Tue. Jul 16th, 2024

Horror games have been a staple in the gaming industry for decades, and survival horror games have become one of the most popular sub-genres. These games are designed to elicit feelings of fear and anxiety in players, but why do we find them so terrifying? In this article, we will explore the psychology behind our fear of survival horror games and examine the factors that contribute to their impact on our emotions. From the eerie sound effects to the chilling atmosphere, we will uncover the various elements that make these games so unsettling. So, get ready to delve into the dark world of survival horror games and discover why we fear them so much.

The Psychology Behind Fear

Fear and Adrenaline

Survival horror games elicit feelings of fear and adrenaline in players, leading to an intense and thrilling gaming experience. The connection between fear and adrenaline is rooted in the body’s natural fight-or-flight response. This response is triggered by the sympathetic nervous system, which prepares the body for action by increasing heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure.

In survival horror games, players are placed in situations where they must face frightening and dangerous enemies or environments. As players navigate these situations, their bodies release adrenaline, causing the classic “fight-or-flight” response. This response is characterized by the release of stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which prepare the body for action.

However, in survival horror games, the threat is often not immediate or physical, but rather psychological. The fear is derived from the uncertainty and unpredictability of the situation, the anticipation of danger, and the uncertainty of what lies ahead. This type of fear is known as “anxiety-provoking” fear, which is different from the “panic-inducing” fear experienced in situations where there is an immediate physical threat.

Anxiety-provoking fear is associated with increased arousal and focus, leading to heightened sensory perception and an increased ability to process information. This heightened state of awareness is often referred to as “flow” or “being in the zone,” and it is the feeling that many players seek when playing survival horror games.

Overall, the fear and adrenaline experienced in survival horror games is a result of the body’s natural fight-or-flight response, which is triggered by the uncertainty and unpredictability of the situation. This fear is different from panic-inducing fear and is associated with increased arousal, focus, and a heightened sense of awareness.

Evolutionary Perspective

Evolutionary Basis for Fear

From an evolutionary perspective, fear is a crucial survival mechanism that has been ingrained in our species since the dawn of humanity. Our ancestors faced a wide array of threats, such as predators, natural disasters, and other dangers, which necessitated the development of an innate fear response to ensure survival. This response, which is rooted in our brain’s limbic system, activates when we perceive potential threats and triggers the release of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.

Terror Management Theory

Terror Management Theory (TMT) offers a comprehensive framework for understanding the evolutionary basis of fear in the context of survival horror games. Developed by Anthony R. Pratkanis and Gilbert E. Adair, TMT posits that our fear of death is the primary driving force behind our anxiety and stress responses. According to this theory, the awareness of our own mortality can be so overwhelming that it interferes with our ability to function in daily life. To cope with this fear, humans have developed various defense mechanisms, such as denial, repression, and projection.

In the context of survival horror games, TMT suggests that players experience fear as a way to confront and manage their own mortality. By engaging with these games, players may be able to confront their fears in a controlled environment, allowing them to develop coping strategies that can be applied to real-life situations. In essence, survival horror games provide a safe space for individuals to confront their fears and gain a sense of control over their own mortality.

Fear as an Adaptive Response

From an evolutionary standpoint, fear can be seen as an adaptive response that has helped our species survive and thrive. By allowing us to recognize and respond to potential threats, fear has played a crucial role in ensuring our survival as a species. In the context of survival horror games, this evolutionary perspective suggests that the fear experienced by players is not only natural but also beneficial, as it allows them to develop resilience and coping strategies that can be applied to real-life situations.

Fear as a Pleasurable Experience

Counterintuitively, some researchers argue that fear can be a pleasurable experience, especially in the context of survival horror games. This perspective suggests that the adrenaline rush and thrill of confronting fearful situations can be enjoyable and even addictive for some players. By providing a controlled environment for experiencing fear, survival horror games may offer a unique form of entertainment that caters to the evolutionary impulse to seek out and manage threats.

Overall, the evolutionary perspective on fear in survival horror games highlights the complex interplay between our innate fear response and the modern media experiences we engage with. By understanding the evolutionary basis for fear, we can gain insights into why these games have such a profound impact on players and how they can be harnessed to promote personal growth and resilience.

