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Horror and the Oculus Rift Are No Joke

Being scared can be fun, but one night of experiments proves this new frontier is going to be too much for some people.

It takes quite a bit to scare me. Granted, there’s a good reason for that: I’ve seen it all. The reason Shocktober’s lineup doesn’t include so many obvious films, movies that will be showing on AMC all month long, is because the moment something good comes along, I’ve consumed it. Horror is an addiction, and I’m always looking for the next high. Since my tolerance is so high, not much can grab my attention.

This happened more than once last night.

Enter the Oculus Rift.

There are a handful of times I’ve experienced genuine terror while experiencing a piece of horror. The basement scene in The Blair Witch Project. Going into a lake for the first time after watching Jaws. Surviving the water sequence in Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Experiencing Paranormal Activity in a tiny San Francisco theater years before its release, only knowing it was “a ghost story.” There are probably less than 10 moments in my life I’d describe as pure, whitehot fright.

And yet several moments happened on last night’s Spookin’ With Scoops stream. The Oculus Rift is a magical, terrifying device for the horror genre, and I’m both thrilled and scared to see what developers do with it when it has a chance to sink in.

We checked out several demos last night, and premium members can watch the archive here. The highlights were Don’t Let Go, Alone in the Rift, Dreadhalls, and Alone. (Yes, they are different games!) Some spoilers are going to follow, obviously, and the videos should help explain things.

Don’t Let Go should be called survival horror, as it involves making it through an increasing number of macabre visuals designed to unsettle you. I’m not arachnophobic, but I don’t care for spiders. They creep me the hell out, and an early challenge of Don’t Let Go involved watching a tarantula slowly crawl up your body. Don’t Let Go makes this particularly awful by rendering a virtual body, which means you’re looking at a shoulder with a spider crawling up when your head is pointed at your real-life shoulder. It gets worse, too, when the spider disappears from view, and the audio suggests it is now crawling around your head, and possibly investigating your ear.

Fuck. You.

Alone in the Rift opens similarly to Slender. You’re in a forest with a flashlight, and you must move forward. Note collecting is not on the agenda, though, and it’s purely about progression. Pretty early on, you come across an abandoned cabin. Upon entering the cabin, the rest of the forward disappears, there’s no way to exit the cabin, and a ghostly girl begins flickering in and out of view. You have no choice but to sit through this madness and let it pass. It was a deeply disturbing few minutes, one that I’d figured I's safely survived after exiting the cabin. The moment I’d found my breath, the image of the girl returned right in front of my face. I turned it off.

Dreadhalls showed the most potential for what the Oculus Rift can enable over a standard keyboard and mouse or gamepad. It’s a dungeon. It’s dark. By looking down, you can reference a map that’s filled in as you progress through the dungeon. Unfortunately, there are creatures stalking this dungeon, and your only option is to run away. You have no weapons, but there’s a lamp that must be refilled regularly, which means venturing further and further into the dungeon. The creatures do not only emerge by stumbling upon them, and it appears the game is aware of when the player points their head down, as it seemed to summon some of the most terrifying apparitions (one was a ghastly, bleeding woman that merely stumbled forward) when I would lift my head up. In Dreadhalls, I believe I’ve found my new Slender: a game to return to in hopes of victory.

Alone was particularly interesting. You don’t move around in this one, but instead find yourself on a couch in a living room that looks like any other living room. See, you’re actually playing a game within a game, but that game is slowly but surely revealing that it’s commenting on what’s happening in the real-world, too. Over the course of the admittedly short but effective experience, it becomes clear there are multiple presences in the house. At any time, you can stop and look around, and try to piece together what’s happening. It always seems like something is happening out of the corner of your eye, and it only takes a quick nudge of your face to try and confirm your suspicion. A fan situated right above me proved particularly distracting, and I mean that in the best way possible. It’s precisely because of Alone’s utterly mundane setting that it’s so effective.

As I went through the demos, I was sweating profusely, and had to take several breaks. I was uncomfortable, stressed out, and my shot nerves were sometimes making it hard to speak, let alone manage a live stream.

By design, the Oculus Rift destroys several coping mechanisms we use when using fright as entertainment. We tend to watch horror movies with other people, so that when a scary moment hits, we can grip someone's hand, look them in the eye, and establish ourselves back in reality. You cannot do that with an Oculus Rift. Instead, you must stare forward and remember that you are completely, utterly alone. There is no one there to bounce your emotions off of, and the only way to escape is by taking the device off.

