Jump scares and horror game creators need to be cautious with VR, say devs

By Stephany Nunneley, Wednesday, 16 March 2016 14:00 GMT

Horror films and games are a popular genre, because people enjoy being scared when there is a sense of detachment. But what happens when the same element of fear is applied to a virtual reality game or experience? It’s not a pleasant feeling, according to some developers.

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One of the more terrifying experiences, according to reports, is Beast Media Group’s HTC Vive experience Paranormal Activity VR. It has quite a few jump scares, which is something Job Simulator developer Owlchemy Labs feels is rather “rough on the players.”

Speaking at GDC this week during a room-scale VR panel attended by GI.biz, CEO Alex Schwartz said he and his team would “nope the fuck out of any jump scare kind of game.”

“It’s really rough on the players,” he said. “VR is now making gaming and interactive entertainment more accessible than it’s ever been, and to throw someone into the most intense experience? We’re very against that. I’d definitely try to push in the opposite direction.”

WEVR design lead Scott Stephan agreed to a point, stating that room-scale VR does some things “a little too well.”

“I find that scary experiences, horror experiences need to be really finely calibrated,” said the developer of HTC Vive demo, TheBlu: Encounter. “If you see a horror movie on a screen, you have the abstraction. It’s not so frightening, and you know you’re there for fun.

“We actually have a [development] rule that no creature should be larger than the size of a small dog. Anything above that and you get this primal, lizard-brain thing of, ‘Oh, this isn’t a fun scare. It’s a survival scare.'”

Stephan said developers have a “responsibility” when creating VR content, and users need to be prepared ahead of time for what could be deemed a scary experience. WEVR tried to “mitigate some of that” with the use of audio cues to warn the user when something was behind them in the demo.

With initial shipments HTC Vive coming in April, Oculus Rift shipments hitting this month, and PlayStation VR due in October, it’s safe to say not all developers will share such an opinion when it comes to jump scares in room-scale VR.

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