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Sign of a threat: The effects of warning systems in survival horror games

Authors:
Sign of a Threat:
The Effects of Warning Systems in
Survival Horror Games
Bernard Perron
Department of Art History and Film Studies
University of Montreal
Canada
(514) 343-7384
bernard.perron@umontreal.ca
ABSTRACT
This paper studies the way survival horror games are designed
to frighten and scare the gamer. Comparing video games and
movies, the experiential state of the gamer and that of the
spectator, as well as the shock of surprise and tension
suspense, it focuses on the effects of forewarning on the
emotional responses to survival horror games.
Keywords
video games, survival horror, fear, surprise, suspense, game
design, gameplay.
There is no terror in the bang, only in the
anticipation of it. (Alfred Hitchcock)
1. INTRODUCTION
David Bordwell, one of the most important figures in
promoting a cognitive approach to cinema, once wrote that
filmmakers were “practical cognitive psychologists” because
they take advantage of the ways spectators draw upon
everyday thinking while viewing a film (for instance, going
beyond the information given by categorizing, drawing on
prior knowledge about real-life or films, forgetting some
elements in order to remember others, making informal,
provisional inferences, and hypothesizing what is likely to
happen next) [3]. Such assertions can obviously be made
about game designers, too. In comparison with the spectator, it
is even more plausible that a gamer may choose to play a video
game in alternative ways (freely setting his own goals, testing
the limits of the game, playing with the game instead of
playing the game) or that a game might be used to other ends
(to help overcome phobias, for instance1). Regardless of how
the game is used, game designers know how to elicit the sort of
activities and emotional responses that will create the
1 The Cyberpsychology Laboratory Of The University Of
Quebec In Outaouais (<http://www.uqo.ca/cyberpsy/>) is
using Half-Life (Valve Software/Sierra Entertainment,
1998), Unreal Tournament (Epic MegaGames/ GT
Interactive, 1999) and Max Payne (Remedy Entertainment
Ltd/Gathering, 2001) to treat spiders and heights phobia.
experience they want the gamer to have. When it comes to
survival horror games — the subject of this paper — designers
know exactly how the gamer shapes his journey to hell.
This paper, therefore, studies the way survival horror games are
designed to frighten and scare the gamer. They do so by
relying on horror mythology and conventions of horror
movies. According to Ed S. Tan, they create both fiction
emotions (emotions rooted in the fictional world and the
concerns addressed by that world) and artefact emotions
(which arise from concerns related to the artefactartifact, as
well as stimulus characteristics based on those concerns) [26].
But above all, their design is made to elicit gameplay
emotions. That is to say fear, fright or dread that arise from the
gamer’s actions in the game-world and the consequent
reactions of this world. Gameplay emotions come from various
actions: exploring, being lost, fighting, being attacked,
feeling trapped, dying, using various weapons, being
challenged, solving problems, etc. In an overall analysis of the
Silent Hill series (Konami/Konami, 1999-20032) [21] in which
I examined these gameplay emotions, I talked about one of the
famous features of the series: the avatar’s pocket radio that
transmits white noise to warn the gamer that one or many
monsters are nearby. I referred to the notion of forewarning,
but did not develop this subject. While my observations will
stem and borrow from my visits to the town of Silent Hill, I
wish to broaden the examination of warning systems by
broaching a few other PlaySation games: Resident Evil
(Capcom/Capcom, 1996), Resident Evil 2 (Capcom/Capcom,
1998), Fear Effect (Kronos Digital Entertainment/Eidos
Interactive, 2000) and Fatal Frame (Tecmo/Tecmo, 2002).3
What then are the effects of warnings? I do not mean visual and
audio devices informing us of the avatar’s health or remaining
ammunition (although these warnings are part of a whole), but
rather those signals of on-coming monsters off-screen? What
are the emotional responses these signs of a threat induce? To
answer these questions, I’ll be relying in part on empirical
psychological research. Psychological approach, results and
discussion are indeed very relevant to this study.
2. SHOCK AND TENSION
Generally speaking, survival horror games follow the same
formula, and gamers know what gaming experience to expect.
2 Silent Hill 4: The Room is to be released in September 2004.
3 This list is far from exhaustive. Consequently, my argument
remains inductive.
First published at COSIGN 2004
14–16 September 2004, University of Split (Croatia)
At the plot level, the hero/heroine investigates a hostile
environment where he/she will be trapped (a building or a
town) in order either to uncover the causes of strange and
horrible events (Alone in the Dark, Resident Evil, Siren) or to
find and rescue a loved one from an evil force, be it a daughter
(Silent Hill, Fear Effect), a mother (Clock Tower3), a wife
(Silent Hill 2) or a brother (Resident Evil 2, Fatal Frame). At
the action level, in a third-person perspective4, the gamer has
to find clues, gather objects (you cannot do without keys) and
solve puzzles. In order to survive with the weapons he has (or
will come across), the gamer has to face numerous impure,
disgusting, creepy and threatening monsters (zombies,
demons, mutated beasts, abnormal creatures, spirits, vampires,
etc.). The conflict between the avatar and those monsters is the
dominant element of horror.
Since the release of Silent Hill, one way of differentiating these
games has been to distinguish the more gruesome action-
based and quick thrill jump scares of Resident Evil from the
chilling atmosphere and psychological approach of the
Konami series. In fact, this comparison mirrors the
acknowledged opposition between horror and terror. As Will
H. Rockett puts forward, horror is compared to an almost
physical loathing and its cause is always external, perceptible,
comprehensible, measurable, and apparently material. Terror,
as for it, is rather identified with the more imaginative and
subtle anticipatory dread. It relies more on the unease of the
unseen. “The most common time of terror... is night, a great
absence of light and therefore a great time of uncertainty” [22:
p. 100]. Without daylight, certainty and clear vision, there is
no safe moment. Terror expands on a longer duration than
horror does. By plunging its gamer alone in the dark or in mist
and giving him only a flashlight to light his way (and so
forcing him to play alongside the imperfectly seen), Silent Hill
and Fatale Frame succeed at creating the fundamentals of
terror. Though the young girl Miku, the gamer’s avatar in
Fatal Frame, suddenly finds herself face-to-face with a spirit
or Jill in Resident Evil frequently meets up with zombies, these
encounters are not the same when the hero can’t clearly see
their enemies or their surrounding environment. With the
presence of monsters and their unavoidable onslaught, these
kinds of games would be more aptly called survival terror
games. But as long as the contrast between horror and terror
relies in great part on the building and, above all, on the
sustaining of a feeling of dread, another suitable way for this
study to view this contrast is to refer to the another famous
distinction.
