Silent Hills recently saw an interactive teaser release on PSN under the code name P.T. As is the case with anything released in this age of outrage, gamer reactions were split into two distinct camps. One half featured a fairly positive and optimistic populous, happy to give themselves over to the playthrough and enjoy it for whatever it was. This camp, I have little beef with. Good on them for letting the experience wash over them, and just enjoying themselves. My issue lies with the other camp, let’s call them the navel-gazing horror hounds.
This group were quick to jump on the game and label it monster closet horror, lambasting anyone who claimed to be scared by it as either actors or idiots. Apparently this camp caught about 40 seconds of the game, more or less around the time of one of the game’s few actual jump scares, and decided on the spot they knew exactly what the entire demo had to offer.
I don’t mind opinions being formed on little or no material. Fuck, the internet revolves around it! The reaction of these uppity scumbags got under my skin, though. Especially when you consider that a majority of P.T. hinged on a successful blend of ingenuity and atmosphere. There’s not many points to give up for the plot, but the environment goes above and beyond the call of duty informing a fantastic amount of detail – it’s borderline Gone Home-ish in its use of the space. And the randomly-generated, caught in purgatory-vibe of repetition with slightly different results definitely fed off the idea of Silent Hill itself; a place people end up to face personal demons. So all boxes ticked, right? Apparently not.
Jump scares are not the horror equivalent of fart jokes, and as such do not instantly cheapen an experience. Some amazing directors have applied the method to their projects, and it’s done nothing but enhance the mood. You build and build tension, and I agree, ultimately this is the unsettling factor, but the odd jolt to a person; that spike in heart rate, that has its merit and mechanic too. It gives the player/viewer that glimpse into the abyss. The shower scene from Psycho is iconic, but it’s also one of the earlier examples of a jump scare. Do we all just turn around and call Hitchcock a cheap-shot auteur? I dare anyone to try. Truly cheap horror relies on jump scares in the absence of tension or atmosphere, not as a supplement to it. And I think that’s the key factor these navel-gazing horror hounds are forgetting to appreciate. But hey, such is the internet. I’ll be down here with the rest of the uncultured actually enjoying myself, if anyone needs me.