A collage featuring some of the best horror video games (clockwise from top left): 'Resident Evil 4,' 'Silent Hill 2,' 'Little Nightmares,' and 'Outlast II'

These Video Games Prove the Horror Genre Is Most Effective When It’s Interactive

Video games are the highest form of horror.

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Fight me on this. I’m ready. I’ll do the exact same thing that I do in scary horror games: run away. I have no pride to protect. I have an alive to protect. Me. My life. But yes, I do think that horror games are superior to even the scariest of horror movies in every way. Why? Because no matter how scary it is, the experience of watching a horror movie is a passive one. No matter what you, the viewer, do, the characters in the film are fated to live or die based on reasons totally outside of your control.

When you are playing a horror game however, you are actively participating in the action. Whether your character lives or dies is up to you. And that is just … SUBLIMELY TERRIFYING. So much responsibility! Nothing makes me more afraid than being responsible for things. It’s adult horror. So what are the best horror video games for engendering this sort of terror? Let’s find out!

Bloodborne

the eldritch moon presence floats in front of a blood red moon in "Bloodborne"
(FromSoftware)

FromSoftware changed the face of horror gaming forever when games like Demon’s Souls first hit the scene. With their tortuous difficulty, eerie atmosphere, and steep penalties for death, these games were a nightmarish experience that made even the most level-headed players rage-quit in fear and loathing. And then Bloodborne came out and took us to a new level of terror. Arguably the greatest visual representation of cosmic horror ever made, Bloodborne‘s Lovecraftian horrors are sure to make you lose what’s left of your sanity.

Resident Evil 4

Leon S. Kennedy stands in the woods with a gun drawn in "resident evil 4"
(Capcom)

While the Resident Evil franchise had been consistently pumping out landmark horror titles, it wasn’t until Resident Evil 4 that the series reached its true apex of terror. You play as Leon S. Kennedy, a grizzled young special agent who journeys to rural Spain in order to track down a kidnapped girl. What you find is a carnival of body horror scares as you fight off a cult that worships ancient parasites! The only thing worse is the deliberately limited controls and the “react-or-die” quicktime events. Legendarily scary.

Amnesia: Dark Descent

A horrid creature approaches the camera in "Amnesia: Dark Descent"
(Frictional Games)

While other horror games allow you to defeat the monster, the Amnesia series pioneered the “run away and hide” alternative. Dark Descent puts you in the POV of a man who wakes up in a spooky castle populated by ghoulish horrors with no memory of how you got there. You have to navigate the castle to search for clues, all while avoiding the nightmare-inducing residents. The worst part? You have a sanity meter, and looking at a monster or staying in the dark too long causes it to deplete, making the game harder. Cruel.

Silent Hill 2

James in 'Silent Hill 2'
(Konami)

The Silent Hill series is synonymous with poop-your-pants horror games, and Silent Hill 2 might very well be the best—at being the worst. The game puts you in control of a man named James, who receives a letter from his dead wife Mary to meet her in the town of Silent Hill. Mistake. Upon arriving in town, James is greeted by a bevy of horrifying inhabitants, the worst of whom is Pyramid Head. He’s a dude with a pyramid for a head and he wants to chop you up with his big sword. No thank you.

Little Nightmares

The Chef from "Little Nightmares" chops into raw meat with a cleaver
(Bandai Namco Ent.)

Don’t let the title fool you, Little Nightmares will give you BIG nightmares. You play as a little girl in a raincoat who has to side scroll her way through the Maw, a massive underwater prison complex. The Maw is home to monstrously oversized humanoids who really want to serve you for dinner and eat you. Pass.

Outlast II

An exhausted woman stands in the woods illuminated by a night vision camera in "Outlast II"
(Red Barrels)

In this run-away-and-hope-they-don’t-find-you horror series, you play as a cameraman who is searching for his wife after she went missing while investigating a fundamentalist Christian cult. You sure as hell find the cult. Or, rather, they find you. As Outlast II progresses, the protagonist’s sense of reality blurs, and he is transported back to his old Catholic school where he was unable to save his friend from molestation at the hands of a priest. Traumatic.

F.E.A.R.

Soldiers stand in a bloodstained hallway in "F.E.A.R."
(Vivendi Universal Games)

While most horror games put you in control of a helpless protagonist whose only weapon is bravery, F.E.A.R. at least has the decency to let you play as a highly equipped soldier. You are the point man of the First Encounter Assault Recon team, a group of telepathic commandos who investigate dangerous paranormal activity. The game serves as a revolutionary mix of the first person shooter and horror game genres. The only thing scarier than seeing a ghost over your character’s shoulder is seeing it through their own eyes.

Doki Doki Literature Club

Two schoolgirls sit on the classroom floor and hug in "Doki Doki Literature Club"
(Team Salvato)

On the surface, Doki Doki Literature Club seems like a tranquil little lake—a dating sim populated by cutesy little characters. Dive beneath that surface and you’ll see that lake is more of a Lord of the Rings-style bog full of corpses. As you get to know your prospective romantic partners, you can’t help but notice that something is a little … off? Why is the screen glitching? Where did all that blood come from? Is that girl sleeping or …? Please tell me she’s sleeping.

Bioshock

A Big Daddy lunges for the protagonist on "Bioshock"
(2K Games)

Another groundbreaking first person shooter/horror lovechild, Bioshock puts you in control of a plane crash survivor named Jack who has been sent to investigate an underwater city built by an eccentric tycoon named Andrew Ryan. As Jack navigates the city of Rapture, he discovers that its inhabitants went insane due to a strange gene-splicing drug called Adam. This drug is grown in the bellies of creepy little girls called Little Sisters, who are protected by diving suit-clad entities called Big Daddies. You do not want to mess with a Big Daddy, or you will get an industrial drill through the stomach. I was bioshook when it happened to me.

The Evil Within

A man with a shotgun prepares to fight a humanoid horror in "The Evil Within"
(Bethesda Softworks)

In The Evil Within, Detective Sebastian Castellanos and his partners Joseph Oda and Juli Kidman are sent to Beacon Mental Hospital after reports of a horrific massacre. I would have tendered my resignation then and there. After arriving in the hospital, Sebastian is knocked unconscious by a hooded figure and wakes up in a nightmare world populated by horrifying monsters! It’s revealed that Sebastian’s consciousness has become trapped in a mind-linking machine that is manifesting the inner psyche of one of the hospital’s most deranged denizens. Not a place you want to be.

(featured image: Capcom / Konami / Bandai Namco / Red Barrels)


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Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.