Crawling with monsters, survival horror games make
wonderful use of surprise, attack, appearances and any other
disturbing action that happens without warning. According to
Robert Baird’s analysis in “The Startle Effect. Implications for
Spectator Cognition and Media Theory”, the games have the
core elements of the (film) threat scene’s startle effect at their
disposal: “(1) a character presence, (2) an implied offscreen
threat, and (3) a disturbing intrusion [often accentuated by a
sound burst] into the character’s immediate space. This is the
essential formula (character, implied threat, intrusion) one
4 There are also first-person horror games, but they are indeed
called such. For instance, Nosferatu. The Wrath of Malachi
(Idol Fx/iGames Publishing, 2003) is presented as a “first-
person shooter survival horror”, and Clive Barker’s Undying
(EALA/EA Games, 2001) has been categorized among others
as a “surviquake horror”.
finds repeated hundreds and thousands of times since
Lewton’s first bus effect” [1: p. 15]. In the aforementioned
famous scene of Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People that Val
Lewton produced in 1942, the spectator is lead to believe that
the female character is followed by something from the left,
only to be caught off guard by a bus barreling in from screen
right. As hostile as the environment might be, it is very
unlikely that the gamer (who has embarked upon a lengthy
exploration) will not be taken off guard and be surprised.
Improving the surprise effect of the long fanged monsters
breaks through the cellar and the first bedroom window in
Alone in the Dark (I-Motion Inc. & Infogrames/Interplay,
1992), the dogs that burst through windows when you cross a
corridor at the beginning of Resident Evil is considered a
classic game startle effect (Figure 1). There is more than one
bursting window effect in the Resident Evil series. Zombies or
creatures can always burst out of window whether it is
barricaded or not. In Fatal Frame, it is above all the sudden
appearances and disappearances of spirits that give you a start.
The Silent Hill series has few monsters that launch underhand
attacks. In the first game, there is also a great scene in the
elementary school that gives you a good scare: A cat springs
out of a box at the very moment Harry, the gamer’s avatar, is
about to open it. The game-world of Silent Hill is haunted by
sudden noises here and there that have no visible or
identifiable source.
Figure 1: A dog bursting through the right window in
Resident Evil (Capcom/Capcom, 1996).
To trigger sudden events is undoubtedly one of the basic
techniques used to scare someone. However, because the effect
is considered easy to achieve, it is often labeled as a cheap
approach and compared with another more valued one:
suspense. As in the well-known example of Alfred Hitchcock, a
bomb that suddenly explodes under the table where two
people are having an innocent conversation will surprise the
spectator for only few seconds at the very moment of the
explosion. However, if this spectator is made aware that the
bomb is going to explode at any minute, he will participate in
the scene and feel suspense for the whole time preceding the
explosion. “The conclusion is”, Hitchcock says, “that
whenever possible the public must be informed” [27: p. 73].
The shock of surprise is consequently taken over by the
tension of suspense.
As Noël Carroll asserts in The Philosophy of Horror or
Paradoxes of the Heart, suspense is not unique to horror, but
rather is a key narrative element in most horror stories [7: p.
128]. In Carroll’s curiosity theory5, although the emotions of
horror and suspense might be different (the object of horror is
an entity – the monster – and that of suspense is a situation),
they can coexist and bring about a concerted effect, especially
when it comes to one of the most characteristic themes of
horror narration: discovery [7: p. 144]. Discovery is also the
theme of a large number of survival horror games. In a “drama
of corridors” (one of Carroll’s expressions that applies quite
well to the maze structure of these games and many others6),
the gamer has to find the virus or the supernatural force
responsible for the rise of the monsters. And he can expect to
fight a last boss monster at the end. Although suspense can be
created in the overarching structure of the plot, it can also be
generated during short events or incidents. To borrow, yet
again, from Carroll’s terminology [8], suspense can arise in
regard to the plot’s few macro-questions (e.g., will the
hero/heroine find the loved one?) or the more numerous
micro-questions that connect one fictional event to another.
As the tension intensifies when we have to answer these micro-
questions (e.g., will the bomb explode under the table while
the two people are still talking?), and because it touches the
action level of video games, I’m interested in suspense at the
episodic level. But still, as Greg M. Smith does regarding film,
we have to argue that the primary emotive effect of games is to
create a mood, i.e. “a preparatory state in which one is seeking
an opportunity to express a particular emotion or emotion set”
[23: p. 38]. A fearful mood therefore encourages and prepares
you to experience fright, and a good dose of panic bolsters the
mood in return. Just as gamers do not like boring games,
neither would they appreciate being panic-stricken all the
time. It’s all about maintaining a good balance.
Suspense becomes significant to the study of the cross-media
genre of horror when one looks at its fundamental elements.
For Dolf Zillmann, “suspense is conceptualized as the
experience of uncertainty regarding the outcome of a
potentially hostile confrontation” [30: p. 283]. Three
psychologists quoted in Carroll’s “Paradox of suspense” give
this definition: “We view suspense as involving a Hope
emotion and a Fear Emotion coupled with the cognitive state
of uncertainty” [6: p. 78]. The notion of uncertainty is, without
a doubt, at the core of suspense. When a danger or threat is
revealed and you are sure of the situation’s outcome, there is
no suspense. The more the chances of succeeding are slim, the
more the presentation is suspenseful. Suspense is a future-
oriented emotion, but also a character-oriented one. Doubt and
insecurity are bound to one or a few protagonists .You’re
made to adopt the protagonist’s position to follow the event
and to live side by side with him the length of the action. But,
studies of suspense have revealed that a character does not
only have to be in a distressing situation, he also needs to be
liked. Comisky and Bryant’s experiment of varying levels of
perceived outcome-uncertainty and disposition toward the
protagonist confirm that audiences get involved with and
become more anxious about a hero with whom they have a
5 Mark Vorobej calls Carroll’s solution to the paradox of
horror a “curiosity theory” because for Carroll horror
appeals to cognitive pleasures associated with the discovery
of monsters, the objects of fascination [29].
