COG Considers: Jump Scares Are the Worst, But They Play an Important Role
Today on COG Considers, let’s talk about jump scares. Specifically, how important they are in horror. Yes, this article is actually in favor of jump scares! Shocker, I know, but just because jumpscares are overused these days doesn’t mean they don’t play a very important role in horror, especially interactive horror. And I hate jump scares, so you know I’m being serious. It’s difficult to celebrate something you truly loathe, but the fact remains that while many horror games have scared me, I’ve never been more terrified in my life than I was when I encountered well-crafted jumpscares in games like The Crooked Man, The Witch’s House, Five Nights at Freddy’s, the original Slender: The Eight Pages, P.T., and Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Even Silent Hill 2 and the original Resident Evil incorporated jumpscares. Pyramid Head’s introduction and that initial cutscene where the zombie turns around and looks at you are video game history for good reason.
Jump scares can be cheap. They can be lazy. They can also make you shriek and, for a few brief moments, become utterly consumed by the frantic need to survive. Some games use carefully crafted jump scares to carve themselves into the memory of players. Others, like Slender: The Eight Pages, Spooky’s House of Jump Scares, and the Five Nights at Freddy’s series structure themselves entirely around jump scares. FNaF especially takes full advantage of how unpleasant the startle response is to make players very anxious and thus very determined to avoid being jump scared. From a mechanical perspective, taking the jump scares out would change the core gameplay loop. That makes them important, even if it also makes the game literally unplayable for some people.
I don’t like jump scares. They scare me, obviously, but more importantly, they make me literally jump out of my seat. For a few quick moments, I’m genuinely certain that my life is in danger. You know, as long they aren’t thrown at me constantly to make up for a lackluster experience. And as long as the jump scare itself is actually scary. When set up properly, a good jump scare can take a game from fun to unforgettable.
It may also catapult you out of your chair, but that’s the price we pay for good horror games.