A jump scare is a technique often used in horror films and video games, intended to scare the audience by surprising them with an abrupt change in image or event, usually co-occurring with a loud, frightening sound.
When it comes to horror, there is nothing scarier than a surprise. Films have been using these for decades and in recent years horror games have become centred around this. But does that necessarily make them scary?
The hugely anticipated Resident Evil 7 game was finally released in mid-January and the overall consensus states that it is amazing. The game is true to the original style of Resident Evil games while still creating a story that not only fits into the overall Resident Evil universe but also capable of being a stand alone adventure. Rife with gruesome and horrific images, this first person action horror game is littered with well timed jump scares. In this game, the jump-scares help to add to the overall mood of the game by being logical in their usage: The main villains of the game appear suddenly, for either a brief flicker or to provide useful information to aid in story progression, and help to create the mood in which the player is almost always on edge while playing. But Resident Evil has always used this tactic to make their games feel scary…with one well timed jump-scare the player is kept on edge throughout the rest of the game, which in turn continues the feeling of anticipated horror and unease within the player.
Another game franchise that has utilised the jump-scare is the Five Nights At Freddy’s series. In this, you play as a defenceless night watchmen who has to watch CCTV monitors to keep an eye on the murderous animations that are trying to reach your office and kill you. These jump-scares are more a signal of death, as they usually only appear when the animatronic in question has gotten close enough to you to attack. This game is fun…it is a fun game to play purely to see people’s reactions while they play the game. However I wouldn’t say that this game is ‘scary’ but rather ‘jumpy’…which is exactly what the game is supposed to make you do.
Due to this, jump scares need to be used sparingly in order to be considered ‘horror’ technique, as too many of them makes the game predictable and, eventually, funny. When used in a sparing nature, the jump scare can be used to cement an ambience of the game: In the promo game released for a new (but now cancelled) Silent Hill game, PT, the main threat was a randomly generated half dead woman who could jump out and kill your character at any time. Throughout the game you see small sights of her but nothing that can actually harm you. By allowing her to only attack you once during game play, the player is put into a sense of unease throughout game play and, as a result, are constantly on edge. This was part of the thrill of PT and why it was such a sought after game to play.
In short, jump scares are never fun. No matter what happens, you’re going to get a shock. However when used effectively they can be a valuable tool in creating a gaming experience.