6 Furthermore, as I pointed out [21], the play of ratiocination
that Carroll associates with horror fiction becomes literal in
horror games.
strong affinity [9: p. 78]. Bonded with the character that
represents him in the game-world, the gamer is visibly driven
to have this disposition toward his avatar. Being fond of the
protagonist causes more hope for a favored outcome and more
fear about the possibility that it might not occur. As a matter
of fact, fear emotions are also central to the understanding of
suspenseful drama. Again according to Zillmann, suspense in
drama is created predominantly through the suggestion of
deplorable and dreadful outcomes. “It features people about to
be jumped and stabbed, about to walk into an ambush and get
shot and about to be bitten by snakes, tarantulas, and mad
dogs. The common denominator in all of this is the likely
suffering of the protagonists. It is impending disaster,
manifest in anticipated agony, pain, injury, and death.
Suspenseful drama, then, appears to thrive on uneasiness and
distress about anticipated negative outcomes. In short, it
thrives on fear” [31: p. 136]. This emotional response only
evolves during the anticipation of the final result, a rather
limited result. Micro-questions raised by expected dangerous
and harmful events have, as Carroll remarks [6], only two
potential and opposite outcomes. In most cases of survival
horror games, the avatar survives the attack, runs away from or
kills the monster or he does not.
3. TO BE WARNED
To put the gamer in the wanted emotional state, game
designers draw upon the relation between emotion, cognition,
and perception. As cognition arouses emotion on the one
hand, emotion organizes perception on the other hand.
Following Carroll’s analogy, emotions can be seen as
searchlights. “They direct attention, enabling us to organize
the details before us into signification wholes or gestalts.
Where the emotional state is one of fear, we scan it for details
highlighted as dangerous…” [5: p. 28]. This is much the same
as the preparatory state of a mood described by Smith: “A
fearful mood puts us on emotional alert, and we patrol our
environment searching for frightening objects. Fear makes us
notice dark shadows, mysterious noises and sudden
movements and thus provides more possibly frightening
cues” [24: p. 114]. Undeniably, there isn’t a better frightening
cue than the sign of a threat by a monster.
In psychology, the concept of threat is associated with the one
of “anticipatory fear” and psychological stress [17].
Incidentally, much empirical research has studied the effect of
anticipation and the emotional impact of prior information.
For instance, relevant to the distinction between shock and
tension is an experiment by Nomikos et al. that shows two
versions of a film portraying wood-mill accidents. The first
without warning and the other one with warning (as shots
depicting the victim’s finger approaching the whirling blade
of a milling machine), demonstrate that: “(a) Long anticipation
of a harmful confrontation (suspense) is more disturbing than
short anticipation (surprise); and (b) most of the stress
reaction occurs during the anticipation or threat period, rather
than during the actual confrontation when the subject views
the accident itself” [20: p. 207]. In general, studies reiterate
these conclusions. Such is the case in the article by de Weid et
al. entitled “Forewarning of Graphic Portrayal of Violence and
the Experience of Suspenseful Drama” [10], and in Hoffner and
Cantor’s article, “Forewarning of a Threat and Prior Knowledge
of Outcome” [15]. Though I could expose the details of these
experiments, I would rather discuss an earlier experiment
conducted by Cantor, Ziemke and Sparks concerning the
“Effect of Forewarning on Emotional Responses to a Horror
Film” [4] which is at the root of my remark. Cantor, Ziemke and
Sparks show that if, intuitively, prior knowledge about an
upcoming frightening event would seem to reduce its
emotional impact by decreasing uncertainty about what will
happen, it is not what actually happens. In fact, on the
contrary, the notion “forewarned is forearmed” does not lead as
much to “emotional defenses” or effective coping strategy as
to a build up of lasting arousal prior the event [4: p. 22-23].
Using heart rate as the measure of physiological arousal (a
method they call into question however) and varying the
conditions of the forewarning of forthcoming events in four
scenes of the “made-for-television” movie Vampire (one
version with no forewarning, a second with a vague warning
and third one with explicit forewarning), the researchers asked
their subjects to rate their anxiety, fright and upset7. The
following observation resulted from the answers they
collected: “[f]orewarning of upcoming events did the opposite
of ‘forearming’ subjects against emotional reactions. Subjects
who were given prior knowledge of upcoming frightening
events reported more intense fright and upset in response to
the movie than did those who had no forewarning. It is
interesting to note that reports of fright and upset were
intensified by forewarning, but reports of anxiety were not. As
will be recalled, fright and upset were expected to reflect
responses to specific depicted or anticipated events, whereas
anxiety was presumed to denote an uneasiness over uncertain
outcomes. Given that forewarning should have decreased
rather that increased uncertainty, it does not seem surprising
that anxiety ratings were not increased by forewarning” [4: p.
30]. The results also show that forewarning did affect only the
two scenes related to disturbing and brutal events. In the final
analysis, simple forewarning is not a way of preventing
intense emotional upset. It is worse than having no
information about an upcoming event. We can understand why
designers of horror games take advantage of this technique.
As opposed to the conditions of an experiment, the use of
forewarning in an ongoing experience of survival horror game
is governed by specificity. Because the gamer controls an
avatar, the game narratives tell only what this main
protagonist knows (i.e. the narration is restricted in a way that
is characteristic of investigation stories). Even when there are
different playable characters such as the three mercenaries in
Fear Effect or even the ten in Siren (Sony/Sony, 2004),
playing alternatively does not really change what you have to
do in each segment. If it did, it might be just finding another
playable character as in Resident Evil 2. Anticipatory fear is
therefore elicited during specific sequences. What’s more,
because of the antagonism of harmful monsters and the game’s
confined spaces (usually rooms and corridors), threat is always
impending. This is even more the case in the immediate off-
screen than in far away places. In fact, the duration of the
suspenseful anticipation has to be kept in perspective, though
it can sometimes be quite long and it always depends on the
7 “Consistent with their common dictionary definitions,
anxiety was assessed to reflect a non specific sense of
uneasiness and uncertainty about what was occurring or was
about to occur. Fright was thought to reflect a more direct
response to specific threatening events. Upset was used to
detect any negative experiential aspect of a subject’s
response” [4: p. 26].
