Blair Witch feat. Horror Games: When You're "In Control" of the Horror
The thing about horror video games is that you're in control.
And what can be more terrifying than that?
You can't run, not really - once you've begun, you're bonded to the story until its completion. If you abandon it, every time it crosses your mind, you will be reminded that you left those characters in limbo, eternally living in the horror hell that only exists to them because of you.
Sure, the jumpscares are scary. Yeah, the moments when a game hits you with "DON'T BREATHE" can quite literally leave your hands shaking. But it's that ability to control things that really makes horror games unique.
There's a taste of that feeling in found footage movies.
While you're not in control, you are put in the perspective of someone who is. While most films take the point of view of an omnipresent, unknowable watcher, found footage ensures that the recorder is fully and terribly human. The fourth wall is thin, cracking, barely held together by the shaky camera of a person who is just as vulnerable as you.
You may know it's just a story, but it feels so, so real when you're in it.
1999's The Blair Witch Project is the ur-example of found footage, and it used its genre to the fullest extent. It was framed as a peek into some poor, very "real" film students' unnerving final days. Watching it feels transgressive, in a way. Yet, even with the knowledge, it's just a movie, made on a shoestring budget and composed chiefly of improv, there's still this gnawing feeling that this is real and that whatever happened to these kids could happen to you too.
Whatever detachment you could cling to in other horror movies isn't there in The Blair Witch Project. If the camera isn't safe, then how can you be?
Found footage and horror video games exploded in popularity simultaneously - that is to say, in the late 90s. Of course, you can say this is due to the advancement of technology, which absolutely plays a part, yet the two genres fit so perfectly together that it's easy to draw connections.
We didn't just want to be scared anymore. We wanted to feel like we were personally in danger. We wanted the tension that comes with a living, breathing point of view character. Can we really enjoy the spectacle of horror when it feels like it's happening to us?
Don't you feel a little responsible?
And yeah, you could stop playing or watching or whatever, but where would that leave the characters? Do you want to just leave them dependent on you to escape the situation you forced on them?
The thing about The Blair Witch Project, like many horror games, is that it makes you feel bad for watching it. You know it's not real, you know none of these things can actually hurt you, yet your spine tingles with this overwhelming sense of transgression. You're just sitting there, and somehow, you're implicated.
Maybe it's because, implicitly, the main characters know you're there by filming the event. They've recorded this all for a hypothetical viewer, and the fact that they expected you, in a sense, is so guilt-inducing. They know they're being watched. By you, and whatever malevolent thing exists out there in the woods.
They made this movie to be viewed; they made it for you.
They wouldn't be here if not for you.
Just like a video game.
You become an active force when you play a game, especially a horror game. Some things may be out of your control - Mr. X is gonna (try to) get ya, regardless of how carefully you make Leon S. Kennedy sneak around. Honestly, it's not unlike how Blair Witch was made - scripted story moments, with a whole lot of improv in between.
Regardless of the graphical detail or quality of the film, being forced into an active role is the scariest thing of all.
You push through a game, so you can rest somewhat easily, knowing you didn't abandon the characters when they needed you most. You push through The Blair Witch Project because they quite literally died to bring you this story. The least you can do is watch.
Even if it feels terrible.