Whether you’re playing a scary maze game or watching the latest horror movie, there is one tried and true technique that people are using in order to get your heart racing. We’ve all experienced it. That huge buildup of tension, you’re concentrating so hard on not being scared, and then it happens. The jump scare. Something pops up, usually accompanied by a loud noise, and you can’t help by be scared. You start nervously laughing and looking around to make sure you weren’t the only one fooled.
A classic example of this is the scary maze game. You’ll be going through the maze and all of a sudden a scary picture will fill your screen, and a woman will scream from the top of her lungs. It’s a cheap shot, but it’s effective.
Jump scares are most effective when there is a significant amount of buildup towards them. The tension needs to accumulate slowly. All too often, people use the jump scare as a crutch and it really becomes a nuisance. Think of the worst horror movie you’ve ever seen. Was it bad because it made you jump over and over again for no reason? That can be exhausting as an audience member.
Many video games will lean on this crutch to the point of absurd predictability. It no longer becomes scary and severely detracts from the storyline. It turns the game into a comedy rather than a true horror.
This is often referred to as “cattle prod cinema.” It gets to the point where you are no longer being scared, but rather jolted. If this is done well, it will work over and over on the same person. No matter how many times I’ve seen The Shining, the appearance of those little girls at the end of the hall always makes me jump. This is an example of an effective jump scare. The movie isn’t riddled with them. They are sprinkled in here and there just after a slow buildup of tension.
There are no shortage of people who delight in watching others being scared. Jump scare reaction videos are amongst the highest viewed videos on YouTube. Five Night’s at Freddy’s was voted as perfect for live-streaming because of the way it employs jump scares. People just love watching other people jump. This could be due to the fact that they were scared too. It’s comforting to know that you weren’t the only one.
Whether you’re the manliest of men, or the most timid of women, a jump scare will have you reacting almost in the same way. A jolt of energy will cause your muscles to contract and your adrenal glands to secrete adrenaline. What happens next is up to your personality. Do you scream? Do you punch out? Do you actually fall from your chair? Will you just sit there laughing maniacally? Watch some internet screamers, videotape yourself, and find out. Then do it to your friends. You might just go viral. At the very least, you’ll have some fun.