Defining Horror, with Thomas Grip

‘Defining Horror’ is our new series that explores the creative minds behind the horror games that we love. Each entry in the series will share new aspects of the creative process, shining light on a developer’s idea of what makes a quality horror experience, what elements are integral to a horror game, as well as what goes into effectively making an impact on the player. ‘Defining Horror’ is a series that aims to give gamers insight into what the horror genre means to those who have developed or are developing horror games.

Below you will find Thomas Grip’s definition of horror.

Name: Thomas Grip
Company: Frictional Games
Title: Creative Director at Frictional Games
Past Projects: Penumbra Trilogy, Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Current Projects: Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, Unannounced Project

When I first started making horror games back in 1999 or so, my main goal was to evoke certain emotions. I had just gotten into Lovecraft at the time and was already a big fan both Koontz and King. I loved the feeling of the unknown, of the paranormal and just stuff that I felt did not fit into normal life; that behind the veil of normalcy, there was something disturbing lurking. This was the kind of feeling I wanted to replicate and, without me knowing at the time, it had become my long term goal for over ten years to come.

I guess this is a pretty normal view on horror; the goal is simply to use all means possible to make the audience deeply uncomfortable. While, of course, there are certain themes and subject matters that I found extra interesting, the main aim was just to evoke this sense of creepiness and terror. Amnesia: The Dark Descent can be said to be a culmination of this search. When we made this game, there was always a constant focus on making sure we really got under the player’s skin.

At the end of Amnesia, though, I started thinking about horror a bit differently. I no longer saw it as something that was just scary, but something that could discuss important subjects. This was probably a reason why I liked horror in the first place, but had never been something that I had consciously thought about. There are many things that we do not feel comfortable talking about in our normal lives, but horror presents a sort of safe outlet for these issues. This can be seen in the works of Lovecraft, Poe, Barker, and many more. What really brings their stories home is that they are founded on these important, yet disturbing, subject matters.

Something that I have always found intriguing is how evil comes about, how it really is the situation that shapes whether somebody is good or evil. This was something I wanted to get into Amnesia, but it got added too late and was not really a proper part of the game. You cannot just wedge something like this into a design, it needs to be there from the very beginning.

Having an a certain subject at the very core was how our latest, and still secret, project came about, but it did not start out as a horror game. However, as development moved on, we found that shaping it all as horror would be the best way to get the message across. The more we dug into it, the more the creepy and downright unsettling the experience became. I have found that when you think about some things, many of these being the most important questions we can ask our selves, the further into the territory of horror you come.

This is what horror is to me now. The best of horror asks us to face things we normally would not dare. It asks us to take a point of view that we would never consider otherwise. It is in horror that we can probe things the furthest and examine to most fundamental parts of our existence the closest.

Previously, film and writing have only allowed us to take part from a distance, looking over the shoulder as things unfold. Now, with this wonderful medium of videogames, we are no longer passive observers. We can be put in the middle of these happening, be forced to take action, and come closer to the horror than ever before. To use this to the fullest is what drives me now. I am incredibly excited to see how far we can push this.

-Thomas Grip