(re)action of the gamer (we’ll come back to this question later
on). Anticipation is not to be counted in minutes, as in
Hitchcock’s example, or even in tenths of a second. The
duration is equal to the short anticipation (4.33 and 6.67
seconds) of the aforementioned experiment carried out by
Nomikos et al., rather than with long anticipation (18.75 and
25.75 seconds). Nevertheless, as a video game is defined by
the here and now of a situation, the question is still to
differentiate the effects of anticipation versus none at all (0
seconds). So as to warn its gamer, survival horror games have
various warning systems built on physical cues and/or audio
and visual cues either displayed on the screen, presented at an
extradiegetic level, or integrated into the game-world. We’ll
now look at these different types of warning systems in the
previously mentioned and chosen games.
Fear Effect has a Fear Meter displayed in the upper left corner
of the screen (Figure 2).
Figure 2: A Fear Meter appears in the upper left corner of the
screen as Hana is about to face devils in Fear Effect (Kronos
Digital Entertainment/Eidos Interactive, 2000).
The meter represents the heartbeat of Hana (and of the two
other playable characters, Royce and Deke). You see and hear it
increase as she becomes more afraid. Since there aren’t any
health power-ups available in the game, you have to perform
well in a stressful situation. The Fear Meter appears when you
are about to face human guards or monsters. In the
underground hell, the scene in Figure 2, the Fear Meter
becomes visible in order to show the threat in a empty space
clear just a second before. When Hana goes forward, she is
attacked by red devils with hand scythes falling down from the
sky. This happens more often then not when her enemies are
nearby. The Fear Meter sometimes appears long before she
encounters danger.
Figure 3: The Fear Meter remains visible for a while in the
village of Fear Effect (Kronos Digital Entertainment/Eidos
Interactive, 2000)
The Meter remains visible for about two minutes in a search
scene in the village, for instance (Figure 3). Although Hana
(armed with her pistol as we can see ) has faced green zombie-
like natives in the left branch, you yet still anticipates more
action on the right branch.
Fatal Frame also has a visual device to warn . In third-person
perspective (Figure 4) or through the viewfinder of Miku’s
camera (Figure 5), the screen displays a filament at the lower
right corner in the former case and in the upper middle in the
other.
Figure 4: At the lower right corner of the screen, the filament
turns orange as Miku, in the middle of the frame, is about to
enter a room in Fatal Frame (Tecmo/Tecmo, 2002).
Coupled with heartbeats, eerie sounds and the controller’s
vibration, the filament turns orange when spirits are nearby
(and blue when you are near a clue). This device is more than
essential in Fatal Frame as you face incorporeal entities that
are otherwise translucent and as you are plunged into
darkness with only a
Figure 5: Through the viewfinder, in the upper middle of the
screen, the orange filament signals the presence of a spirit,
here hanging from the ceiling in Fatal Frame
(Tecmo/Tecmo, 2002).
flashlight to lit your way. As a typical warning system, the
filament turns orange when spirits are in a room with you. But
because of their nature, it also glows when the spirits are in
another room. While most of the survival horror games
segment their spaces making you cross doors through a
straight cut or an opening loading screen, Fatale Frame
frightens you by making you anticipate what you’ll face when
you open a door. As in Figure 4 where Miku stands in front of
the door to the Rubble Room, a bad omen can make you delay
your entrance because you’re terrified. And when you go into a
room with the filament turned on, the situation can be just as
suspenseful given that the spirits need to be located. You
might switch to the viewfinder of the camera (Miku’s weapon
against spirits), but you still have to look often for spirits
when the filament indicates their location by fading in and
out. You have to know that the spirits move and conceal
themselves, and that some are attacking while others don not.
The Crucified Man in Figure 5 was nowhere to be found in the
Naruki Shrine, for instance. You had to look up to the ceiling
to find him.
Just after the prologue at the beginning of Silent Hill, Harry
gets away with a good start when, in a cut-scene identical to
the bus scene of Cat People, a first window bursts in the
background creating a distraction and allowing a flying reptile
to burst from the foreground window. From this moment on,
Harry is in possession of a great forewarning tool: a pocket
radio transmitting white noise that warns the gamer that one or
many monsters are nearby (Figure 6). There are no visual
displays on the screen of Silent Hill. The gaming experience of
the whole series is driven by the terrifying static that comes to
break the silence. Furthermore, the variations of white noise
give information about the monsters and how far away they
are.8 During significant parts of Silent Hill and Silent Hill 2
taking place outdoors in the mist, the duration of the
8 In the Official Strategy Guide of Silent Hill 3 [2], there is an
explanation of how frequency, pitch and volume affect the
radio. A chart gives the range of the radio for each monster:
14 meters for Double Head dogs, 20 meters for an enormous
monster called a Closer, 15 meters for a zombie-like nurse,
etc.
anticipation is actually extended compared to the parts that
take place indoors. In the streets, the static fades in when you
advance towards an unseen monster and fades out when you
change direction to hurry away. It fades in again along with
the monster’s own noises when you cannot avoid a
confrontation. Frequently this can last more than half a
minute. You’re always kept on your toes. What’s more, when
the radio begins to transmit noise and you cannot see outside
the light beam of your flashlight, fear seizes you rather
intensely.
Figure 6: Harry is off to a good start before getting the red
pocket radio at the beginning of Silent Hill
(Konami/Konami, 1999).
Tanya Krzywinska notes that “[m]any video games deploy
sound as a key sign of impending danger, designed to agitate a
tingling sense in anticipation of the need to act” [16: p. 213].
In that sense, though there is no specific device in Resident
Evil, the game warns you in the most classical way by using
off-screen sounds(similar to what happens in the underground
locations of Silent Hill where the radio doesn’t work). The
moaning of the zombies and the shuffling of their feet indicate
that they are nearby in a room or corridor. In fact, most of the
time they are waiting just outside the frame, lurking to jump
on you. But sometimes, they are farther away. For instance, if
you do not move, it takes more than 15 seconds for the first
zombie to enter the frame in a scene on the second floor of the
Police Station in Resident Evil 2 (Figure 7), and 5 more
seconds for two more zombies to come.
Figure 7: Leon has been waiting long seconds for this first-
heard zombie to enter the frame on the right in Resident Evil
2 (Capcom/Capcom, 1998)
Other examples of this waiting occur on the first floor when
zombies moan in an office you’ll have to enter, and later on in
the Vacant Factory where Leon and Ada hear an approaching
zombie for no less than 40 seconds. Be that as it may, the
forewarning does not rely only on this technique. Now and
then, the search of a room is accompanied by typical,
suspenseful extradiegetic music. Resident Evil also makes use
of a few cutaways. Interestingly, it shows the impending attack
of a Hunter twice. The first with a cut to an 18-second, fast
traveling shot when this monster initially appears, and the
second with a cutaway in the underground courtyard path
(Figure 8).