Common Elements in Survival Horror Games

Key takeaway: Fear is a natural response that is elicited in players of survival horror games. This fear is triggered by the body’s natural fight-or-flight response, which is activated by the uncertainty and unpredictability of the situation. This fear is different from panic-inducing fear and is associated with increased arousal, focus, and a heightened sense of awareness. Understanding the psychology behind fear can help players overcome their fears and fully embrace the experience of survival horror games.

Dark Atmosphere

A crucial aspect of survival horror games that contributes to their ability to elicit fear in players is the dark atmosphere. This encompasses a variety of factors that work together to create an environment that is both unsettling and oppressive. Some of the key elements that contribute to the dark atmosphere in survival horror games include:

  • Ambient Sound: The use of ambient sound plays a significant role in creating a tense and unnerving atmosphere. In many survival horror games, players are bombarded with unsettling noises, such as creaking floorboards, eerie whispers, and distant screams. These sounds create an uneasy feeling that can make even the most mundane actions, such as walking down a hallway, feel frightening.
  • Gloomy Lighting: Another key element that contributes to the dark atmosphere is the use of gloomy lighting. Many survival horror games take place in environments that are dimly lit, with flickering lights or shadows that conceal hidden threats. This creates a sense of uncertainty and apprehension, as players are never quite sure what lies ahead.
  • Ominous Music: The use of ominous music is another important aspect of the dark atmosphere in survival horror games. The music often uses eerie sound effects, such as distant screams or ominous whispers, to create a sense of unease. Additionally, the music may change dynamically based on the player’s actions, creating a more immersive experience.
  • Creepy Environments: The environments in survival horror games are often designed to be unsettling and foreboding. From abandoned hospitals and creepy mansions to decrepit cities and underground laboratories, the environments are filled with ominous details that create a sense of dread.
  • Unsettling Characters: The characters in survival horror games are often designed to be unsettling and frightening. From grotesque monsters to disturbed individuals, the characters are often depicted as having a sinister presence that adds to the overall sense of dread.

Overall, the dark atmosphere in survival horror games is a critical component of the genre’s ability to elicit fear in players. By creating an environment that is unsettling and oppressive, survival horror games are able to tap into players’ deepest fears and create a sense of unease that can be both thrilling and terrifying.

Unseen Threats

One of the most significant factors that contribute to the fear-inducing nature of survival horror games is the presence of unseen threats. These are antagonists or entities that players cannot directly observe, but their existence is implied through various game mechanics and environmental cues. This ambiguity creates an atmosphere of uncertainty and unease, which is crucial for building tension and dread in the player.

Ambiguity and the Power of Suggestion

The use of ambiguity in survival horror games allows the player’s imagination to fill in the gaps, creating a more immersive and terrifying experience. Instead of relying on graphic visuals or explicit descriptions, the game suggests the presence of a threat through subtle environmental details, such as strange noises, unsettling ambient music, or eerie lighting effects. This approach allows players to become more invested in the story and feel a deeper sense of fear as they struggle to comprehend the true nature of the threats they face.

Mastery of Player’s Senses

Survival horror games often employ techniques that manipulate the player’s senses to enhance the feeling of dread and vulnerability. For example, the use of sound can be particularly effective in creating an atmosphere of unease. The player might hear their own heartbeat, footsteps, or whispers in the dark, which can create a sense of paranoia and heighten their awareness of potential threats. Additionally, the use of lighting can be used to conceal or reveal the presence of enemies, creating moments of surprise and fear.

Subverting Player Expectations

Another factor that contributes to the fear in survival horror games is the subversion of player expectations. These games often begin with a sense of familiarity and comfort, such as exploring a familiar house or a familiar city. However, as the game progresses, the environment becomes increasingly hostile and unpredictable, and the player’s sense of safety is constantly challenged. This constant subversion of expectations can create a sense of disorientation and helplessness, which can be deeply unsettling and terrifying for the player.

In summary, the use of unseen threats in survival horror games creates an atmosphere of uncertainty and unease, which is crucial for building tension and dread in the player. The ambiguity and power of suggestion, the manipulation of the player’s senses, and the subversion of player expectations are all essential elements that contribute to the fear-inducing nature of these games.