One of my habits while playing a horror game is to generate distance between myself and the monitor. (This doesn’t happen so much with console games, but these days, there are few instances where you’re playing a horror game on a console.) I know it’s ridiculous, but giving myself a few more inches is a meaningful comfort, as it helps drive a wedge between what might appear on the screen and my physical self. WIth an Oculus Rift, moving your body around is no help. In fact, the screen is closer than ever--it’s centimeters from your eyeballs. Once again, you’re forced to suffer through the imagery, unless you physically remove it.

Were it not for a stream of 800 people watching me drive myself up a wall, I would not have kept playing those games. One or two was enough. I’d had my fill. It ceased being interesting fun and became a masochistic exercise in fulfilling my audience’s desires. Of course, that’s completely okay--it’s the reason I stream these horror games in the first place. The stream, especially the lively chat room, provided the one sense of comfort I could rely on. But I was driven to the feeling of “what am I doing this for?” much more quickly than I have been with other horror games, and the last time I seriously asked the question was playing Amensia.

There’s no other way of putting it: horror and the Oculus Rift is not for everyone. I’d highly recommend people seriously think about whether or not it’s worth experiencing. Fun is not an accurate word, and it’s for daredevil adrenaline seekers only. Scares and virtual reality are going to become a new line in the sand for some people. For example, I’ve never had much interest in going to one of those haunted houses where you’re sent alone and consent to the actors being able to touch you. (There are safe words and ways of stopping it, obviously.) That goes a step too far for me, and removes horror from a comfort zone that allows me to indulge.

But here’s what excites me so much: I’ve found an unexploited source of scares. I cannot imagine the horror highs possible with the Oculus Rift, and we’re only at the very beginning of developers finding ways of surprising us. This, like anything else, will soon run out of gimmicks, and the overreliance on jump scares will become a trope with the Oculus Rift, as it has with other horror. (Outlast, as good as it was, is very guilty of this) But we’re not there yet, and experiments like Dreadhalls and Don’t Let Go suggest there is plenty of material.

It's daytime, and my confidence has returned. Last night was scary as hell, but I'll be back for more.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
74 Comments
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Posted by flasaltine

Spooky with scoopy

Posted by joachimo

This seems like the worst/best use of the rift

Posted by DazzHardy

It was a glorious show Scoops, and one I don't intend to watch again, but dammit it was great at the time :D

Posted by L1GHTN1N

This was the best Spookin' to date without a doubt, and you're a far braver man than I. I was getting scared just watching the damn stream with headphones on.

Edited by myketuna

I can't wait until the day your wife or someone else pounces you while you're "lost in the rift". Then again, I don't know if you'd survive that.

Posted by MarkWahlberg

While I'm definitely looking forward to the internet urban legends about people dying of hear attacks from Oculus Rift games, seeing how this produced such an emotional response just reminded me of those attempts to use games to address PTSD. I don't know if that's still a thing these days, but I wouldn't be surprised if we hear about the Oculus becoming involved in something like that.

Posted by TruthTellah

I was worried about you last night, Patrick! It definitely seems rather powerful, and yet, those were just like little demos. I can only imagine the impact of a fully fleshed out game designed for the device.

Posted by subyman

I have a hard time taking horror movies seriously. Most can not draw me in as they rely too much on idiotic decisions or melodrama. The rift, however, could be insane. I would be making the decisions, so as long as the devs don't box us in too much and let us at least have the appearance of decision making, it could be terrifying. I'm very interested in trying it out.

I'm looking forward to a Dead Space 1 type game made for rift.

Posted by Scrawnto

Gosh, I honestly don't think I could even make it through the Ravenholm section of Half-Life 2 if I had a Rift on.

Posted by UltimAXE

My God. That tarantula thing sounds absolutely terrifying. Hell, it's freaking me out just thinking about it. I'd probably faint if I actually experienced it myself. I will have the window minimized during that part when I watch the archive.

Posted by TruthTellah

While I'm definitely looking forward to the internet urban legends about people dying of hear attacks from Oculus Rift games, seeing how this produced such an emotional response just reminded me of those attempts to use games to address PTSD. I don't know if that's still a thing these days, but I wouldn't be surprised if we hear about the Oculus becoming involved in something like that.

