get you to well, jump up and shake (or shit your pants for that matter). But that’s more like being surprised than actually fearful.
Real horror comes from the anticipation, which is built through the atmosphere. It’s not knowing what’s going to happen next.
Playing Dead Space is a great example. Like yeah, there were some cleverly timed jump scares of Necromorphs (the zombie aliens) popping up out of nowhere while you’re traversing around an abandoned spaceship, but the real scary parts are the parts where there’s...nothing.
Walking down a corridor and turning a corner, not knowing if you’ll be pounced by a Necromorph or safely continue down an empty hallway. Seeing a vent suddenly fall from the ceiling and panicking, only to realize it was just loosely screwed and no monster was there to make it fall. Those are the moments that truly get the heart pounding off your chest. Not knowing what’s going to happen. Not knowing if you’re safe or in danger.
It’s not the jump scare moments that get you to think “OH SHIT! I’M IN DANGER!” that boil up the blood too much. It’s the moments of calm where you think “*Am I* in danger?*” that really elicits fear.
Suspense builds up and just when you’re thinking “okay, maybe there’s nothing to be afraid of” that’s when it hits -- the surprise element (or jump scare). The stronger the environment, the more impactful that surprise element will be.
Everyone remembers people in the theaters at the original Paranormal Activity leaping from their seats.
*Spoiler Alert* The film had one cheap jump scare at the end, but it got nearly everyone to panic.
Because the entire film built suspense. It built tension. It created atmosphere. It had you thinking “What’s going to happen?”
Now to clarify I don’t think it’s that genius of a film. I don’t think Paranormal Activity was as amazing as everybody thinks it is, nor do I think it’s very terrible either. It’s very...okay. But it does do a decent job at creating that suspenseful environment.
Was it dragged out? A bit. Was it like playing Where’s Waldo? Most definitely. Was the acting and script a bit lackluster? Yup. But nonetheless, it managed to prove that yes, in fact, the atmosphere t is key in a good horror.
Get Out doesn’t really have any notable jump scares, but that film by Jordan Peele is one of the scariest I’ve ever seen! Again, the tension, the mystery, the environment is what makes it scary.
It has this “What is going on? Something ain’t right…” sort of vibe to it that makes you feel frightened as hell.
But why seek something like that at all?
Why go after that eerie feeling of not knowing what’s going to happen and then getting slammed with a huge jump scare in your face that beats your heart out of your chest? Why induce yourself with panic?
Well, it’s sort of like skydiving or riding a roller coaster, where you fall from great heights which would otherwise lead to death, but do so in a safe environment.
See, you can put yourself in these dangerous situations without actually risking your life. You get the adrenaline rush without ever having to die (or put in the stakes of that happening).
It’s a sort of “high” feeling that kicks up your heart rate.
And just like chasing any high, the more you do it, the more potent the high needs to be to get the same effect.
As a horror junkie, you get sort of used to scary things. You can kind of begin to predict when the jump scare is going to happen and when there’s sort of a “red herring” of a fake jump scare. That’s where they build the music up and pan slowly, like the jump scare’s gonna happen and then add some sort of comic relief moment to get you to laugh instead of scream. Yeah, talk about a roller coaster (of emotions).
Basically, the whole feeling you get is addicting. Like a skydiver seeking thrills as he jumps from a plane, the horror junkie seeks thrills entering a cabin in the woods (virtually).
Expect the Unexpected
The more horror media you consume, the more you learn to expect the unexpected. That’s a good life skill to have. It allows you to react to what the situation actually presents, rather than to rely on what you had hoped for.
You may hope entering that locker room is safe but you have to expect the unexpected and think there *could be* a zombie lurking around the corner. That way, if he is, you don’t completely panic. Not to say you won’t at all feel uneasy right then and there. I mean, feeling uneasy while watching your character (or actor) traverse down a dimly lit hallway is completely natural, even for the hardest horror veterans.
It’s not about avoiding uneasiness though. It’s about being OKAY with uneasiness.That’s what getting into enough of Horror allows you to do.
It allows you to [stay Smooth] despite the uneasiness. It’s the attitude of “alright, the uneasiness is there, but I won’t let it get to me.”