Figure 8: A cutaway to the impending attack of a Hunter in
Resident Evil (Capcom/Capcom, 1996).
There is also a cut in Resident Evil 2 to what happens to a
reporter (an NPC) in his cell which portends a frightening
encounter.
To different degrees, all of the above examples put you in the
state of uncertainty. Consequently, and most importantly,
compared to the last forewarning of Cantor, Ziemke and
Sparks’ experiment which precisely described what would
happen in the vampire movie scene, the sequences of survival
horror games also elicit uneasiness about how uncertain the
outcome is. You know that you’ll have to face a monster, but
you do not know how it will turn out. Not only your fright, but
your anxiety as well is therefore intensified. Furthermore, as
Torben Grodal stresses about video games, “suspense is
interwoven with the interactive and repetitive nature of the
game” [14: p. 206]. While aggressions, battles, mutilations
and deaths remain final and unchangeable facts in a movie, in a
game they are not. Events can be different or, at least, can be
triggered in a different order. If you have killed the zombie-
like native that was lying on the ground during a first
exploration of the right branch of the village of Fear Effect
(following Figure 3), it will not rise from under the frame the
next time you go by. But if you come only once into the right
branch, the lying zombie-like native will rise unexpectedly
The opposite is also true: “What was surprising in the first
game is transformed into a suspense-like coping anticipation
in the following games. When the player advances toward the
space/time in which the surprising event previously has
occurred, say the sudden appearance of a fierce antagonist, it
will induce an increased arousal” [14: p. 205-206]. Having to
replay a game from the last save point in order to go back and
face a boss monster that you have not yet defeated is a great
forewarning situation. Replaying a game at the most difficult
level, instead of at the normal one, also has the same
consequences.
4. I’M SCARED
The connections of the aforementioned key elements of
suspense and forewarning with horror seem obvious and
definitely help to understand the gaming experience of
survival horror games. However, it is necessary to highlight an
important distinction between games and dramas or films
which was an underlying principle in the preceding two parts
of this paper. Though they are not addressing video games
directly, Vorderer and Knobloch summarize the matter
nonetheless: “According to the [Zillmann] disposition theory,
a necessary condition for suspense is that the viewer witnesses
the conflicting forces (…) without being able to intervene in
the goings-on. If viewers could influence the plot, for example,
the fate of the characters, their experiential state would change
into actual fear or hope” [28: p. 64].
The spectator of a horror film and the gamer of a horror game
are akin in the way that both are always aware that they
themselves are not the victim of the monster’s assault and that
it is someone else doing the suffering. But while, ideally, their
emotional responses run parallel to those of the characters,
their way of feeling fear is different. In a horror movie, Carroll
observes [7: p. 17], the emotional responses of the characters
cue those of the audience. Both responses are synchronized.
The characters exemplify for the spectator the way in which to
react to the monsters by the reports of their internal reactions.
In that sense, “one of the most frequent and compelling images
in the horror film repertoire is that of the wide, staring eyes of
some victim, expressing stark terror or disbelief and attesting
to an ultimate threat to the human proposition” [quoted in
Carroll, 7: p. 243 n. 45]. The spectator is consequently
prompted to respond the same way. Often shown in close shots
and in shot/reverse shot where both the point of view of the
victim and that of the monster are shown, it is the spectator
that is forced to witness these bloody confrontations.
Furthermore, referring to Zillmann’s necessary condition of
suspense, the spectator has what Tan and Frijda call witness
emotions [25: p. 52]. These emotions are related to Tan’s
fiction emotions mentioned in the introduction [26]. The
spectator sojourns, in the imagination, in a fictional world
where he can feel as if he were physically present, a world
where he runs absolutely no risk. The emotional experience is
based on a safe involvement. But since the significance of the
fictional character’s situation is relevant to his emotional
response, the spectator has empathetic emotions. Feeling with
the protagonist, he experiences empathic distress in seeing,
for example, a babysitter terrorized by the idea that a monster
is stalking around the house. But whatever happens, the
spectator is forced to have an observational attitude, He is
controlled by the filmmaker who guides him around as he
pleases through the time and space of the fictional world. The
spectator cannot participate in the situation. On the brink of
finding the action too scary, he only can cover his eyes to
defend himself against the horrible sights (though he still
hears what’s going on).
In a survival horror game, cut-scenes can depict a horrible
scene in a filmic way. Since the plot is unfolding through
those cut-scenes, it elicits fiction emotions. However, at the
action level, a game does not rest on the reports of characters’
internal reactions. The third-person perspective always shows
the avatar in a long shot, and generally, in a long take, too.
What’s more, to face the monsters, the avatar is often seen from
the back. With the exception of Fatal Frame, which shows a
close shot of Miku in a short cut-scene before the attack of
some ghosts (similar to the Resident Evil’s short cut-scenes
showing the upcoming attacks of the hunter), there is
generally no prior or subsequent reaction shot of a face
expressing stark terror and attesting to the threat. Again, Fatal
Frame allows you to switch to a first-person perspective
through the viewfinder of Miku’s camera and, in Clock Tower
3 (Capcom/Capcom, 2003), the camera switches to a first-
person view when Alyssa hides from the monsters. But in
those case, the effect of the filmic subjective shot structure
(which makes you feels as if you were in the situation of a
character) is replaced by the sense of agency. Janet Murray has
defined this characteristic delight of electronic environments
in Hamlet on the Holodeck. The Future of Narrative in
Cyberspace: “Agency is the satisfying power to take
meaningful actions and see the results of our decisions and
choices” [19: p. 126].You indeed control your avatar in the
game-world (and the subjective point of view when it is the
case), a control that leads to a mutation in the way you
experience the scene.
It is certainly not the avatar that is meant to be scared in a
survival horror game, but rather the gamer, i.e. you. If we can
still refer to empathy since you experience emotions with an
avatar, it is clear here that we cannot talk about identification
with the character or about becoming the character in the game-
world.9 This is because the emotional state of that character is
not identical to yours. When a monster bursts through the
window, it makes you, not the avatar, jump.10 Upon the sign of
threat, the avatar does not express apprehension. When the
visual warning system is displayed on the screen or the audio
cues are extradiegetic, these signs are not for the avatar’s
benefit. Although the various avatars make themselves heard
during their fight, scream when assailed and audibly breathe
their last breath, they remain impassive on the action level.
