Survival horror is a favorite genre of mine and one that is particularly well suited to Virtual Reality. Horror games generally have a slower, more methodical pacing, punctuated with creepy or intense moments. This all works well with the immersion of VR with many users saying that horror in VR is much more intense than the traditional set up. In VR you no longer have the distractions of real life, it’s just you, alone, in a strange environment… Wait. Are you alone?
Beyond the increased immersion, VR opens up many new possibilities. Rather than seeing a bunch of bats swarming around your avatar’s head, THE BATS ARE SWARMING AROUND YOUR HEAD! With spatialized audio and freely moving your head around, you can, slowly, work out where sounds are coming from, just like in real life. “Is that scratching sound coming from behind that door on the left?” “Did something just sneak up behind me?” From a game design perspective there are all sorts of new possibilities as well. In addition to knowing where a player is standing like in a normal game you can tell where a player is looking. This information can be used to drive the story and make it more responsive. A painting on the wall seems normal enough until you look directly at it. A ghostly child that follows you as you walk around, but runs away when you look at it.
With the slower overall pacing of horror it tends to not have as many issues as far as VR induced nausea, always a good thing. However the extreme intensity of the VR Horror experience does big about a new issue, that of the “Jump Scare”. You have likely seen more than one “reaction video” were some unsuspecting victim experiences a jump scare, or experienced one yourself. The jump scare is a technique used in horror films and video games where you scare the viewer by surprising them with an abrupt or startling event. While some people love jump scares others hate them and there is the questionable possibility of it causing issues with someone with a bad heart. This is considered to be enough of an issue that Oculus is covering it in their “Comfort Rating” given to all games in the official Oculus store. In addition to telling how likely an experience may cause VR sickness, it will inform the user on the level of intensity, or fear they can possibly expect from a particular VR experience.
Finally I’m going to give you a short list of Horror VR experiences to try out. To make the list as accessible as possible I’m keeping it to Free Google VR Cardboard experiences that do not require a controller to use. All of these are available on Android from the Google play store with some available now or coming out for iOS. (If you don’t have a compatible smartphone or a Google VR Cardboard yet, YouTube is your friend)
Please remember these are all Horror VR experiences so expect jump scares and other intense situations. Headphones are a must and I recommend you be seated in an office chair with the lights out.