Jimquisition: Scare Tactics


New member
Dec 5, 2008
I agree that jump scares can work; I stopped playing Rescue on Fractalus back in my 'tweens when the game stopped cluing you in that one of those damn aliens was going to jump up in front of your windshield.

The problem I have is that games like Doom 3 and Dead Space (especially the former) have such a short menu of scare tactics that they become annoyances from a game-play standpoint, annoyances that persist long after their ability to actually scare me have faded. Yes, Dead Space, I know I died; can we skip rubbing it in with this long-ass animation sequence for once? Oh look, Doom 3 is offering me a little cache of supplies out in the open. I wonder if this time grabbing it isn't going to trigger an ambush?

Actually, no; no, I don't.

So every time I pick up ammo, I backpedal a few paces and prepare to feed the horror d'jour a face-full of buckshot; every time I see a human corpse that might jump up and say boo, I pre-emptively carve it into nibblets. Not because I'm scared, or scared of being scared, but because the same tactics that are attempting to scare me are making me grind my teeth at another cheap attempt at chewing off a few life points or a few rounds of ammo in desperation fire.

It strikes me that these things could be more effective in many cases if they weren't a) rote and b) punishing. If the games were more willing to reward players for daring behavior that will expose them to scary things rather than make it advantageous to minimize them, we could enjoy the scares and feel a kind of empowerment from testing the limits of our own courage. I know that some people will argue that horror and empowerment don't remotely belong on the same page (and others will argue that this is part of the reason so many horror games, torn between the apparent contradictions of those two words, fail), but I think there's something to be said for recognizing the player's own contribution to the atmosphere the designer is trying to create. I think it can be much more effective to make players complicit in the experience, rather than trying to make them feel helpless.


New member
Nov 19, 2008
That house is not a tree, Im going to let that one slide for now but I saw neither zombie nor zombie dragon in your video! I am disapointed. Your choice in music created such high expectations but did not deliver. You leave me no choice, im going to boycotte your show. (unless I really want to watch it)


New member
Aug 18, 2008
SnakeoilSage said:
malestrithe said:
Dead Space is not scary. A game can't be scary if you are prepared to deal with the threat. I get that the weapons are ill suited to the job because they are more tools than weapons, but that does not matter. A Sledgehammer is meant to pulverize larger rocks into tiny ones, but that does not mean it won't pound a person into hamburger. The fact that I have a chance, albeit small, removes the horror aspects of it.

Also, a gun that shoots sawblades into the enemy renders the horror elements useless. How can I be scared when I have something that awesome in my arsenal?
Play the game with melee attacks and kinesis then. But we know you won't, will you? You have to have every bullet you can curb stomp out of a corpse, go out of your way to grab every power node you already know is waiting for you like a good little scavenger.

OT: Thank you for giving Dead Space some cred, Jim. A jump scare doesn't last, but honestly I couldn't care less. The game does an amazing job of establishing its atmosphere and I enjoyed every minute of it.
Sorry to disprove your stereotype of me, but I have already done that. It still was not scary.

Hate to break it to you, but when you know where the scares are, you are prepared for them.

You may find it scary and that's good on you. But I don't. It does not matter how I play it.

Eric the Orange

Gone Gonzo
Apr 29, 2008
Here's the thing, and I think this is pretty critical, your not scared of the MONSTER, you're scared of being STARTLED. With the right build up ANYTHING could be scary.


New member
May 22, 2009
I was hoping jump scares would be the topic when I saw the title, as I definitely agree with what Jim says on this one. Jump scares can absolutely be effective. They can be a big payoff for creating a creepy tense atmosphere, and they give the tension some climax. I'm not a huge fan of "unjustified" jump scares, for instance cat-scares, where the scare is something not really scary, like a cat jumping out at you, or someone friendly tapping you on the shoulder, but jump scares are I feel a big part of horror. Not to say they're necessary, but they can work very well.
I'm also glad you brought up Dead Space, as I love that game, and it definitely scared me when I played it. I feel like as much as it uses jump scares to the max at times, it just so much uses atmosphere and creepiness to set the tone.

