Jump Scares, Are They Good or Bad?

What makes a good jump scare?

By Artemis, Posted 28 Mar 2015

Jump scares are a widely debated thing in horror, and especially in horror games. In an interactive medium like gaming, more often than not, there are small triggers that the player stumbles across that initiate the jump scare, making it seem like the player itself was the one that did it. Like the player was responsible for the terrible events that were about to transpire. This much can be an advantage and disadvantage for the developers, but the question is, what is the difference between a good jump scare and a bad jump scare? If one’s first reaction is “there’s no such thing as a good jump scare”, then allow yourself to have an open mind to the mere concept of a jump scare.

A very important aspect of horror is the atmosphere, setting the mood for events that are about to transpire.  The desolate loneliness of Silent Hill 2, the foreboding doom of Resident Evil, are just a few environments that have successfully caused many gamers to feel uneasy, and as long as they developers did their job correctly, this feeling constantly reappears during the course of the game. In order for horror to work, you have to have an interesting setting that evokes a certain reaction within the player. Everyone is different, not every single person will be scared of the same thing. While some people are afraid of an abandoned pizza parlor, others might not find it frightening in the slightest.

This is where the “jump scare” comes in. A jump scare works ideally when the atmosphere around it complements the scare; In Five Nights at Freddy’s, most of  the jump scares  when you get a game over, but that’s after the game builds up the fact that you’re the one in charge of your own fate. If you aren’t vigilant the animatronics will kill you and stuff you into a suit, which drives the player be aware of what’s going on at all times. This can actually work to the players disadvantage because they may be so focused on one thing that they don’t notice something else is happening, which is where the jump scare actually works. The atmosphere has built these creatures up and if you aren’t expecting it they can genuinely scare you. The player is the direct cause of their own jump scares which, if you think about it, is the best way to execute that sort of system.

Let’s take a game like Dead Space: the atmosphere does work in its favor and gives you that same destitute loneliness that you see in other games. The problem is that the jump scares tend to be very predictable.  It wasn’t at first but once you understand the rhythms of the monsters, such as how they come out of vents, you tend to notice the monsters more often than not, taking away from the actual scare. Now this isn’t to say you didn’t jump, because jumping at jump scares is in the title, but to be genuinely scared by it is something else entirely. The game itself needs to be built around each of its scares and have an atmosphere that compliments it in order for it to work as a genuinely good horror game.

The Jump Scares in Outlast, while many are predictable such as the wheelchair one, many were unexpected and caused an actual reaction based on genuine fear. You didn’t expect that thing to happen and while the atmosphere helped build up the dread, causing you to be cautious, you truly didn’t know what was going to happen next. A good jump scare tips you off that something is coming but it doesn’t beat you over the head with it. For it to truly work it has to be a subtle, every single piece aligning just right with the player hopefully being none the wiser. A game can’t oversaturate itself with too many jump scares all at once because that will ruin the overall feel of the game.

Jump scares fail not only when their obvious but when they are picked out by those who are extremely genre savvy. Sometimes not everyone is going to be scared by a well-placed scare. But anyone who appreciates horror for what it is can really understand the positives of having a good jump scare. It’s just the oversaturation with tired, and overused, methods cause jump scares to lose their appeal. Ultimately, jump scares are great when they are executed correctly, but just like with anything gaming, execution is everything.

Angelina Bonilla, NoobFeed (@Twitter)

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General Information

Platform(s): PC, Mobile
Publisher(s): Scott Cawthon
Developer(s): Scott Cawthon
Genres: Survival Horror
Themes: Horror
Release Date: 2015-03-02

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