It allows you to [take your time and become completely aware of your surroundings and act accordingly], rather than nonchalantly waltzing into a shack full of chainsaws, oblivious to the consequences of said decision.
Being “on edge” is better than being just unaware of what’s going on. Of course, you don’t want to be so far on the edge that you’re anxious. You just want to be aware enough of what’s happening and what *could* potentially happen soon.
You begin to crave not knowing what’s going to happen. You begin to crave the unknown. It excites you. The thought of being scared actually pumps you up instead of freezing you.
Rather than saying “I can’t watch this!” as you flick the TV off, you’ll begin to think “Shit, that got me. That was awesome. Let’s do it again!”
Even if you expect the unexpected, it’s still possible to be surprised.
Just when you think you’ve seen it all, heard it all before, there’s always a twist, something unexpected, that catches you completely off guard. And that’s thrilling as hell!
I recently watched the movie called “The Boy”, starring Lauren Cohen (aka Maggie from the Walking Dead). She takes up a babysitting gig for this elderly couple’s son in a country house. Their “son” turns out to be a porcelain doll. That’s the gist of the plot. Things get creepy. Ya know, typical paranormal shit with walls banging, lights dimming, the doll moving on its own.*gasps*
Now, I won’t spoil the ending for ya, but there’s a really big twist that I wouldn’t have even guessed I was thinking “yeah, yeah, stereotypical possessed doll plot. Been there. Done that. Here we go again. How cliche”
But what was actually happening? The big reveal? I honestly did NOT see coming!
It proved to me that there is no way to predict everything, and even in this genre so full of cliches, there’s always *still* that genuine surprise element.
Cabin in the Woods pretty much follows the quintessential cliche formula.
Group of kids that decide to stay a night in, you guessed it, a cabin in the woods. Oh and there’s a killer! Of course.
That’s another film where I’m like “Uggh, here we go again!”
But the twist flipped my world upside down. It pretty much follows the horror movie cliche but it does it in a clever way in which it ends up explaining *why* there are these cliches to begin with.
I’ve learned to be open to surprise, even when there’s seemingly nothing left to surprise me.
This is one of those helpful little life skills that come from consuming Horror.
This applies mostly to the gaming part of horror though. I mean certainly, you can use this to avoid spilling your Coca Cola or popcorn all over the cinema floor, but I’m talking about making quick yet poised decisions without letting panic or fear get the best of you during tense moments.
In Dead By Daylight,an asymmetrical multiplayer, for example, as a survivor, a heartbeat sound effect gets louder and faster as the killer approaches; it’s that combined with a tense orchestra that blasts when he finds you and starts chasing that makes things a bit...unsettling to say the least.
Now, of course, the natural reaction in this moment is to FLIGHT! Just book it the fuck out of there. Where? I don’t know? But away from here!
But that’s going to lead you to quickly getting stabbed by the edge of a long crimson blade faster than you can yell out a cry for HELP.
You can’t just hold “W” and hope for the best in getting away.
You have to run away with a game plan. You have to strategically use objects around the environment to your advantage in order to prolong the chase. Vaulting windows, throwing pallets, ducking behind objects to block line of sight. These are things you must do in order to successfully get away.
But again, you can’t just do all this willy nilly.
You have to be tactful. You have to rationalize. Think. But you can’t really do that if you’re panicking and giving into that flight mechanic of your reptilian brain.
That’s why you must learn to relax in these tense moments.
Rather than rely on a panic stricken “OMG GTFO!” instinct, you must tap into the relaxed rational side of the brain in order to come out alive.
Once you adapt to the fear, it becomes a sort of mind game, like a really fast game of chess, between you and the killer instead of a run from your murderer simulator.
If you’re able to remain calm in a virtual nerve-wracking experience, you can more easily do that IRL. When it comes to a circumstance or event that induces panic or anxiety, instead of giving into that feeling, you strategically plan your next course of action, just like you strategically must choose which pallet to loop and which direction to loop it.
Practice resource management during crisis
In games like Resident Evil,Dead Space, Silent Hill. and other shooter horrors you have to make every bullet count. Ammunition is rare to come by, especially on the higher difficulties (which is the real way to play, c’mon now). It’s not like a Call of Duty where bullets grow like grass. There’s a bit of plundering involved and using the resources you find, including ammunition, effectively.