Also, the OST is just pure genius, amazing stuff.

I love the horn blaring effect combined with the strings.


lp0 on fire
Feb 24, 2012
I generally hate the horror genre from the bottom of my heart. :D I just get scared SO easily. For example, one time when playing Morrowind I freaked out when dungeon-crawling in some cave where I had accidentally passed by a vampire that thought he'd give me a nice pat on the back... So, then give me Amnesia or some other actual Horror game and I'm crying in a corner after 5 minutes :p.

But yeah, those jump scares certainly have their place (except when in games that aren't horror >:E) and I appreciate the actual work that goes into making those things so scary. I nonetheless have played Slender, Amnesia and Penumbra (mostly because I was forced, but still.. :D) and they have made me feel genuinely scared or at least anxious. I can certainly see what makes a horror game "good" but I just can't enjoy them. I wish I could though. The stories and the effort that's been put into making the perfectly scary and agonizing atmosphere would be a thing to behold, in a bit greater detail than the occasional drunken dash in to the world of horror.


Apr 28, 2008
I don't think Doom 3's monster closets were effective at all. After about 2 hours you can basically call when and where the monsters will end up coming from. I found myself turning around at all the right times to kill the very obvious monster that would come from behind me.


New member
Aug 12, 2009
I don't think it's jump scares that people have a problem with. It's the over use of jump scares that annoy people. Yes a jump scare can work, but not if you've used a dozen of them in the past minute. Use them too often and it starts to feel like clay bird shooting but with monsters.


New member
May 10, 2011
I love horror games. From the cheap jump scares of Resident Evil to the slow-burn psychological tension of Silent Hill.

That's one thing I hate about the new Resident Evil games. RE5 and RE6 are simply NOT scary. They lack any sense of atmosphere, horror pacing, or slow-burn tension.

Jump scares, though, are GREAT if used correctly, and sparingly. Some of the best scares in games came from jump scares used in the right way. Silent Hill 1's room of glass and locker scene, Silent Hill 2's bathroom door, Resident Evil's dogs and windows, Condemned's locker body, Dead Space 2's crypt...

I think Jim's analogy of a kid with a jack-in-the-box sums it up best. You wind and you wind, but you can't quite tell WHEN it's coming to come out. You're bracing for it. You know it's coming. It's not the jump itself that's scary but rather the agonizing wait for what you KNOW is coming. The inevitable. The unstoppable. It's coming and you're helpless to prevent it. It makes you feel vulnerable and weak.

Good horror games still do this; they make you feel vulnerable and weak. Amnesia, Slender, Silent Hill. Hell, I've even seen some people here saying Dead Space isn't scary because they're an unstoppable force of nature, to which I'd say "raise the difficulty, cowards" because anything other than easy and normal strips you of your unlimited resources, health buffers, and makes every single encounter a life or death struggle where running away might just be a better option than facing it head-on.

What's funny is games that are scary to 99% of people, but that one gamer out there is just unfazed. I'm not terrified of Dead Space (I DO find it very scary), but I made my roommate play it and he was screaming and crying and running around the game like a chicken with its head cut off, dying very early on because he could not compose himself to face the enemy with his nerves intact.

Still, I want more games in the horror genre. With so many falling away or abandoning their horror roots, we need it now more than ever.


In the name of Harman...
May 11, 2012
Varis said:
To be honest I'm completely envious. I wish I could get scared like that the way I used to, but I think I burned myself out on it. It's my favorite genre (though I hate horror movies) so I'm constantly exposing myself to the tricks of the trade.

My scariest games? A tie between Silent Hill 3 and Haunting Ground. Yes, I thought SH3 was scarier than 2, though 2 was the better game overall. That huge deformed troll-man who chases you in Haunting Ground scares the hell out of me when very little does anymore. Hiding under a bed, watching his ankles as he frantically tries to find you? That's how you do that shit right.

