Now if we are going to talk more about spooky games, then we need to get something out of the way. Let’s talk about jump scares. Jump scares have become pretty much standard for horror franchises these days. In fact, it is hard to find a horror experience that doesn’t have a single jump scare in it. Now don’t get me wrong, jump scares do have their place in horror franchises. It is just that they tend to be a tad overused in more recent games. It is to the point where there are games that are just centered around jump scares. Now a jump scare cannot be used effectively if it is constantly used throughout the game. They are great for giving you a good scare for a moment, but that is it. It’s like on Halloween when you went to someone’s house for trick-or-treating and when you go to grad the candy an automated hand jumps out and grabs at you. Startling for sure, especially if you are eight, but once it is over the tension is gone. You relax and so naturally, it is harder to get back into that spooky mindset. Now you also be prepared for that kind of thing at the next house. So, what I am trying to get at here is that a jump scare can be used to produce certain changes in mindset and if overdone can lessen the effect the scary game is trying to achieve. So let’s talk about how I think they can be used effectively.
First, let’s talk about why they work in the Five Nights at Freddy’s series we talked about last week. It is simply because the jump scare is an indication of failure. Since failure is equivalent to death, there is no need to worry about the tension being broken since you have to start from scratch anyway. This is usually the most common approach to using jump scares in games at the moment. There is also the classic fake out where the tension is at its peak and you get a fake out that startles you and causes you to do one of two things. It will either cause you to lower your guard so that you are caught by surprise when it matters, or you are aware of the fake out tactic so you have your guard remain at its peak so you respond accordingly to the real scare. This way either the tension spikes real fast once you have lowered your guard or it remains at around the same level and helps keep you engaged. Imagine a bunch of people going on a rollercoaster for the first time and as it gets to the very top, the car just stops. They might think that they are getting a quick breather or that something is wrong with the ride. Now let’s say there is also someone who is experienced with rollercoasters there as well. They know this is just the calm before the storm of emotions the ride will let them experience. So some tensions rise while others fall and in the end everyone has a thrilling time.
Jump scares are meant to be a fun distraction to the horror experience. Well maybe fun isn’t the right word, but you understand what I mean. They are not meant to be all your game has to offer. There are so many games that come out thinking that just throwing in a few jump scares actually qualifies as a horror experience. I am looking at all those walking simulators who have no other gameplay elements save for maybe a flashlight with some incredibly questionable battery life. If a game solely relies on jump scares, then the game is not scary. One of the most essential elements of fear is not knowing what to expect, so if you use the same trick time and time again, then the whole experience will be rather boring. In fact, the fact that a game would have to rely on jump scares shows that it has absolutely no confidence in being able to keep any sort of tension or atmosphere for an extended period of time. I am not saying those games can’t have jump scares, but at least they should have another way of keeping me engaged. Why would anyone walk into a trap that they can see coming? Walking into an obvious jump scare is the equivalent of getting hit by a rake that you stepped on. If you didn’t see it coming, then you deserve exactly what happens. Look, all I ask is that we try and make a horror experience illicit a little bit of dread and foreboding every now and then. Is that too much to ask?