Randomisation as a Powerful Tool in Horror Games

Rikke Lynge Petersen

As we all know, the element of surprise is key for horror games. However, you can only use so many jumpscares before they lose their effect and become predictable. When a horror game with a fixed set of events has been played through once or if the player has failed the same section repeatedly, it becomes predictable. The fear factor may persist but to some extent it will become more “mild”. It can even become a nuisance. That may be why some horror games fall short in terms of replayability. The player may be motivated to play it through multiple times to re-experience the story, lore, or feel of the game, but the game is less scary and has lost some of its charm. We see that in FNAF; the player becomes indifferent, almost ‘numb’, to the scary elements. What is left of their experience is exclusively the mechanics and strategy aspect of the game as they attempt to beat it. It can be compared to spicy food – with enough exposure to it, your tolerance level increases and the food tastes less spicy.

Somehow, The Mortuary Assistant is different. It doesn’t appear to be anything out of the ordinary until you play it a multitude of times and the scare level remains mostly consistent throughout. Why is this? Randomisation. The different scares in The Mortuary Assistant are random, thus, making the experience unique every time it is played. A lot of Let’s Plays of the game convey exactly this:

“I’m so paranoid now that something (…) i think that’s that’s a really good point for this game that all the scares are like randomised basically you don’t know what’s happening when and it makes it really good because it just puts you on edge “ [1]

“[…] the spooks are random enough that it can get you creeped out even if you have played it many many times over.” [2]

Of course, randomisation alone is not enough. It works so well because there are a multitude of different things that can happen in The Mortuary Assistant. Some small events keep you on your toes, such as a demon appearing behind your laptop screen while you mindlessly browse the night shift database. Others are major in that they convey the game’s story while being terrifying yet intriguing. Some are in between, such as when grandma shows up with a kind smile and mellifluous voice, and then jumps you with a knife. It is this abundance and diversity of events combined with the randomization that keeps the game fresh and the horror spine-chilling for multiple play-throughs. It takes many replays for nothing new to happen anymore, and even then the combination of events can vary.

The Mortuary Assistant is a prime example of how randomization can be a powerful tool because of its ability to retain the scare level and improve replayability. It is especially admirable considering how story-driven the game is. It is possible for you to forget that you are in fact playing a horror game after a while – to which the game kindly reminds you. It may be a scare you have seen before but since you never know exactly when and what scares show up, you stay alert and paranoid throughout the game.

Maybe there are other aspects of games in which randomisation could serve as a powerful tool that we are unaware of? Either way, I believe that the horror genre in general could benefit from more of it.

[1] Gab Smolders (August 8, 2022). Ending hunting in the Mortuary Assistant [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gtq4357TPrU&ab_channel=GabSmolders

[2] Markiplier (August 23, 2022). The Mortuary Assistant: Part 4 [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsD8eghb2IQ&t=2445s&ab_channel=Markiplier