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Brainstorming Ideas for VR Horror Games

Level 12
I'll admit, I very rarely play scary games at all, but I think it's just because so few really appeal to me. Gamers tend to be fairly jaded to horror visuals after all, which may be why so many modern horror games resort to ultra-violence or cheap jump-scares just to get a reaction;   With VR however, that isn't necessary, you can scare the **** out of someone by making them so immersed in the world that that "This isn't real" disconnect they get with tradition games no longer keeps them feeling safe.  Plus, some of the inherent features of VR make for some intriguing possibilities in the design of horror games.

So, y'know, here's some of the concepts I've thought up, just for sharing / discussion sake:

Scopophobia, the Game:

A little backstory first, for those unfamiliar with the term:  Scopophobia is often incorrectly defined as a fear of eyes, which would actually be "Ommetaphobia".   Scopophobia on the other hand, is a fear of unwanted attention, or attention from a hostile or malicious source, typically suffered by people who are socially awkward and acutely self-aware of it, or those with a history of being singled-out for negative attention.  Perhaps you could call it more of an anxiety disorder than an irrational fear, but either way, the result is that someone with Scopophobia gets stressed out by people looking AT them, judging them, or looking over their shoulder while they're doing something, and they tend to avoid unnecessary eye-contact or staring at others at all costs, both because it seems hypocritical to subject others to stares and because eye-contact is the most assured way to gain someone else's attention. Maybe you see someone out of the corner of your eye who is facing your direction. Are they actually staring at you? You're afraid to find out; if they are, you don't know what you'd do about it, and if they aren't, you looking at them might provoke that attention. 

game inspired by this anxiety would play heavily on the fact that any first-person perspective VR game knows EXACTLY where you're looking at all times;  It could involve monsters or demons or ghosts, but whatever the case:  They don't like being looked at.  MOST of the enemies would, in fact, completely ignore the player as long as you avert your gaze from them.  Most.  Rarely, one should attack anyways once the player is close enough or turns their back on them,  not often, but just enough that you never feel safe around any.  And of course, there would be other ways to catch their attention and make them mad, but a careless gaze is the easiest.  This game would also have to use 3D Audio to full effect, because the things you're trying desperately to not look at have to make horrible, terrifying noises to tempt you to look in the first place.

Security Blanket Game:

Similar to the above in numerous ways, the idea would be a game where occluding the Rift's tracking lights is a gameplay mechanic, rather than something that prompts an error message.

Remember when you were a little kid, and you believed that hiding yourself under a blanket was a sure-fire protection against any threat? Ever played hide-and-seek with a really small child, who believed that "If I can't see you, logically you can't see me, either?"

I think it would be fun to take that childhood naivete and turn it into something terrifying. Put the player in the shoes of a small child, armed with nothing but a virtual blankie and faced with some kind of "monsters under the bed / in the closet" scenario.   To sneak past the horrors, you have to use your hand or some other physical object to hide your Rift's IR lights from the tracking camera. In-game, this pulls a blanket over your head, which both grants you stealth and, of course, limits your vision (based on how many of the IR lights are being covered), up to total blindness.  Or perhaps, just seeing eerie silhouettes and ambient glows.  Again, 3D audio would play a big part, because when you can't see the monsters you should still be able to hear them.   Whether it's sitting still and hoping the threats pass, or stumbling around blind and hoping you don't bump into the wrong thing, the blanket only comes off when the threat is out of ear-shot.

Backseat Terror  or  Roadtrip to Hell

Car-rides often frame the prologue to a horror game, but they never seem to be crucial to the core experience, just a vehicle to get you TO the spooky place. The inside of a car, though, can potentially be very scary; As long as the car is moving, there's a potential for a crash, the car itself is a cramped and claustrophobic environment, and leaves no place to hide from outside threats.

So, this concept is for a game taking place entirely in the back-seat of a car.  Conveniently, pretty close in size and feel to your average couch, right?  Call it a Couch-Scale game. The player could define the boundaries of their couch-space to the game via positional tracking of the headset, and then when they scootch from one side of that couch to the other, the game would know which side of the virtual car they're moving to.  Then, you give the player lots of scary stuff to look at out the car windows, have a casual virtual road-trip become a nightmare, maybe subject them to the very real fear of a simulated (near) accident, and before you know it, some axe-wielding, hook-handed murderer or supernatural thing is trying to force its way into the car while its stalled by the side of the road, with the driver run away or already dead.   If you're really nice, you give the player motion controls, a gun in the glove-box, and a fighting chance at survival.  Or the illusion of one, at any rate.

Would also work in a less-modern setting, if you replace the car with a horse-drawn carriage.