Whatever situation is faced in Silent Hill, Raccoon City or
elsewhere, the avatars keep a “stone face” while responding to
your actions. Instead, their reactions are behavioral and
external. You are linked and synchronized with them
physically. You see their actions and are made to feel their
suffering not only as you see them being attacked, but also as
you receive feedback from the Dualshock controller as in
Silent Hill and Fatal Frame. Now a typical function found in
many games, the controller vibrates every time your avatar is
touched or hit. It vibrates throughout a confrontation in the
Himuro mansion and goes very fast when touched by a spirit.
In Silent Hill, to indicate avatars’ health status, it also shakes
more and more violently as they absorb more damage, echoing
the acceleration of their heartbeat. This tactile simulation
9 The notion of identification is not simple to deal with. Much
has been written in film studies since its psychoanalytical
description. It has been rejected, supplanted, revised and
revived. To have a general view of the question, one can
check the major literature about this notion.
10 Manifestly, it is indicative that a gamer would say: “I was
scared”, not “My avatar was scared” when talking about what
happened in a game.
focuses on physical strength for the simple reason that it helps
you keep them alive. And that’s another departure for video
games. In movies, Carroll says, “the fear that the audience
emotes with regard to the monster is not fear for its own
survival. Our fear is engendered in behalf of the human
characters in the pertinent films. We cringe when the Werewolf
of London stalks his prey, not because we fear that he’ll trap
us, but because we fear for some character in the film” [5: p.
38]. Again, you do not fear for your own survival in a horror
game either. However, in the game-world, since you merge with
your avatar at the action level, and since your main goal is
precisely to make him/her survive the threatening monsters,
you’re indeed made to be afraid that the monsters will trap
you, in other words to fear as if you were in danger. This time,
when the action becomes really scary, you can’t simply cover
your eyes. Holding your controller, your extradiegetic activity
must be to try to overcome the diegetic situation of your
avatar.
Fear as the most commonly referred to emotion in
philosophy and psychology, characteristic of an emotion
prototype like Greg M. Smith remarks [24: p. 269 n. 4]
helps to distinguish the emotions generated by gameplay from
fiction/witness emotions. For psychologist Nico Frijda, whose
work has inspired Tan [26] and Grodal [14], emotions can be
defined as “modes of relational action readiness, either in the
form of tendencies to establish, maintain, or disrupt a
relationship with the environment or in the form of mode of
relational readiness as such” [12: p. 71]. Emotions are action
tendencies. Given that fear is clearly object- and goal-oriented,
it provides, as Smith notices once again, a strong action
tendency. In the presence of a monster, fear urges you to act in
one way or in another to disrupt the relationship. In a horror
movie, when the hero/heroine is in danger, you cannot do
anything but hope he/she will overcome the threat. Your
action tendency is virtual. On the other hand, in survival
horror games, you can do something. You can make your
avatar act. You actually (even if it is related to a virtual game-
world) have a repertoire of controls: draw and choose weapons,
shoot, attack, guard attack, charge in, turn 180°, run away, use
items to replenish life gauge, etc. Those actions give you
gameplay emotions, emotions related to the ways you react to
the situation. “Video games therefore”, asserts Grodal,
“simulate emotions in a form that is closer to typical real life
experiences than film: emotions are motivators for actions and
are labeled according to the player’s active coping potentials”
[14: p. 201].
5. I HAVE TO COPE
In following with the preceding comments, we have to agree
with Grodal who has emphasized [13, 14] that the notion of
coping is fundamental to the experience of video games.
According to Susan Folkman and Richard S. Lazarus’
definition, “coping consists of cognitive and behavioral
efforts to manage specific external and/or internal demands
that are appraised as taxing or exceeding the resources of the
person. These cognitive and behavioral efforts are constantly
changing as a function of the appraisals and reappraisals of the
person-environment relationship, which is also changing”
[11: p. 323]. The appraisals-reappraisals are very significant to
determine the emotional effects of forewarning in survival
horror games. Anticipatory fear is less important when on-
coming monsters are directed by corridors or walks like the
outdoors marked paths in Fear Effect, but it is greater when the
monsters are free to move in the streets of Silent Hill. This fear
is amplified when you can’t clearly see around, specially when
you find yourself in the scary places in the vein of the
nightmarish world of Silent Hill where streets or floors are
replaced by rusty grates over bottomless abysses, where walls
and floors are splattered with blood and where you hear all
kinds of industrial and creepy sounds. Then, we also have to
take the way game designers can be playing with you into
account. They are intentionally putting you in a state of terror.
An example of this happened at one point during my
experiential route of fear in Silent Hill 2. I was of two minds as
to how to get out of the laundry room on the third floor of the
Wood Side Apartments in the beginning of the game (Figure
9).The radio was transmitting white noise, but I could also hear
footsteps of some sorts and what seemed to be the growling
and shrieking of a huge monster. I was too scared to move.
When I finally came out, I was very tense and anticipated an
encounter with what turned out to be no more than a normal
lone Patient Demon. The appraisal of the situation might have
been different with a weapon other than just a wooden plank. I
would have certainly felt more secure with a gun in my hand.
But then, in Resident Evil, it is not a handgun, but a bazooka
that you need in order to be at ease in front of a Hunter, a
monster much faster and powerful than the zombies.
Figure 9: Too scared to get out of the laundry room of the
Wood Side Apartments in Silent Hill 2 (Konami/Konami,
2001).
To explain the relation between coping and emotion, Folkman
and Lazarus distinguish two general and interrelated coping
processes. The first strategies, called emotion-focused coping,
are employed to regulate the situation causing distress. As
Folkman and Lazarus talk among others about avoidant and
vigilant strategies, another way to understand this is to refer to
the degree to which individuals will either monitor (seeking
information) or blunt (avoiding information) under threat
[18]. Dispositional differences show that monitors (Miller is
talking about high monitors/low blunters) scan for threat-
relevant information and prefer to attend to information
signaling the nature and onset of the shock as well as
information about their performance when carrying out a task.
