Despite being more secure, it’s really weirdly easy for me to get into my phone these days. I don’t have to press a button or enter a code. I point the screen at my face and swipe up and I’m on Twitter or checking my email or doing something else. This is really convenient for almost everything I do in my life. I can quickly grab my phone during commercial breaks, or when standing in a line, or during loading screens, and pass the time. Technology is incredible!
But I think my ability to play horror games has suffered for this.
Over the weekend, I played quite a bit of Resident Evil Village. Well, that’s not actually true. I was in front of my TV with Resident Evil Village running for much of the weekend. I can’t really say that all that time was spent with a controller in my hands as I actively played the game. Quite a bit of that time was spent scrolling through Twitter, looking at guides, or generally just trying to avoid dealing with tall vampire lady that was stalking me through the halls of Dimitrescu Castle.
I think in most games, this split attention is fine. The totality of the last generation had taught me to always have my phone at the ready, to the point where I once embarrassingly pulled my phone out to scroll Twitter during a Monster Hunter: Iceborne demo out of pure reflex in front of the game’s producers, having gotten so used to doing that at home. But I think with horror specifically, this ability to just immediately task switch into something else effectively ruins the pacing for me.
Horror is a difficult genre to pace. While movies go at a standard speed and are ultimately passive, horror games require my input to make the spooks and scares proceed. Tension builds with every hallway I go down and every creak of the floorboard. I’m supposed to feel the stress as I hear the monsters stalking me in the main plaza and to feel the relief when I finally escape. Except I just choose not to, pause the game, and watch a TikTok.
To be clear, people should play games the way they want, but I’m acutely aware I have been handed this tool through which all horror games are effectively ruined. I have been given a light switch in a dark room wherein I can simply say, no, I’m good, but nice try on the scares, though. It’s absolute a me-problem but it’s one I am not entirely sure I want to fix. I think it would make for a better game, but it would also make for a more scared and stressed out me.
This is, in some way, my apology to horror game developers. I’m sorry, I’m never going to experience your game the way you want. It’s just not going to happen. I’m going to keep pausing it when things get to be too much and look at a video of a cat. I have this magic square available at any time that lets me see any number of cats and there’s nothing you, as a horror game designer, can really do to stop me.
I know I’m missing out. I know I’m not playing the game the way you want me to. I’m ultimately okay with that. If this were 15 years ago, it would be a different story, but the only horror story I let myself get embroiled in is the discourse on social media, and that might be way scarier than anything a game could really do to me.