Horror Dating Sim:

Okay, so from what I've seen, most dating sims now seem to be made on a $20 budget, but I think the allure of immersion is going to make high-quality VR dating sims a BIG DEAL in the near future. Might as well beat the desperate nerds to the punch and design one that will give them life-long psychological trauma, right?

So, on the surface it would seem like a regular, ordinary dating sim. You get a bunch of different girls to choose from, you pick out the one who appeals to you the most, and then shocking twist it just so happens that they all want to kill you. Maybe she's a deranged serial killer and she lures her victims to secluded places under the pre-tense of a date. Or she's some kind of supernatural monster pretending to be a human, who plans to literally eat you. Or she's perfectly normal herself, but she's got an over-protective family member or jealous ex who is an absolute psychopath.  In any case, one minute you're falling for the charms of some cutie, the next minute you're waking up tied to something and a very deranged person is waving a sharp object in your face and joyfully describing how you're about to die. All meticulously animated and voiced for maximum VR immersion.

Quick thinking, reflexive use of head-tracking / motion controls, smart use of items your would-be killer carelessly left in your vicinity, or even just the correct choice of persuasive dialogue.. somehow you have to get yourself out of the hopeless situation and escape or defeat your captor, so you can live to date again.

Of course, for the weirdos out there ( :wink: )  there would have to be alternate endings possible where you successfully pursue the romantic relationship despite the whole "trying to kill you" thing. Convince  the serial killer to make you their accomplice, make the monster decide to keep you around or turn you into one of their kind, stuff like that. Love makes people do strange things, after all. 

Second-Person Perspective Horror Game

The concept of a "second-person perspective" game is one I haven't heard of often.  In fact, maybe I just made that up.  The way I see it though, a first-person perspective puts the camera in the eyes of the character you control, right? And a third-person perspective puts the camera out in the world where it can see the character you control, but isn't actually the view-point OF anyone in the scene.

A second-person perspective would put the camera in the eyes of a character who exists in the scene, but isn't the character you're controlling.

So for this specific concept, you'd see from the eyes of the monster or serial killer as they stalk their victim, while controlling the actions of the victim themself, kind of like when horror movies cut to those individual shots from the monster's eyes, only instead of sitting there and yelling at the person on TV to "look out behind you!" or "don't go in there!" you can actually do it.   In effect, you can control them as though they know they're being watched, because you're the one watching them.

The whole game, the player would be left thinking, "Wait, who or what AM I (the perspective)?"  And it would only be hinted at. Sounds, the way "you" move and interact with the the things in front of your vision, the way the victim character reacts, the occasional shadowy limb reaching out from your perspective...  and then, probably, revealed in a climactic scene near the end of the game in front of a mirror or over a reflective watery surface.

Sleep Paralysis Simulator

Ever experienced sleep paralysis?  Your eyes are open, your brain is conscious, but the rest of you is still asleep so you can't move an inch. You can move your eyes, but your head can barely even turn. And even though you're looking at the room around you, part of your brain is still dreaming. The result is that you're laying in bed, completely helpless, while nightmares leak out into the real world.  I mean, they're just hallucinations of course, but they're the most vivid ones you'll ever experience, and for some reason it only ever happens with scary stuff, usually the last thing you saw in your nightmare.

Oh, P.S., allegedly people become significantly more likely to experience the phenomenon after being told about it.  You're welcome. :wink:

So how would a VR simulation of it work? I supposed you'd first introduce the player to the nice, safe, well-decorated virtual room in daylight hours.  You have them lay down and "go to sleep" and then treat them to some simulated, non-interactive nightmares, like watching a really weird short film.  Make sure they feel really detached from this part of the experience, like it's just something they're watching, not something they're experiencing in person. Then you take them back to the virtual room in the waking world... but something is wrong.

Now there's a far-too real looking shadow man glaring maliciously from the end of the bed. Or a huge poisonous spider descending from the ceiling.  Or 3D audio is putting SOMETHING uncomfortably close, right beside their head, just out of their periphery:  a whisper in a tongue they don't understand, a cacaphony of such whispers all at once, the player's name (pulled from their Oculus profile) matched to a list of pre-recorded names and called out to them from somewhere, or a sudden unearthly scream.

To really hammer in that feeling of helplessness, maybe you give the player an on-screen prompt URGING them to hit a particular button to save themselves, which of course accomplishes nothing when they try it. The prompting becomes more desperate as the shadow continues to stare, or the spider crawls closer, or the unseen thing grows more furious.

The player moves their head? The game view ignores that. Supposed to be paralyzed, remember? Or maybe that's where the game ends. It was a test of mental endurance, and you just gave up. To win, you just have to sit still no matter what you see or hear, and keep telling yourself "It's just a VR sim of a hallucination of a nightmare".

So, feel free to discuss or share your own ideas.  And kudos, if you actually read all of this!
It's hard being the voice of reason when you're surrounded by unreasonable people.