There’s a big difference between a Halloween game and a horror game. Most horror games are also Halloween games, but the requirements for a good Halloween gaming experience are very different from those of a good horror experience. A good horror game sets out to scare the player. A good Halloween game makes the player delight in their fear.
Take, for example, The Last of Us. This is a horror game, through and through. You shoot zombies, you spend a ton of time hiding from characters who can jump scare you and cut your face open in incredibly grisly ways, and it’s overall a generally scary experience. And yet, I don’t think it will be controversial to say that The Last of Us is a terrible Halloween game.
That’s because the Halloween game is not simply about being scary; it’s about being fun. A good Halloween game makes the player grin when it scares them. The Last of Us is a dour, often depressing affair. It’s a beautiful and profound narrative experience, but one that almost never asks the player to celebrate its scares. The game seems almost judgmental of players who have fun blasting their enemies to smithereens.
On the other hand, independent developer (and Mitch McConnell superfan, although that’s a topic for another column) Scott Cawthon crafted what may very well be the perfect Halloween game in Five Nights at Freddy’s. While the FNaF series might be most commonly associated with shrill-voiced YouTubers recording videos for children, that original 2014 game remains an exhilaratingly lighthearted Halloween experience. It doesn’t take itself too seriously – when the sole voiced character in the game, the “Phone Guy,” nonchalantly describes a child’s frontal lobe being torn out of their head, it doesn’t come with any bleak self-seriousness, just a joyfully mean sense of humor. The game is also scary, to be clear, but when its high tension is released with a jump scare, it’s usually punctuated by a shriek and a giggle. It’s hard not to have fun.
“Fun” really is the operative word when it comes to Halloween games. They’re best experienced with groups of other players (preferably your most squeamish friends, if you can rope them into it). At this point, a good Halloween game is almost as fundamental to the season as a good slasher movie.
Obviously, Five Nights at Freddy’s is not the only good Halloween game. The Halloween game hall of fame is populated with absolute classics. The Resident Evil series, of course, hosts a handful of delightfully spooky titles that are generally dumb enough that they must elicit smiles. Supermassive Games’ Until Dawn and The Quarry place players in charge of groups of teens wandering through tropey horror movies, and they’re incredibly silly romps. Players looking for a game that can be enjoyed while cuddled up in a blanket with a mug of hot apple cider and a box of Pilsbury shape cookies (you know, the ones with the little pumpkins and ghosts on them) are not hurting for options. It’s the most wonderful time of the year and should be celebrated with a controller in hand.
Sorrel Kerr-Jung is a sophomore studying virtual reality game development at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnist do not reflect those of The Post. Do you agree? Tell Sorrel by tweeting her at @sorrelkj.