Contrarily, blunters (i.e. high blunters/low monitors) tend to
avoid informational cues and distract themselves from threat-
relevant signals. Using this distinction to study the
interaction between forewarning and preferred coping style in
relation to emotion reactions to a suspenseful movie, Glen G.
Sparks discusses his findings: “Instead of an increase in
negative emotion for all participants due to forewarning, the
data indicate that forewarning may operate differently for
individuals with different preferred coping styles. Monitors
may actually prefer forewarning in order to cope with a scary
movie, while blunters may prefer no prior information” [11: p.
337]. Although this experiment and the previously mentioned
ones deal with the effects of forewarning outside the time flow
of a film viewing and don’t set forth to explain the appeal of
such suspenseful movies and horror movies (see studies of
sensation seeking for more on this issue), the results still
indicate that monitors have more intense emotional reactions
when they are forewarned, while blunters do not. Monitors
would probably prefer the warning system of a game like Fatal
Frame which gives audiovisual cues as well as making the
controller vibrate when a spirit appears. In fact, I refer to this
distinction in order to explain why a few web reviewers have
suggested turning off the radio in Silent Hill because it
detracts from the surprise-factor of Resident Evil. The copying
preference seems to be one explanation. At least, this
demonstrates that, according to the type of gamer you are, the
effects of a warning system will be different.
If the preceding remark proves to be questionable because
emotion-coping strategies are, above all, used to deal with
stressful events the outcomes of which are considered to be
unchangeable, the second type of coping process stressed by
Folkman and Lazarus is undoubtable. Called problem-focused
coping, those coping strategies are directed at altering the
situation that causes distress. They are used this time for
outcomes that are amenable to change. Thus, in Grodal’s terms,
you have active personal coping potentials in video games.
And you will undoubtedly make use of them. Among the
available types of control, you especially have behavioral
control. With the Dualshock controller, you can change the
actual terms of the person-environment relationship. A
forewarning is an emotional cue, but also a cognitive cue for
problem solving. Let’s quickly distinguish two forms of such
coping. In survival horror games, a confrontational coping
strategy that makes an individual fight back somewhat
aggressively when facing a difficulty comes down to killing
the monster. When you know that there is a monster nearby,
you go to destroy it. This is how fearless gamers are likely to
handle threats. In the other way, you can manage the situation
in a more rational and planned manner. You appraise more
consciously the magnitude of the threat before you face it. You
then decide if it’s better to attack or to avoid and escape the
monster. A timorous gamer can be expected to react in this
way. In any case, the coping process can change through out a
game. As Folkman and Lazarus point out: “[d]uring the
anticipatory phase of the encounter, cognitive coping
strategies can transform a threat appraisal into a challenge
through their affect on secondary appraisal [during which you
ask yourself what are your options for coping]” [11: p. 321].
One will agree that it is less stressful and much more fun to
face a monster (and even more so a boss monster!) when you
have the appropriate weapon, plenty of ammunition and first
aid kits to recover from damage. It is also reassuring to know
that you have mastered all the controls of a game and that you
can move freely and (most importantly) quickly in the game-
world. With all adequate coping resources, you can interpret
the sign of a threat differently.
6. CONCLUSION
Because forewarning intensifies emotional reactions about
upcoming frightening events and increases anxiety when there
is still uncertainty about the outcome of those events, this
paper should have ultimately prepared you to play your next
survival horror game. Now it’s up to you to play and cope with
your next ludic journey to hell.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
This paper has been written with the support of the Social
Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC)
and le Fonds québécois de la recherche sur la société et la
culture (FQRSC).
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... Em Alone in the Dark, é possível encontrar criaturas letais, e são esses encontros que distinguem o género. Como Perron (2004) afirma: "The conflict between the avatar and those monsters is the dominant element of horror" (p. 2). ...
... Other papers, although not making claims about atmosphere directly, discuss the effects of lighting patterns on motivation, performance, tension, and the ability to elicit emotions, respectively [13,46,58,73]. One of the few papers which mention atmosphere in terms of audio notes the "chilling atmosphere" of Silent Hill and found that auditory and visual forewarning intensifies emotional reactions to upcoming frightening events [64]. Further, in a study of players' affective state prior to and after scary events in a game, music was rated as the third scariest element after shock and sound [81]. ...
Conference Paper
Game atmosphere and game audio are critical factors linked to the commercial success of video games. However, game atmosphere has been neither operationalized nor clearly defined in games user research literature, making it difficult to study. We define game atmosphere as the emerging subjective experience of a player caused by the strong audiovisual thematic cohesion (i.e., the harmonic fit of sounds and graphics to a shared theme) of video game elements. We studied players' experience of thematic cohesion in two between-subjects, independent-measures experiments (N=109) across four conditions differing in their level of audiovisual thematic fit. Participants' experiences were assessed with physiological and psychometric measurements to understand the effect of game atmosphere on player experience. Results indicate that a lack of thematic fit between audio and visuals lowers the degree of perceived atmosphere, but that while audiovisual thematic dissonance may lead to higher-intensity negative-valence facial events, it does not impact self-reported player experience or immersion.
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Virtual environments and games are often used to evoke positive emotions. Contrary the survival horror genre aims to induce negative feelings in players. The effects of playing fear-inducing games in virtual reality (VR) is rather unexplored, since research mainly focuses on positive emotions. To investigate the relationship between immersion, presence and negative emotion induction, we compared repeated horror game usage between playing on desktop computers, in VR, and smart substitutional reality (SSR), which supplements VR with additional haptic and thermal stimuli. Conducting a longitudinal study utilizing questionnaires, observations and physiological measurements, we expected an increase of fear using VR and SSR due to the increased immersion. Physiological data was not analyzed due to huge data loss, while observations and self-reports revealed contradictory results. Behavioral data showed stronger expression of fear in VR and SSR. Presence was increased in the VR and SSR groups compared to PC, further a mediation of emotion induction via presence was confirmed. Altogether, the reception of horror games within VR or SSR is associated with strong emotional reactions for selected individuals. Future research should take methodological lessons learned into account.
