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How Shinji Mikami scares gamers in The Evil Within

Platforms: Sony PlayStation 4 | PC

Pant-wetting, nerve-jangling, a cavalcade of unknown terrors, creepy as hell – these are just some of the ways that Shinji Mikami’s The Evil Within has been described in the media. Mikami has had years of honing the art of creeping gamers out, but how does the Godfather of survival horror do this? We gave Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Russell Green a demo of the game to look at the science behind how the team at Tango Gameworks strikes at the fear lurking inside all of us.

Dr Russell Green:
Shinji Mikami and his team at Tango Gameworks cleverly use many of our instinctual fears combined to generate fear in the player.
Having had a preview of the game I can see that like all great recipes it’s a matter of getting good quality ingredients and then putting them together in the right way.
1) Lighting
Humans don’t like the dark because our ancestors got eaten by animals that hunted at night. Shadows instil the same fear so being stood in a well-lit area but having dark areas around you is going to have your adrenaline flowing ready for something to jump out at you.
2) Being alone
Humans evolved living in groups. In a group there are many eyes checking for danger - you have friends to help you fight and if it comes to running hopefully the attacking animal picks someone else to chase. Alone we feel vulnerable and hence scared, and in the game you are very much alone, except for all of the things trying to kill you.
3) Disorientation
We generally like being in familiar surroundings - we are likely to have friends there and we know the geography, where to hide, where to run. So being in a strange environment, especially one that changes unpredictably, triggers fear. The game does this by moving you around environments that are complex and difficult to negotiate. The nature of the storyline adds to this - it is far from obvious and leaves you unsure of what is next, except that it isn’t going to be good.
4) Vulnerability
You are not a superhero or armed with a huge gun with endless ammo, so you quickly learn that it’s easy to get killed. You run out of ammo, your opponents are generally stronger, sometimes faster and occasionally indestructible. Humans are designed to quickly judge an opponent and decide fight or flight Knowing there is something we can’t win against means we are always ready to run and that we feel as fear.
5) Unpredictability
Things change, the room that was safe last time isn’t now. Our own built-in instinct system learns from this and starts to assume everywhere is dangerous and so can’t take a breather.

Shinji Mikami has his own take on how he made The Evil Within so terrifying:

“It’s really hard to scare people these days, especially horror fans. I trust my gut instinct and senses to create fear, but it’s a lot of trial and error. Real-life horror experiences are the most effective way to scare gamers. What a person feels is terrifying or scary in real life are things that work in games. Emulating them in the game tends to work in my experience.”

“Dawn of the Dead has always been my favourite horror movie and while it didn’t directly inspire The Evil Within, I think it has influenced the game indirectly as it did with my other games. Other favourites are Jaws and Alien but I also took inspiration from Shutter Island and Inception for The Evil Within.”

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