Horror has become a massive genre in gaming, and arguably an even bigger genre in game streaming. Lots of OG YouTubers and Twitch streamers have made their career on the back of playing Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Five Nights at Freddy’s and today, Dead By Daylight. So, is horror the most important genre in game streaming? And if it is, why would that be? We’re breaking down the appeal of the horror genre to modern streamers.
There is another level to being scared by a game
Horror as a genre has been alive as long as the concept of narration. Before games was movies, before movies was literature, before literature was campfire stories: all alive and well today.
But gaming does something that these mediums cannot do: it changes the story from third person to first person. Instead of, say a blonde girl running through the woods away from Michael Myers, it’s you running away from the slasher icon. It’s you that is holding a kitchen knife in defence. It is you that decided to stupidly go up the stairs rather than out the front door. It’s your decisions that mean the difference between life and death.
This closes the gap of sympathy. There isn’t any need for a character building first chapter of a happy family moving into a haunted home. You simply arrive, maybe with some exposition of why a wife isn’t in tow that makes you a more sympathetic protagonist, but you don’t really need it. Games like Silent Hills and Resident Evil have made it part of their lore, but there are games that are just as successful, like Dead By Daylight, that simply drop you in a slasher situation and see what you do… like rats in a maze.
And yet another level to being scared by a game scaring a gamer
But what about people who aren’t playing games, they’re only watching a gamer play these games? Doesn’t that mean we’re back to square one of third person perspective?
Well, kind of, but there is again no need for that boring first chapter of slashers where you need to get to know the family involved. Due to the nature of the internet influencer and the concept of para-social relationships, you already know “the protagonist”. They’re Markiplier, PewDiePie, Ninja, etc. You know what makes them tick, you know what they’re like, they feel like a friend. So, when they’re trying out the latest Five Nights At Freddy’s or horror-themed slots at an online casino platform, you’re already just as invested as if it were a real friend wandering the halls of an abandoned toy factory or haunted asylum.
It gets laughs
And then there is the obvious reason that horror game streaming has gone off in the same way that hiding behind a door and yelling “Boo” has gone off: it gets laughs. The best gaming streamers can take a tense moment and inject their personality when the scare inevitably comes. There are countless clips taking from streams of players screaming, laughing, jumping, and even singing through the terror. It’s a good way to get an easy laugh if Funniest Home Videos just isn’t doing it for you tonight.
There is definitely some sort of irony in getting laughs from fear, right?
Horror is more than slasher
However, a good reason why “horror” is such a cornerstone of the video game industry is because the idea of it is so varied. Let’s face it, “horror” is a feeling, and a lot more can “horrify” you than a man in a mask chasing you with a machete. The genre has moved on and expanded into dystopian horror, cyber horror, space horror, paranormal, monster, zombie horror, war horror, disease horror, and more. Frankly, some might even call Papers, Please a horror game due to the tension of going through airport security and the horrors of bureaucracy.
The horrors of war and guerrilla warfare are their own genre in gaming. A lot of war-themed games lean into the strategy and shooter aspects of the game, but some of the most high-profile titles have focussed on the horror of war, like Spec Ops: The Line, which has an open secret twist concerning PTSD-induced hallucinations.
There are other reasons that people watch gamers stream
However, there are a lot of reasons why audiences love to watch gamers stream. Horror is just the most lucrative emotion to tap into because it is such a potent feeling. Other games, and therefore other gamers, tap into different emotions that audiences also seek out in their entertainment. Streaming offers them someone to go on a narrative journey with. The huge rise in “cosy” games over the past few years seems like the natural next step to all those live streams where people are just reading, studying, or even sleeping alone in their room so that you have some companionship.
Gamers play creative games like Minecraft for, partly, the engineering, shooters like Fortnite for the strategy and teamwork, Animal Crossing for the simplicity and calm, and walking simulators for the narrative and character study.
Horror taps into the primal need to feel scared, but it is just the tip of the ‘gaming iceberg’ when it comes to streaming options.