Limited Resources

One of the key elements that contribute to the fear factor in survival horror games is the scarcity of resources. This concept is rooted in the psychological principle of scarcity, which suggests that people value items or opportunities more when they are scarce or difficult to obtain. In the context of survival horror games, players must navigate through a limited environment, often with limited weapons, ammunition, health items, and other essential resources. This scarcity creates a sense of urgency and tension, as players must carefully consider their actions and make difficult decisions about how to allocate their resources.

Some specific examples of limited resources in survival horror games include:

  • Limited Ammunition: Many survival horror games limit the amount of ammunition available to players, forcing them to conserve their shots and make every bullet count. This can lead to a situation where players must weigh the risk of using their ammunition against the potential reward of taking out a dangerous enemy.
  • Limited Health Items: Similarly, survival horror games often restrict the availability of health items such as first aid kits or medkits. This means that players must carefully manage their health, avoiding damage whenever possible and conserving health items for when they are most needed.
  • Limited Tools: In some survival horror games, players may also have limited access to tools such as lockpicks or crowbars. These tools are essential for opening doors, unlocking chests, and solving puzzles, but they are also valuable resources that must be used sparingly.

Overall, the scarcity of resources in survival horror games creates a sense of desperation and urgency that can be terrifying for players. It forces them to make difficult decisions and prioritize their actions, all while facing dangerous enemies and navigating a hostile environment. This sense of scarcity is a key element in the fear factor of survival horror games, and it helps to create a tense and immersive gaming experience.

Physiological Responses to Fear

Heart Rate

When we experience fear, our bodies undergo a series of physiological responses that prepare us to fight or flee. One of the most significant responses is an increase in heart rate, also known as tachycardia. This increase in heart rate is a result of the body’s natural “fight or flight” response, which is triggered by the release of adrenaline and other stress hormones.

Adrenaline causes the heart to beat faster and harder, increasing blood flow to the muscles and vital organs. This increase in blood flow prepares the body for physical exertion, whether it be fighting off an attacker or running away from danger. In survival horror games, this heightened heart rate can be attributed to the player’s constant sense of unease and uncertainty, as they navigate through dark and ominous environments, facing unknown dangers at every turn.

Furthermore, research has shown that the perception of being in control can impact the heart rate response to fear. In survival horror games, the player has a limited degree of control over the situation, which can amplify the fear response and increase heart rate. The player’s ability to make choices and decisions, such as which path to take or what actions to perform, can give a sense of agency that is crucial for maintaining a sense of control in a situation that is otherwise beyond their control.

In summary, the increase in heart rate during fear is a natural physiological response that prepares the body for action. In survival horror games, this response is heightened by the player’s limited control over the situation, adding to the overall sense of fear and tension.


Sweating is a physiological response to fear that is often observed in individuals playing survival horror games. When the body experiences fear, the sympathetic nervous system is activated, causing the heart rate to increase and blood vessels to constrict. This results in an increased amount of blood being sent to the muscles, which can cause sweating.

The release of adrenaline during the fear response also plays a role in the onset of sweating. Adrenaline causes the body’s temperature to rise, which can lead to sweating as the body attempts to cool down. Additionally, the release of vasopressin, a hormone that regulates water balance in the body, can also contribute to the sweating response.

The experience of sweating in survival horror games can be an uncomfortable and distressing sensation for some players. This discomfort can further enhance the feeling of immersion in the game and can contribute to the overall sense of fear and anxiety. Some games even incorporate mechanics that allow players to manage their character’s sweating, such as providing the option to wipe sweat from the character’s brow or changing their clothing to remove wetness.

However, it is important to note that not all players experience sweating in response to fear in the same way. Individual differences in physiology, as well as previous experiences and personal factors, can influence how a person responds to fear in a game. Therefore, the experience of sweating in survival horror games may vary from person to person.

Muscle Tension

When faced with a fear-inducing situation, the human body undergoes a series of physiological responses. One such response is muscle tension, which is the activation of muscles in preparation for action. This response is often accompanied by a heightened state of arousal, which can manifest in various ways, including increased heart rate, sweating, and a sense of unease.

Muscle tension can occur in a number of different ways, depending on the specific situation and the individual’s personal experiences. For example, when playing a survival horror game, muscle tension may manifest as a feeling of nervousness or anxiety, particularly when the player is faced with a frightening or unpredictable situation. This can lead to a sense of physical discomfort, as the muscles remain tense and ready for action.