As always, great job Jim, as yes you do know just what scares gamers. Ricitello, man of the year? FUUUUUUU

Shiro No Uma

New member
Nov 10, 2009
Great costume man!

I don't know if anyone is in the same camp as me, but I used to not do horror very well because I would take it too seriously. Other forms of violence were easer for me to handle, maybe because of my understanding of social standards that I learned form movies and TV, but I was very sheltered from horror films while I was growing up. Gaming to me was very "Nintendo Clean" (Mario jumping on Mushroom heads) and Disneyesque, so after renting the original Silent HIll I had to take it back after just an hour of playing it because it was way too much for me. That said, I had to try Dead Space because I'm a huge sci-fi fan (Space Rules!). Though I couldn't sleep right for weeks, it was the best gaming experience I've ever had. As I'm not as well read on the subject of jump scares and monster closets as most of the people on this forum, I'm curious as to what people might not like about Dead Space.


Positively Neutral!
Feb 18, 2011
The thing with jump scares is, yeah, they can be really fucking awful and REALLY fucking obnoxious. In movies, at least, they tend to be done poorly more often than not in my experience.

I agree though, they can be used to excellent and memorable effect with the right style.

Best jump scare of my gaming career, this ************ right here;

If you've been to planet phaaze, you know what I'm talking about.

With all the atmosphere of the metroid prime games, a jump scare like that works tremendously.


New member
Sep 10, 2008
Really ? Dead Space 2 ? Doom 3 was scary, for all things you mentioned. But Dead Space 2 is complete opposite, mainly because of the de-limbing (is that a word ?) gimmick mechanic.


Cynical bastard
Dec 9, 2008
Just WATCHING someone play SCP-087 gave me the creeps. One guy made over 300 flights of stairs!

And I'm glad someone acknowledged how well the scares worked in Doom 3. Like when I saw a new weapon sitting on the far end of the room, such as the plasma gun... I knew something was going to happen when I picked it up, but I didn't know what and I looked around for a good minute or two before getting the courage to grab it... then thelights shut down and the zombies came out. Scared the shit out of me.



New member
Oct 16, 2007
I must disagree. Games that are a "train" of jump scares simply don't work. Jump scares depreciate too quickly for them to be effective on sober individuals. A three minute train ride works well enough, but when you're playing a game for three or more hours they simply don't work. Doom 3 is a great example of this, it's effective for the first 30 minutes or so, but after that point your mind becomes steeled to the stimuli and you no longer react to monster closets. After that point the only thing that's unnerving is the excellent sound design.

The problem is that jump scares force a person into a hidey hole in their mind until they expect to see a monster in every crevice, behind every door and to appear behind you after every powerup. This isn't paranoia, because a horror game that has nothing but jump scares necessarily needs to overuse the jump scare to make it's fear quota, so the monsters will be behind every door, in every crevice etc. in the same way they that are in Doom 3

Speaking of which, this is why F.E.A.R. effectively used jump scares, because you would only encounter them after a period of FPS action. It played with your expectation. You would be looking around every corner for a squad of soldiers, which is what made it so unnerving when you would look around the corner and see girl covered in blood two feet away staring into your soul. It constantly changed your expectations of your current situation. Sometimes you'd be working on a valve and gate puzzle or something and just after you get through the gate you'd find yourself in the middle of a room with eight soldiers looking directly at you. Other times after you just karate kicked the crap out of a soldier and you turn the corner and find yourself in a warehouse covered with symbols written in blood and a little girl would be pointing at you menacingly. In Doom 3 you can only expect imps and zombies, constantly, same thing with Dead Space.

The most frightening games I've ever played are constantly taking steps to bring you out of your hidey hole, usually by introducing a new mind fuck so you're wide open for the next scare. There are few games that do this, because most horror games oppressively browbeat you into a steely paranoia that makes you so ready for everything to be the worst thing ever that when the next attempt to scare you is an imp stepping out of a storage closet it's defeated without a moments contemplation or feeling.