Different military are still researching the uses of videogames to fight PTSD and gauge someone's progress in recovery. Tetris has shown promise post-battle at reducing flashbacks and panic, and assorted studies have reinforced its possible effectiveness. Though, they're mainly looking into making videogames that can be used over time to gauge someone's mental state; through monitoring differences in performance and reactions, they hope to get a better feel for how someone is doing.

There is also interest in using realistic videogames(and possibly things like the Oculus Rift) to recreate traumatic events like exposure therapy, allowing the event to become more mundane and accepted, but that still seems in an earlier stage than attempts to use videogames to reduce or gauge PTSD symptoms.

Posted by mrsmiley

oh man i need to go watch the vod of the rift spookin with scoops. that's sounds terrifying. i'm someone who couldn't even handle keeping my surround sound headphones on while playing dead space 2 because it was too intense. no rift for me with scary games!

Posted by cabrit_sans_cor

This reminds me of Roger Ebert's outraged review of the original Night of the Living Dead:

"The kids in the audience were stunned. There was almost complete silence. The movie had stopped being delightfully scary about halfway through, and had become unexpectedly terrifying. There was a little girl across the aisle from me, maybe nine years old, who was sitting very still in her seat and crying."

I'm simultaneously excited and terrified to see what developers do with the Rift.

Posted by AlKusanagi

If only the magic of Alex trolling him in the chat could have been preserved for all time.

Posted by GValo

@alkusanagi: I missed the stream due to the Hawks game and reading, what did Alex do?

Posted by Subjugation

2spooky5me

Posted by FourWude

Something tells me it really doesn't take much to scare Patrick.

Posted by cooljammer00

Yeah, skeleton! Play that bone flute!

Posted by PimblyCharles

The skeleton plays a beautiful melody.

Glad to see you're still together after last night Patrick. Thought we broke you.

Online
Posted by hurricanehaines

Patrick, great article. The Rift needs to ship with a health disclaimer! Shocktober just got real

Edited by whatisdelicious

We tend to watch horror movies with other people, so that when a scary moment hits, we can grip someone's hand, look them in the eye, and establish ourselves back in reality.

That's precisely why I don't like watching scary movies with people--their completely and total inability to shut the fuck up for two hours and immerse themselves in something scary instead of laughing uncomfortably and making stupid jokes and responding to the movie and looking over at me to see what my reaction is.

Posted by gbrading

Is Patrick saying the Oculus may be too scary? I mean, people like a good scare but if it starts giving people heart attacks or turning them into nervous wrecks, I'm not sure how far we should take it.

Posted by Cashewual

Last nights scoop-spookin was easily one of my favorite vids of the year so far, well done Patrick!

Edited by ToTheNines

well if the oculus rift gets TOO scary you can just close your eyes. But interesting watch, was kind of let down by Alone though.

Posted by Rotnac

Last night was pretty entertaining. One of the best SWS streams.

I honestly don't think I would ever do horror on the Oculus Rift. That's a line I'd never cross.

Edited by Garfield518

"It takes quite a bit to scare me."

Judging by episodes of SwS, that is not true.

Posted by McGhee

It was a real good time. Kept my mind off being so fucking sick.

Posted by golguin

I didn't catch the beginning of Spookin with Scoops, but I saw most of the game and it was great stuff. I want an Oculus Rift.

Posted by nonekjr

I set my alarm and got up in the middle of the night just to watch it live. It was pretty freaking intense and yeah... I don't know that I could "play" a few of these games on my own if I had a Rift. Dreadhalls seemed especially scary and claustrophobic. I'm looking forward to the next show and more of these uh "experiences".

Posted by TheManWithNoPlan

It's pretty terrifying /exciting that interactive horror experiences like this are slowly becoming reality. I'll be morbidly anticipating checking them out when the rift comes to retail.

Posted by Blair

A FLUTE!

Posted by JOURN3Y

One thing that games for the Oculus games need is binaural recording to make very realistic 3D sound. First person oculus rift games has the most obvious applications of this.

Put on your headphones and listen to this and you'll see what I mean immediately.

Posted by Nightriff

Can't wait to watch it, downloaded it and saving it for Friday night when I can watch it at work....all alone....in the dark....naked...wait I didn't way that.