Additionally, muscle tension can also play a role in the experience of physical pain, such as headaches or muscle soreness. This can be particularly pronounced in individuals who are highly sensitive to fear, as their bodies may be more easily triggered into a state of heightened arousal.

Overall, muscle tension is a common physiological response to fear, and can play a significant role in the experience of survival horror games. By understanding the ways in which muscle tension can affect the body, players can better prepare themselves for the intense and unpredictable experiences that these games have to offer.

The Impact of Sound in Survival Horror Games

Jump Scares

Jump scares are a common tactic used in survival horror games to create fear and tension in players. They are sudden, unexpected events that cause players to jump or startle, often accompanied by loud noises or music. Jump scares are used to disrupt the player’s sense of safety and control, making them feel vulnerable and on edge.

There are several techniques that game designers use to create effective jump scares. One common technique is to use audio cues, such as a sudden change in music or a sound effect, to signal a jump scare. Another technique is to use visual cues, such as a sudden appearance of a monster or a sudden change in the environment, to create a jump scare.

Jump scares can be highly effective in creating fear and tension in players, but they can also be overused or predictable. Players may become desensitized to jump scares if they are too frequent or telegraphed, reducing their effectiveness. To maintain the impact of jump scares, game designers must use them sparingly and strategically, carefully balancing fear and tension with other elements of the game.

Ambient Noise

Ambient noise is a critical element in creating a sense of tension and unease in survival horror games. It is the background noise that fills the space, such as creaking floorboards, wind howling through a dark alley, or the sound of dripping water. This noise serves to heighten the player’s senses and create a feeling of vulnerability, as they never know what might be lurking around the next corner.

In survival horror games, ambient noise is often used to create a sense of anticipation and fear. It can be used to build tension, as the player waits for something to happen, or to signal the approach of a monster or other danger. The use of ambient noise can also create a sense of atmosphere, immersing the player in the game’s world and making them feel like they are truly part of the action.

However, it is important to note that ambient noise can also be used to mislead the player. In some cases, the background noise may be used to mask the approach of a monster or other danger, creating a sense of false security. This can be a powerful tool for scaring the player, as they are never quite sure what to expect.

Overall, ambient noise is a crucial element in survival horror games, helping to create a sense of tension and fear that keeps players on the edge of their seats. Whether it’s the sound of creaking floorboards or the distant howl of a monster, ambient noise is a key factor in making these games so terrifyingly effective.


In survival horror games, music plays a crucial role in creating an atmosphere of fear and tension. It is often used to signal impending danger, build suspense, and heighten the player’s emotional state. The music in these games is carefully crafted to create a sense of unease and to draw the player into the dark and eerie world of the game.

One of the key elements of survival horror game music is its use of repetition. The music often features a simple melody or motif that is repeated throughout the game, creating a sense of monotony and unease. This repetition helps to create a sense of tension and dread, as the player never knows what is coming next.

Another important aspect of survival horror game music is its use of silence. In many games, the music will suddenly stop or fade away just as the player enters a new area or encounters a new enemy. This silence creates a sense of anticipation and fear, as the player waits for something to happen. It also heightens the player’s senses, making them more aware of their surroundings and more easily startled by any sudden sounds.

In addition to its use in creating an atmosphere of fear and tension, music in survival horror games is also used to signal important events or changes in the game. For example, the music may change to a more intense or fast-paced melody when the player is being chased by an enemy, or it may fade away completely when the player enters a new area or discovers a clue. This use of music helps to guide the player through the game, providing them with important cues and signals about what is happening in the game world.

Overall, the music in survival horror games plays a crucial role in creating an atmosphere of fear and tension. Its use of repetition, silence, and changes in tempo and melody help to heighten the player’s emotional state and draw them deeper into the game world. By understanding the role of music in survival horror games, players can better appreciate the power of sound to create fear and tension, and can better navigate the dark and eerie worlds of their favorite survival horror games.

