I’ve never been much scared by scary movies. (I think the last one was It, when it came out two decades ago.) But I do get scared or at least creeped out by scary video games like this one. I was trying to figure out why that is, and I came to the conclusion that, for me at least, the difference was choice.
Watching a movie, everything that is going to happen was already filmed. It’s going to come or it isn’t. I can get invested in the characters and be nervous about whether they will get jumped by the evil thing from out of the darkness, but that’s not the same thing as being scared by the possibility. The filmmakers have already decided when the scares come. Even if they’re good at it and I can’t predict it, it’s still not scary for me.
But in a game like that one or a number of other ones I’ve played but can’t find the links to right now, the choice is all in my hands. Whether or not I get scared/attacked/jumped depends on how well I play the game. Do I see the monster first, or does it see me? There’s also a great degree of randomness because it’s not a set sequence of events like a film – it’s a computer program randomly determining when certain events will happen in-game.
What if this could be applied to films?
If the filmmakers could film alternate versions of different scenes, and have the DVD projector in the theater hooked up to some feedback machine that tells the DVD player (the FUTURE DVD player of greater power than we have now, that can make such transitions smoothly) whether to, for example, starting with Frame #10493, switch to option A, the character onscreen running left, or option B, running right. If the character runs left, they get splatted, and if they run right, they don’t. (Depending on how much filming the filmmakers want to do, and how much processing power and memory the DVD player has, this could be either just a false choice – run right, the character survives, but only for another thirty seconds – or a real choice, that leads to an entirely different movie with that character alive.)
The feedback machine would be hooked up to the audience. It could be a brain interface (that’s a bit further in the future), or it could be in the armrests or something. Whatever it is, it detects subconscious preferences or choices on the part of the audience – if three-quarters of the audience is thinking “go left!” or is subconsciously squeezing their left hand on the armrest, then the feedback machine has the DVD player switch to the ‘go left’ option A. (Or, if the filmmakers are evil, it does the opposite.)
This way, the audience knows that 1) they are responsible, at least partly, for what happens on screen; and 2) they have no direct control over it, both because the feedback machine is based on subconscious things, and because the overall audience response overrides their personal one.
Imagine watching a standard horror movie – Sue approaches the door with trepidation. The camera looks into her face; there’s darkness over her shoulder as she moves forward to the door. Wait – was that a movement behind her?
It’s a standard horror movie, so, yes, it was. She opens the door… but nothing is inside. She’s relived. False relief! The thing behind her jumps on her.
Now imagine it’s a feedback horror movie. Now, Sue essentially has a ‘choice’ – she can open the door and get the false-relief-and-then-jump, or she can turn around and see (and run from) the thing behind her. You sit there watching. You see the movement over her shoulder. You look around. Did no one else in the theater see that? OH GOD! you think. SHE NEEDS TO TURN AROUND! BEHIND YOU! NO DON’T OPEN THE DOOR! She moves towards the handle… you think PLEASE LET THE AUDIENCE HAVE NOTICED… OR WAS I WRONG AND SHE NEEDS TO GO THROUGH THE DOOR? This could go either way… and she reaches the knob, and…
Yeah, it would probably be too upsetting for the people who get scared by current horror movies.
Stuff like this is within the bounds of reality, and of the technology that we’ll see in our lifetimes, albeit possibly quite a number of years off.
For now, it’s just the thought I had. That would be a horror movie I’d be truly frightened by.
Now to go watch Cabin in the Woods.