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Posted by ZmillA

Last night was great. Super fun. The combination of Patrick losing his mind and the chat making wise cracks about Patrick losing his mind was hysterical and tense all at the same time.

Edited by sissylion

"It takes quite a bit to scare me."

Judging by episodes of SwS, that is not true.

I'll admit that I've only seen clips and excerpts from Spookin' with Scoops, but it appears to me that the most that Patrick has gotten out of a lot of the stuff he's played has just been a few jump scares and a "fuck this" attitude. That is, by definition, scary, and I'm pretty susceptible to those quick things, but I really only consider myself to be scared if there's a constant sense of dread associated with what I'm watching/playing/etc.

Patrick talking about playing The Dark Descent on the Bombcast from a while back is a pretty good illustration of that, I think. Not so much of an "oh man this is scary" but more of a "I don't want to fucking do this anymore." "Pure, whitehot fright," if you will.

Posted by Flex_Rockwell

Thanks for the content, Scoops. I had a ton of fun watching the live stream!

Posted by Fram

@patrickklepek Spookin' was an incredible show. I watched it live with the chat (which was amazing btw) at around 2pm in a brightly lit office with coworkers milling around, phones ringing, etc. Even amongst all this, with my headphones on, I had a knot in my stomach when you froze in that cabin and couldn't move, or when you worriedly glanced around the living room as shit got weird on the TV. Some serious empathy pains going on. Basically what I'm saying is that I can't imagine how bad it was for you. Thank you for damaging yourself for our education and amusement.

Posted by Godlyawesomeguy

What if Patrick were also on shrooms whilst playing? Think about it.

Posted by Stimpack

@patrickklepek I found it disappointing that you didn't mention CymaticBruce =/ He's a pretty big advocate of the Rift. He also played through every game in the VR jam and streamed it all on Twitch. He's done a terrific job at showing it off, and is even developing a game for it himself. If you don't know of him, you should most certainly check him out.

Posted by chilipeppersman
Posted by CornBREDX

Things like this make me more and more excited to see what we get from Occulus Rift. So exciting.

Posted by jayjonesjunior

@ultimaxe said:

My God. That tarantula thing sounds absolutely terrifying. Hell, it's freaking me out just thinking about it. I'd probably faint if I actually experienced it myself. I will have the window minimized during that part when I watch the archive.

It actually sounded more like someone shaking a box of matches.

Posted by Jedted

@patrickklepek: "I’m not arachnophobic, but I don’t care for spiders."

I'm not an expert on phobias but if spiders really creep you out and make you cringe, does that not count? There's no reason to be ashamed dude, everyone has some kind of paralyzing fear.

Posted by ShaggE

@jedted said:

@patrickklepek: "I’m not arachnophobic, but I don’t care for spiders."

I'm not an expert on phobias but if spiders really creep you out and make you cringe, does that not count? There's no reason to be ashamed dude, everyone has some kind of paralyzing fear.

A true phobia is usually a lot more intense than that. For example, when I see maggots, I go into a cold sweat, hyperventilate, and my entire body itches for hours. No idea why. I can handle gore for days without a problem, but those little bastards completely disable me.

I do think Patrick is at least somewhat arachnophobic, but I think it's natural to be creeped out by spiders. Hell, I like the little guys, and they still unsettle me a bit.

Posted by Hailinel

@shagge said:

@jedted said:

@patrickklepek: "I’m not arachnophobic, but I don’t care for spiders."

I'm not an expert on phobias but if spiders really creep you out and make you cringe, does that not count? There's no reason to be ashamed dude, everyone has some kind of paralyzing fear.

A true phobia is usually a lot more intense than that. For example, when I see maggots, I go into a cold sweat, hyperventilate, and my entire body itches for hours. No idea why. I can handle gore for days without a problem, but those little bastards completely disable me.

I do think Patrick is at least somewhat arachnophobic, but I think it's natural to be creeped out by spiders. Hell, I like the little guys, and they still unsettle me a bit.

Yeah, I mean, I don't like spiders. If I see one in my home, I catch it with a paper towel and flush it down the toilet. But I don't go into a full-blown phobic panic at the very sight of one.

Posted by evanbower

That opening paragraph is hilarious. I'm a horror junkie. I've seen it allllll mannnnnn. I'm straight addicted to that spooky-ooky!

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