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explore the informational structures of suspenseful drama and mystery, and . . . examine the cognitive and affective reactions to the information flow in these popular genres of entertainment / analyze both suspense and mystery in conceptual terms, specify unique characteristics, and indicate pure forms and common admixtures / focus is on the different strategies of cognitive and affective manipulation and on the diverse combinations of cognitive and affective enjoyment that results [sic] from such manipulation / theories projecting the enjoyment of both suspense and mystery are presented / finally, the theories are evaluated in the light of the available research evidence (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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This chapter begins with a number of very common movie events. They bear testimony to the hardly controversial observation that, in large measure, affect is the glue that holds the audience's attention to the screen on a moment-to-moment basis. The author mentions “affect” here rather than “emotion,” even though it might be acceptable in ordinary language to label all the presented examples as instances of emotional response. The author's reason for this way of speaking is that the ordinary notion of emotion can be exceedingly broad and elastic, sometimes ranging so widely as to encompass hardwired reflex reactions, kinesthetic turbulence, moods, sexual arousal, pleasures and desires, as well as occurrent mental states like anger, fear, and sorrow.
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Modern Fiction Studies 45.2 (1999) 553-556 The title of this book perhaps looks merely catchy but is cogent to its argument: that compelling narratives from antiquity to the present, whether classical or popular, are perennial, but that the medium of narration changes in time and new narrative opportunities appear with emerging technologies. Fans of Star Trek will recognize the "holodeck" in question as a "universal fantasy machine," allowing a living person to enter into a world of story as if it were 3-D reality. At present the holodeck exists only in fiction, but Janet Murray examines in detail the way narratives produced in digital formats have begun to simulate imaginary worlds in which one can become immersed as an agent who has the power to transform a course of action. The author optimistically predicts that an emerging cyberdrama "need not resemble Huxley 'feelies'," in Brave New World, but can offer "satisfactions continuous with those we receive from established narrative formats," and perhaps the originality we recognize as art. Arguing strongly against the view that newer forms of expression are intrinsically inferior to earlier ones -- that film is inferior to drama, for example -- she asserts that we have focused inappropriately on the worth of various media in the last quarter century when we should instead have acknowledged "a general crisis in meaning." Finally, Murray is not asking if Hamlet will play on the holodeck but if in cyberspace we can attain to an artistic truth equivalent to that achieved by Shakespeare on the Elizabethan stage. Hamlet on the Holodeck takes a long view of the technologies of narrative, pre- and post-Gutenberg, paying particular attention to forms of storytelling that seem to anticipate and legitimate those emerging in cyberspace, for example, those that play with the border between fiction and reality, those requiring the active participation of an audience, or those offering alternative plotlines. Reminding us that books printed before 1501 are called "incunabula," from the Latin word for swaddling clothes, Murray sets the stage for a detailed discussion of largely experimental composition on the narrative computer, "a technology still in its infancy." At considerable length she examines storytelling in electronic games, such as Mortal Kombat, role-playing in virtual environments on the Internet called MUDs and MOOs, dialogue engendered by ELIZA and her daughters, computer programs capable of responding to simple typed questions, and interactive stories composed by Murray's own students at MIT. It is a strength of this book that Murray, trained as a Victorian scholar and a teacher of humanities for many years, brings to her study of electronic composition an Aristotelian sense of analytic categories and writes about new media with great clarity. Less satisfactory to this reader is her antipathy to contemporary theorists whom she sums up inaccurately as "denouncing meaning as something to be deconstructed into absurdity." Aversion to much postmodern theory, together with a conviction that we stand in the "infancy" of electronic writing, leads to a slighting of sophisticated work by hypertext writer-theorists such as Michael Joyce and Stuart Moulthrop and somewhat overextended appreciation of such phenomena as electronic games and the authorship of chatterbots (computer-generated "characters" programmed to mimic speech, or at least certain verbal tics). Though computer-generated characters may at this moment appear merely fanciful, the aim of their creators is to achieve what computer scientists call "emergent behavior," the ability to go beyond what these characters have been programmed to do. At present still an "exciting possibility," machines that exhibit emergence will bring us, Murray believes, to "a new threshold in our ability to represent complex systems . . . whether thermodynamics, war strategies, or human behavior." The imaginative artist of cyberspace narrative will be a "procedural author," one who, godlike, defines rules of action rather than determining behavior itself. Relying strongly on analogy with past success in narrative form, Murray argues that successful cybernarrative must establish its own conventions, "rules by which things should happen," and structures for...
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Forewarning about the events to occur in a horror film increased the degree to which subjects reported that they were frightened and upset by the depicted events.
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An experiment examined the influence of prior information on children's emotional responses to a frightening program. Children at two age levels (5–7 and 9–11 years) viewed a program that included a threatening scene and a happy resolution. Before viewing, they heard one of four audiotaped introductions created by factorially varying information about the threat (forewarning, no forewarning) and the happy outcome (prior knowledge, no prior knowledge). Emotional responses were assessed through self-reports, facial expressions (coded using hard's Affex coding scheme), and skin temperature (as an index of physiological arousal). Self-reports of emotion revealed that forewarning of the threat increased anticipatory fear but did not affect emotional responses to the threatening scene. Prior knowledge of the happy outcome tended to reduce anticipatory fear but had a somewhat inconsistent effect on fear during the threatening scene. Changes in skin temperature over time were consistent with predictions, but no effects of the manipulations emerged for facial expressions of negative affect. Expected age differences were not observed for either type of prior information. Responses to the happy outcome were also examined. Children's reports of coping strategies and the results of manipulation checks were considered in interpreting the findings.
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Two factors said to produce varying levels of dramatic suspense are examined: degree of perceived outcome-uncertainty and audience disposition toward the hero-protagonist. In spite of the general consensus that these two factors affect suspense, there is wide disagreement as to the optimal level of viewer uncertainty regarding the hero's fate, and there is some question as to whether it is necessary for the viewer to be positively disposed toward the hero to produce a maximal level of suspense. To test competing claims, different versions of an audio-visually presented chase sequence were produced. Experimental materials were varied in a factorial design featuring the five levels of perceived outcome-uncertainty (hero's chances of success/survival = 0/100, 1/100, 25/100, 50/100, 100/100) and three levels of disposition toward the protagonist (neutral, mildly positive, strongly positive). Sex of viewer was included as a third factor. Degree of experienced suspense was assessed in viewer ratings. Both perceived outcome-uncertainty and viewer disposition variables yielded strong effects, though no significant sex differences were found. Rated suspense was at a maximum when the hero's chances of success/survival were perceived to be about one in 100 and minimal when either success or failure seemed absolutely certain. Further, suspense increased with increasingly positive dispositions toward the protagonist. Practical and theoretical implications of these results are considered.