Video games can often represent an exercise in control. Hell, the device used to play them is even called a controller! As the gamer, you make decisions for your character, navigating him or her through gameplay that is often treacherous – otherwise, where would the thrill come from? However, the artificial reality in which your character is operating is neither predictable nor reliable at times, prone to twists, turns and manipulations from the game developer. After all, a game that is not what it seems only makes it all that much more interesting and compelling. It does, however, bring about questions of who really is pulling the strings; who is the player and who is the one being played.
As inherently counter-intuitive as it may seem, we are regularly willing to sacrifice control in pursuit of a good scare. It’s hard to know exactly where the appeal of being terrified stems from, but movies, TV and other entertainment media forms, not the least of which is video games, have long been making lucrative gains out of charging people for the privilege of scaring the bejeezus out of them. While most people have come to understand this cathartic experience as a common staple of certain movies and TV shows, it might not be an obvious partner of video games, where the gamer can respond to whatever spooky stimuli awaits in whatever manner he or she sees fit.
Video game developers, however, have been up to the challenge of infusing the virtual worlds within their games with an environment of fear. Where you once had to pop on some cheesy horror movie in order to give yourself a spine-tingling thrill, you can now choose your own path amidst the presence of some pretty terrifying horrors. Some games specialize in the art of the startling, bump-in-the-night scare that prey on the gamer’s single-minded, first-person focus. But as games have evolved in both nuance and complexity, the scares have taken on more innately personal and affecting themes like isolation, uncertainty within your own surroundings and the deeply psychological fear of the unknown. Then again, there are still games that rely on the time-tested reliability of a hauntingly creepy demon girl or a children’s character that turns deeply sinister at night.
Whatever path a video game developer takes to achieving an honest-to-goodness scare, the challenge comes in the execution. After all, how can you leave a gamer still feeling uncomfortable and ill-at-ease when they can simply direct their player away from the spooky threat? Therefore, it isn’t merely enough to create a game bearing one spooky element, but the entire realm of the game must carry an inescapable level of fright to make it truly effective. These 10 games have accomplished that, perhaps better than any others in gaming history. From memorable classics to mature current games that opt for more psychologically manipulative scares, here are the scariest video games on the market. Now, who’s really in control?