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5 Different Types of Horror Video Games, Explained – MakeUseOf

Horror video games can hold some of the most intense gaming experiences around. However, it’s often difficult to know exactly what kind of horror game you’re playing.

Here are five different types of horror video games that you might run into.

Why It’s Hard to Define Types of Horror Games

Just like what scares us, it’s hard to define the different sub-genres you might find in horror video games objectively.

Unlike popular genres of gaming such as adventure games or RPGs, you’ll find a lack of consistency in the gaming community on different sub-genres of horror. For example, you’ll likely have heard of ‘survival horror’, but what about ‘action horror’ or ‘stealth horror’?

Different gamers will have their own set of horror video game sub-genres as well as their own criteria for each. What makes things even more confusing is that you can have a game that’s ‘survival horror’ yet incorporates elements from ‘action horror’ or ‘psychological horror’.

Therefore, you shouldn’t see this list as a right-or-wrong set of genres, but more of a useful guide to help you distinguish between different types of horror games alongside your own opinion of horror.

And with that said, let’s dive in.

1. Survival Horror Games

Ah, survival horror. The most popular kind of horror video game sub-genre, and yet there’s no concrete definition for it. Because of this, it’s very easy to inaccurately class horror games as ‘survival horror’.


Any game where something is trying to kill you is technically a ‘survival’ game, but you wouldn’t call Call of Duty a ‘survival FPS’ or The Witcher 3 as a ‘survival RPG’. So, why exactly is there a category called ‘survival horror’?

Survival horror means different things to different people, but a good way you can classify a game as ‘survival horror’ is to see how well it focuses on the ‘survival’ part.

‘Survival’ consists of things like limited resources, incredibly dangerous enemies, areas that reward exploration, and inventory management. Essentially, the variables you need to manage and choices you need to make to ensure your survival.

Your key focus isn’t to kill everything you see—survival horror games usually de-emphasize combat and more to weigh up your options. Every bullet/healing item counts, and you can’t defeat every enemy. And, while you might find boss fights and such in survival horror games, the majority of your time is less action-orientated and more focused on exploration and puzzle-solving.

Standouts in the survival horror sub-genre are Resident Evil 1, 2, and 7, Silent Hill, and Alien: Isolation.

2. Action Horror Games

It’s very easy to lump action horror games into the survival horror sub-genre, especially as one category often contains aspects of the other. However, action horror games are a breed of their own.

Here, you’ll find games such as Dead Space 1 and 2, Resident Evil 4, and Dying Light. While there might be survival horror elements, these games mostly focus on action elements like combat, set pieces, and linear levels that focus less on rewarding exploration (there are exceptions, such as Dying Light).

Combat is mostly unavoidable, and it’s usually part of your core gameplay loop for most of your gameplay experience. Because of this, action horror games lack the subtlety found in other forms of horror video games, but they can make up for it in lots of visual horror, like grotesque imagery and creature design.

Action horror games usually have a faster pace than survival horror games and are often more thrilling and visceral. Yet this might backfire for some gamers, especially those who enjoy slow-burn horror.

3. Stealth Horror Games

Now here’s a sub-genre you might not have heard before (mostly because people incorrectly class it as survival horror). Stealth horror games consist of titles such as the Outlast franchise and Amnesia franchise. There are the games where stealth is your primary mechanic—you can’t fight back.

Stealth horror games usually have a very simple gameplay loop: sneak past enemies from point A to point B. There might be a few puzzles, some additional mechanics (sanity in Amnesia), or collectibles that flesh out—even tell—the story, but you’re mostly sneaking past enemies.

Even though the only thing you can do is survive, stealth horror games are not survival horror games: there simply aren’t enough gameplay mechanics for you to monitor your survival. Because of this, stealth horror games usually incorporate jump scares or psychological horror elements in order to keep the player scared and engaged.

These games can be hit or miss. On one hand, players might love the tense hide-and-seek gameplay these games provide, as well as their overall aesthetic. But, on the other, the gameplay can feel incredibly monotonous and limiting, replacing gamers’ sense of fear with boredom.

4. Psychological Horror Games

Psychological horror games are horror games whose dominant form of scaring the player is through incorporating—you guessed it—elements of psychological horror.

Here, gameplay takes a back seat to the narrative which tries to deliver an engaging, unnerving experience. Games like Silent Hill 2, Doki Doki Literature Club, Layers of Fear, Soma, and Observer are examples of psychological horror games.

The main thing you’ll remember from these games is the story they tell, the characters, the world the game creates, and how the game messes with you. The fear your mind creates as opposed to what you see is what these games focus on.

As such, you’ll experience elements of psychological horror such as unreliable narrators, the game taking control from you randomly or even breaking the 4th wall, character studies with uncomfortable subject areas, and more.

These games excel in telling a story that you interact with. Because of that, their pacing can be very slow, gameplay mechanics limited and janky, and you might not find any strong in-your-face scares.

There’s also a lack of action in these games and more of a focus on reading, listening, and piecing things together, which might turn some gamers away.

5. Reaction/Jump Scare Horror Games

These kinds of horror games essentially rely on being scary through racking up tension and releasing it in the form of an in-your-face scare, usually a jump scare.

There isn’t really much in the way of characterization, exploration of horror themes, in-depth gameplay mechanics, creature design, or lingering fear. It’s all about eliciting an outward reaction from the player, which is perfect for the Let’s Play community.

The Five Nights at Freddy’s franchise has the best-known games of this kind. Sure, there are strategic elements and some form of a story, but the main way a game like FNAF tries to scare you is through jump scares.

For some gamers, this can be a fun gameplay loop of tension and release. The scares come quick and easy, with no major investment from the player required to get there.

However, as these games rely on jump scares, they’re inherently cheap. There’s nothing interesting in terms of horror, and you can easily classify jump scares as more of a biological reaction (i.e. getting startled) than genuine horror. And, as you’re experiencing jump scare after jump scare, you’ll likely get desensitized at some point.

Enjoy Different Types of Horror Games

And there you have it! While this isn’t every sub-genre of horror game, these are arguably the most popular and recognizable horror sub-genres. You’ll likely have your own opinions of each as well as on other types of horror games.

Which is what makes horror games—and horror, in general—so appealing; how each gamer interprets them. Regardless of how we define them, enjoy all the unique horror games you can find. If it scares you, it’s doing its job.

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