How to Overcome Fear in Survival Horror Games

Understanding the Game Mechanics

  • Familiarizing oneself with the game mechanics is crucial in overcoming fear in survival horror games. This involves understanding how the game works, what actions are possible, and what consequences follow from those actions.
  • Players must pay attention to the game’s interface, such as the health meter, ammo count, and map, to make informed decisions and avoid making costly mistakes.
  • Knowing the enemy patterns and behavior can also help players anticipate and evade attacks, which can reduce the sense of helplessness and increase the chances of survival.
  • Exploration and resource management are also important aspects of understanding the game mechanics. Players must search for clues, items, and weapons to progress through the game and overcome obstacles.
  • By understanding the game mechanics, players can take control of their situation and make strategic decisions, rather than being at the mercy of the game’s horrors.
  • Additionally, understanding the game mechanics can also lead to a more enjoyable and immersive experience, as players can appreciate the game’s design and mechanics.

Adapting to the Environment

  • Recognizing patterns in the game environment
    • Identifying safe zones and danger areas
    • Predicting enemy behavior and traps
  • Utilizing the environment to your advantage
    • Barricading doors and windows for protection
    • Using the environment to lure enemies away from you
    • Utilizing environmental objects as weapons or tools
  • Exploring the environment thoroughly
    • Searching for hidden items and secrets
    • Mapping out the environment to avoid getting lost
    • Using the environment to set up ambushes or traps for enemies
  • Understanding the game’s mechanics and controls
    • Mastering the combat system and weaponry
    • Knowing when to run and when to fight
    • Utilizing stealth and distraction tactics to avoid enemies
  • Managing your fear and anxiety
    • Deep breathing and relaxation techniques
    • Focusing on the task at hand
    • Taking breaks to recharge and regain composure
  • Developing a sense of empowerment and control
    • Learning from past mistakes and adapting your strategy
    • Trusting your instincts and making bold decisions
    • Celebrating small victories and progress towards your goals.

Embracing the Experience

Survival horror games have become increasingly popular over the years, but for many players, the fear factor can be too much to handle. However, there are ways to overcome this fear and fully embrace the experience.

  1. Face Your Fears
    One of the most effective ways to overcome fear in survival horror games is to face it head-on. Instead of avoiding the scary parts or putting the game down, players should try to confront their fears and push through. This can help build confidence and make the experience more enjoyable.
  2. Play with Friends
    Playing with friends can help alleviate some of the fear and make the experience more enjoyable. Having someone to talk to and share the experience with can make it easier to handle the scary parts.
  3. Take Breaks
    It’s important to take breaks when playing survival horror games, especially if the fear becomes too much to handle. Taking a break can help clear the mind and recharge the batteries, making it easier to jump back into the game.
  4. Understand the Game Mechanics
    Understanding the game mechanics can help players better understand what’s happening in the game and what they can do to survive. This can help reduce the fear factor and make the experience more enjoyable.
  5. Play in the Light
    Playing in well-lit areas can help reduce the fear factor in survival horror games. The darkness can be intimidating, so turning on the lights or playing in a well-lit room can make the experience more enjoyable.

By embracing the experience and facing their fears, players can fully enjoy the thrill of survival horror games. With these tips, players can overcome their fears and become the ultimate survivors.


1. What is a survival horror game?

A survival horror game is a video game genre that combines elements of horror and survival. These games typically involve a player character navigating a frightening and dangerous environment while attempting to avoid being killed by enemies or other hazards.

2. Why do people play survival horror games despite the fear they induce?

Many people play survival horror games because they enjoy the thrill of being scared. These games offer a unique and immersive experience that can be both exciting and terrifying. Additionally, many players find the challenge of surviving in a frightening environment to be exhilarating.

3. What makes survival horror games so scary?

Survival horror games are designed to be scary by using a variety of techniques, such as atmospheric sound effects, creepy music, and graphic visuals. The games often take place in dark and eerie environments, such as abandoned buildings or creepy forests, which further add to the sense of fear. Additionally, the enemies in these games are often grotesque and unsettling, which can be disturbing to players.

4. Is it possible to overcome the fear induced by survival horror games?

Yes, it is possible to overcome the fear induced by survival horror games. Many players find that the fear diminishes as they become more familiar with the game and its mechanics. Additionally, some players may choose to take breaks or play with friends to help alleviate the fear.

5. What are some popular survival horror games?

Some popular survival horror games include the Resident Evil series, Silent Hill series, and the Amnesia series. These games are known for their scary environments, challenging gameplay, and immersive storytelling.

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