Waiting for a jumpscare is weirdly enticing, and the thrill of the shock itself even more so. How come?
Jump scares shouldn’t work. Us avid horror fans know they’re coming, even seek them out, but every time, we leap out of our seats in genuine, goosebump-inducing, heart racing fear usually followed by the laughter of relief and maybe a little bit of humiliation that they got us again.
A jump scare is a technique used in the horror genre to scare the player by startling them with a sudden movement or event usually accompanied by intense music and sound effects. When done well, they are a satisfying release after a build-up of tension. We usually find ourselves literally waiting for the scare - and still we scream, despite knowing it was coming. Why is this source of uncontrolled fear so addictive? For one, we humans love an adrenaline rush, of which a killer jumping down from a tree followed by a manic chase scene where we dare not blink for fear of sudden death definitely provides.
When it comes to games that do these jump scares well, it would be wrong for Outlast not to be included. This game, in which you attempt to escape from a corrupt mental asylum, is the jump scare elite. This is one of the few video games where you cannot fight back. It’s run, hide, or die. The jump scares here are of a different calibre, with no time for a sigh of relief when the scare has come and gone. They are almost always followed by frenzied chase scenes within which a wrong turn or mistaken click of a button can have you impaled.
Until Dawn is another jump scare favourite. In this decision-making based game, set in a winter cabin in the mountains, a group of teenagers must contend with a killer and an evil spirit on the loose. The player’s decisions determine who lives and dies and even the smallest of decisions can impact the player’s experience later on. This makes the jump scares feel more personal as the player is actively involved in deciding their own fate. It can be played through multiple times, with different paths taken, opening up the potential for new jump scares every time. This is a game that stands out from others in the horror genre as the player’s potential for being scared is very much in your own hands, with quick-time events and “don’t move” features requiring the player to hold their controller still in real life to avoid being killed. The fear feels much more real when you feel that your decisions are to blame for a sudden murder.
Jump scares release that build-up of tension. Waiting nervously through a 10-minute walk through a deserted spacecraft corridor only to have a two-headed alien drop down from the ceiling is a big event that, despite being hair-raising levels of terrifying, is almost satisfying. To put it simply, frights are fun - and I’m sure I’m not the only one that craves more of that feeling.