Getting Graphic: While The Academy Notoriously Snubs Horror, It Flourishes In The Gaming Community

When it comes to video games, horror is widely acknowledged and celebrated as a serious genre.

By Brandon Trush · @soitgoes__13 · March 25, 2022, 7:00 PM EDT
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We're around the point when new year's resolutions begin to fall flat, and the cyclical phrase "Maybe next year!" starts being thrown around. A similar sentiment has become ubiquitous with The Oscars when it comes to horror. Year after year, despite horror films smashing box office records and dominating cultural discussions, the glimmer of hope that this year The Oscars will recognize those films is repeatedly snuffed out.

At this point, it's expected —when this year's nominees were announced, fans were quick to point out the omission of last year's hits: No recognition for Elisha Christian's chillingly beautiful cinematography for The Night House? John Carpenter's stellar score for Halloween Kills? The case on the snubbing of horror by The Academy and, by extension, serious film critics (whatever that means) is nothing new, but an interesting discrepancy is notable with film's neighboring industry: when it comes to video games, horror is widely acknowledged and celebrated as a serious genre.

The Game Awards, arguably the most prominent gaming awards event of the past decade, is an excellent example of the discrepancy when looking at The Oscars as its award show counterpart. During its sixth year, The Game Awards gave its most prestigious Game Of The Year award to its first horror game with Naughty Dogs' The Last of Us Part II in 2020. To put things into perspective, in The Oscars' 94-year run, only one horror movie has ever taken home its most prestigious award, with Silence of the Lambs winning Best Picture in 1991–its 64th show.

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This discrepancy isn't just limited to The Oscars and The Game Awards. The general attitude between the two tends to differ drastically regarding horror. Where many would describe horror films as cheap, mindless, splatterfests when looking at films like Scream or the Fear Street series, others tend to laud horror games as heart-wrenching, emotional experiences with titles like The Last of Us or Days Gone.

For starters, there are often polarized discussions related to what exactly classifies a film as "horror." For example, Netflix's Don't Look Up, a devastating albeit satirical take on the apocalypse, is nominated this year for Best Picture. When I watched Don't Look Up, I found myself chuckling at some of its caricatures that play on real-life phenomenons (people that are so obsessed with media attention that it literally clouds them from acknowledging a giant meteor crashing down on them). Yet, I walked away from the film more anxious and unsettled than amused–something that not even many films advertised as horror can inflict upon me. It's the apocalypse!

Spoiler alert

All of the protagonists die in abrupt, blazing destruction, and the film does a great job showing how quickly society can unravel when a great tragedy strikes! And yet, I can guarantee if I described the movie as horror to someone, nine times out of ten, they'd viscerally reply, "No, no. If anything, I'd say that film is actually a psychological thriller." Don't Look Up didn't thrill me. It scared the hell out of me!

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There seems to be a prevailing thought that the classification of "horror" is tainted –as though you're doing a disservice to the film by defining it as horror. A film can't be horror–it's a psychological thriller. A dark comedy. Science fiction. And if it is horror, it carries the connotation that it's cheaply made, reuses redundant film techniques, or has no depth. And yet, when looking at video games, there doesn't seem to be nearly as much apprehension with branding a game as horror. If somebody said, "The Silent Hill series is a great horror series!" you'd never hear someone quickly quip, "Eh, it's more of a psychological drama."

Perhaps it stems from the fact that the film industry became more set in its ways over time than modern, plot-driven games. As is the case with The Academy, a century has given critics time to establish a canon of what is "good" and "bad" when it comes to film. Historically, horror films trended towards smaller budgets, more "out there" content, and embraced the socially taboo. This may have contributed to the foundation of horror leaving a bad taste in the mouths of many critics. Video games also do all of the above, but the medium has come into itself in recent decades. Rather than relying on preconceived notions of genre, the video game industry has flourished during a time when art is much more accessible, and boundary-pushing is more accepted.

Social media has undoubtedly contributed to expanding the dialogue surrounding genre and giving credit where credit is due. There's something comical about seeing the official account of The Academy make a tweet celebrating the extensive history of the Scream series, only to have countless people hop in its mentions to say, "Then where are the awards for it?" Even more interesting is that The Academy has established a new "Fan Favorite Award," which allows viewers to "make their voices heard" by casting votes for the wild card films of their choosing. This is no doubt an effort to drum up viewership to counteract its rapidly declining viewership.

It begs the question: Is there maybe an entire, untapped audience of genre fans that are being turned off by the repeated snubbing? It may be time to cast aside preconceived notions. Just look at the numbers: A Quiet Place II, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, and Candyman were all within the top 50 performing films of 2021. Clearly, horror is doing something right! On the other hand, horror is one of the most celebrated genres currently in gaming, and it's flourishing as a result. Dead By Daylight and Dying Light 2: Stay Human are both within the top 25 most-streamed video games on Twitch right now (and Dead By Daylight is nearly six years old). Horror games are constantly being celebrated and recognized, and the fandom is benefitting from it. The only pushback you're likely to hear when talking up a horror game to somebody is, "No way, I'd be too scared to play it!"

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It seems like attitudes are shifting a bit in the film industry regarding the genre. Many speculate that the recent string of tragic and anxiety-inducing world events have led many to embrace horror as an escape. I definitely think that's a huge contributing factor, but I also like to believe that the prevailingly positive attitudes toward horror in the gaming space may be funneling into the film space as well!