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Posted: Aug 20th 2008 11:01AM (Unverified) said

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The real problem with fear in MMOs is a basic tenant of the design. The players are heroes, and they are expected to win. In fact, visit any forum board and you'll find the complaints of those who feel they are entitled to win whenever a difficult new encounter is placed. The complaints about how it's 'unfair' fly fast and furious.

In contrast, real fear comes from a feeling of helplessness. The fact that there is something out there that wants to hurt you, and you can't do a thing to stop it. You can't hurt it, you can't kill it and you'll have to be very lucky to escape it, if that's even possible.

You just can't have that in an MMO setting, or the 'fairness complainers' will go all nuts. Even if you put an unkillable monster or something in an area, people will soon learn about it and just avoid the area.

Plus, as adventurers, when you see a scary monster, the first instinct is to pull out a big weapon and destroy it. And if you fail, you just use whatever resurrection mechanic is in the game to come back. Between these two facts, truly scary horror is pretty much impossible. There is no risk, no danger and you can probably defeat whatever it is.

Without a sense of helplessness, true fear in a game just isn't possible, and MMOs are empowerment fantasies. People pay their monthly fees to feel powerful, not weak and helpless. Without that one key element, I fear that 'horror' games are going to be limited to shock horror and throwing buckets of blood at the screen.

Posted: Aug 20th 2008 12:31PM Seraphina Brennan said

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See, I would have to disagree with you there that horror cannot be achieved while all players are heroes. Most of the horror games created in recent memory place the player in the shoes of someone who could be thought of as a hero. The entire Resident Evil series comes to mind, as well Condemned and Eternal Darkness.

The horror element does not have to come from the physical plot, but more from the proper use of environment, as Pingmeister has put it. Clever level design can go long ways to inserting fear into the game experience.

And sure, players will beat monsters - it's a fact of life. But your idea of helplessness could be implemented on a higher level inside of the central plot. Sure, the players may be making headway on the ground and defeating what they can, but perhaps they are experiencing helplessness in another way.

In the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, protagonists could make headway against the horrors of the beyond, but they always ended up eventually becoming consumed by it or tainted by it in some greater fashion. Perhaps the helplessness of the impending disaster no matter what is done, such as the threat of the Great Old Ones?

In any case, you certainly have pointed out some of the perils of this type of design in MMO culture, and some of the hurdles that must be overcome if a developer truly seeks to place a game in the horror genre.
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Posted: Aug 20th 2008 11:17AM (Unverified) said

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I think you'd likely find a lot of different interpretations of what constitutes "Scary".

For an old-school guy like me it's being startled after tension has been built by putting me in an environment where I do not feel safe.

Like the Vent shafts in the original Alien movie. The guy is cramped and has people over a headset yelling that their sensors show something big getting closer...closer but the guy doesn't see anything until he awkwardly changes position and BOOM!

I don't think it is un-doable in an MMO.

I'd love to see more than just "farming" mobs with "scary" 3D models.

Give someone a cramped environment, lots of twists and turns and a few spots for mobs to hide and I think you'll get some heartbeats racing.

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