You can’t be trigger happy and fire off a full round of bullets hoping to land a shot. You have to aim carefully, precisely. A missed shot could be the difference between living to tell the tale and having your face mauled off by a zombie.
There will be times where hiding from and avoiding a horde of enemies or successfully juking past them is a better decision than pulling the trigger, so that you can save what little bullets you have to take down that one big baddie with a long slimy tongue and knife long teeth later.
On top of making every bullet count, usually, there’s some form of a health state in horror video games that you have to maintain. You can’t just crouch in a corner for a few seconds to get a second wind though. Taking a hit, means you’re injured. And being injured means you’re gonna stay that way until you find some method of healing.
In Resident Evil that means finding herbs. Do you eat the herb now and heal a little bit or risk battling through the pain of injury to find another herb you can combine it with to create a more potent medicine that heals more health?
The original RE games required you to collect ribbons in order to use a typewriter. And why would you want to use a typewriter? So you could actually SAVE your game. Without a ribbon, you couldn’t save your progress at all. Each freaking SAVE was a limited resource. You couldn’t just save after every little battle.
Upon finding a ribbon you have to decide: Do you save now... or wait until you progress a little further? ...But what if you don’t make it further?
In the Last of Us, you’re juggling between the decision of making a med kit and heal yourself up or using that alcohol to create a molotov bomb and take down a large horde of enemies. You’re choosing whether to use a shiv to pick lock a door with a stash of good items, attaching it to your baseball bat to make it more deadly, or saving your ass by pulling the ole stabberooni if an infected manages to grab you. You can either break the plank you found on the ground to down an infected now or try to save that breakable makeshift melee weapon for a rainy day and attempt to sneak up for a stealth kill instead.
The stakes are high in being able to successfully manage your resources in these games. It’s really between life and death. You can’t be even the least bit of wasteful in using them. Honestly, if you can play through these games, you have the skills to create a budget or even [run a business]. It all comes down to using your resources (and what little you may have) appropriately. Horror games provide a great experience in that department.
Choosing the right thing to do can be hard enough, but doing it under some serious pressure where the consequences are high? Yeah man, that’s heavy.
Some of these horror games have you picking and choosing between some flat out tough shit.
Do you save the young journalist gal or computer geek guy?
Who do you give food rations to during a zombie apocalypse when everyone is starving and there’s a very limited food supply?
It’s questions like these that you’re asked in Telltale’s the Walking Dead that really test your moral compass.
Coming across a stray dog in a bear trap in Resident Evil 4, do you help set him free? Or use a bullet to put him out of his misery? Or just leave him to suffer?
Later, if you choose to help the dog/wolf (spoiler alter), when facing a giant ass troll, the dog distracts the beast, giving you an advantage in the boss fight. Boom! Karma baby!
It’s basically an interactive horror movie, where the decisions you make could be the difference between someone living or dying. Even some small, seemingly inconsequential decisions like whether to shoot an aluminum can or a squirrel can have large devastating effects later. They play on the whole “butterfly effect” idea - that one small thing, like stepping on a butterfly, can have LARGE unforeseen causes. In fact, each time you make a choice in Until Dawn, bright butterflies fly across the screen and there's a menu with butterfly icons that keeps track of your choices.
Every day we have to make choices, and it is the choices we make that determine our destiny. Being able to calmly approach decision-making, no matter how “frightening” it may be is a great skill to master and no doubt horror games give “xp” that can be used in real life.
You can be humbled by the fact that just like the game, the small decisions you make every day can have a large impact later down the line in your “story”.
Horror is not so Horrible
Don’t be afraid to watch horror movies, read horror books, or play horror video games. Despite how intimidating they may seem on the surface, once you really get into them, they can provide more than just a bit of a thrill but also practice on emotional control.
In short, becoming a horror junkie is a lazy way to overcome anxiety. If you can handle horror, you can handle any shit life brings you, because let’s face it, there’s probably nothing worse you’ll come across in real life than a cannibal revving up a chainsaw a few meters behind you.
Stay Spooked & Happy Halloween!