3rd Person Perspective in Horror Games

We’re going to be doing Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land as a 3rd person type game.  By that I mean you can see the characters you control, as opposed to 1st person, where you look though the eyes of the character you control.  There are a number of reasons for doing this, but I wanted to chat about one in particular today.  That reason is to do with fear, fear of pain, damage and death…

In a 3rd person game you see the body of the character you control, so there is a slight dislocation between your view and theirs, but its not long before you see them as you, so when your character gets hurt, so you you.  The same happens in 1st person, however because you don’t see the body of the character as much (if at all) then there is (I feel) a slight dislocation of the damage done to your character.  For horror games, this is a crucial way to evoke fear. Let me give you an example.  This video shows combat from the 2001 horror game Undying (a fun game) and your character taking damage:

Now compare that to another game, this time a 3rd person horror title, the fab Resident Evil 5:

Now I know its a little unfair as there is almost 10 years difference in the technology between the two, but my point is in the sense of damage, hence fear for your virtual body. In the 3rd person I think that fear is much more palpable.

About Tomas

Design & Production Director at Auroch Digital. Designer of Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land. Writing and blogging things that surprise, entertain and interest me...
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4 Responses to 3rd Person Perspective in Horror Games

  1. John says:

    For my two cents, I find first person horror to be more effective then 3rd person.
    With the 3rd person I see my avatar being attacked, running away from dangers and what have you. I become aware of the danger my character is in, but I am also distant from it. I have the ability to look around, to curse the limited field of view to see options, to notice the interface. It feels like a game.
    With a good first person, I feel like I’m being attacked and that I have to run away from the danger. The current generation of first person games are gripping enough that with a strong story to back it up I can find myself sucked into the world and likely to jump if approached from behind. Especially if it’s a cat leaping onto my chair at the wrong moment.

  2. Tomas says:

    Hi John,

    Thanks for your 2 cents – that is a really good point and one I do struggle with in deciding which view is best. I agree 1st person has a directness about it. Out of interested what 1st person horror games would you rate as good examples of this?

    Also my one of my cats has a habit of walking on the keyboard at the wrong moment. I died playing Crysis on PC recently thanks to it!


  3. juv3nal says:

    With the caveat that I don’t really like being scared when playing a game, I find first person to be much scarier. The reason is the restricted view. In 3rd person, even if the camera follow distance is relatively close and something nasty could be lurking just out of view, there is the sense that you are aware of what is directly next to your avator or behind it, whereas with 1st person, your field of view is locked in front of at an angle that is maybe even more restricted than in real life (if you take into account peripheral vision). Something could be directly adjacent to you in 1st person and you wouldn’t see it until you turn around whereas that is never going to be the case with 3rd person.

  4. Tomas says:

    Good point juv3nal – what you can’t see is very scary. I think this raises the point of audio; the sound in games has come a long way over the years and is now a crucial part of the experience. Hearing something – and not seeing it (‘cos it’s behind you) is a much scarier experience!

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