Blog Archives

Gore-ist information: A brief look at virtual reality horror games

“I recently played ‘The Visitor’ in VR. In front of an audience of drunken friends egging on my high pitch outbursts. I lasted seven out of the ten minutes, finally succumbing after a close encounter with a pixelated pillow. The Visitor’s story is about an unexpected guest calling to your house in the middle of the night. Developed by ‘NostalgicBear VR’ for the ‘Oculus Rift’ and ‘HTC Vive’ it relies on atmosphere to unsettle players, using visual cues in the form of intermittent flickering lights to inform the player where to look. Paralysed and lying in bed, you can only wait and watch as the strange occurrences culminate in one of the biggest jump scares I’ve ever experienced. As virtual reality goes, this particular experience has a high creep factor. It’s one of those new VR ‘games’ that really should come with a free pair of pants…In the wake of the PlayStation VR release, headed up by the dark and psychological Here They Lie, pretty much every major gaming outlet slashed their prices on horror games and gamers all over the world have been celebrating Halloween with their first exposure to a virtual reality freak out…VR grips the gamer with such a suspension of disbelief; when the headset is on there is seemingly no escape. Do developers take into account the psychological differences between previous gaming horror experiences and that of VR?”

The opening quote in today’s blog is from an article by Gareth May published last month for the Wareable website (‘Could VR horror be too…horrifying?’). I was interviewed by May for the story and is one of a number of media stories that I have been interviewed over the last year concerning virtual reality. Regular readers of my blog will know that I have a personal interest in horror films and a professional interest in excessive use of virtual reality so it was an interview I enjoyed doing (in fact, May interviewed me for two stories simultaneously, the other being on mechanophilia – sexual arousal from machines – which also was published last month in an article in the Daily Telegraph).

In his article on VR horror, May wanted to know about whether the playing of VR horror games could be problematic in any way (or as May asked me, ‘Is it possible that VR is just a bit too ‘real’?’). I pointed out that there had been little empirical research on the topic and that almost everything that I said was speculative. I noted that while VR is certainly more immersive than usual, we should remember that immersion can occur even without being in an VR environment. For instance, a lot of my research into video gaming demonstrates that gaming can be immersive (particularly the research I have been carrying out with Dr. Angelica Ortiz de Gortari on game transfer phenomena and some research I co-authored in the mid-2000s on time loss in video game play). I did point out to May that for most people, there’s not going to be a problem with playing VR horror games. Those that already enjoy watching horror films, the vast majority will probably love it even more in VR and it’s not going to have a negative impact on them. I told May that I loved gore in horror films and said that I would probably be fine playing an immersive horror VR game and that seeing somebody being disembowelled in front of me would have little effect on me psychologically. (However, I ought to point out that my few experiences of VR have left me feeling sick as I suffer from motion sickness). However, you can never rule out a small minority of individuals that it may negatively affect either psychologically or traumatically. In short, I don’t have many concerns about this until scientific evidence proves otherwise.

May also interviewed Professor Tanya Krzywinska, Director of the Games Academy at Falmouth University who thinks that VR and horror video games are a good match:

“VR is the next natural step for one of gaming’s most popular genres. Horror made its way into video games very early on [such as] the 1995 point and click ‘Phantasmagoria’ [was] an early breakthrough game due to its use of video snippets to show a ‘real’ actress reacting to the horrific events as they unfolded around her…’Silent Hill’ [was also] a game-changer for its use of sound and its surreal ‘Twin Peak-ish twist’ on survival horror. Both these games utilise a particular emotional palette that I regard as central to games: a sense of claustrophobia and the sense of being unable to act effectively on a situation…VR can make very good use of this palette because of its immersive nature and I think horror is one of the few genres that VR really suits…Horror is very inclined to want to take advantage of new formats to refresh the palette and work with the cache that the novelty provides. Without that novelty, repetition occurs and you then only manage to engage younger audiences who haven’t been around the horror block. Horror is a very suitable place to take a good, long, critical look at ethics and I hope that some game designers see that”.

So is the introduction of VR for the horror genre a game-changer? May also interviewed the independent games developer Sergio Hidalgo, creator of the creepy dungeon game Dreadhalls. He was quoted as saying:

“VR can work as an immersion multiplier, and given that the horror genre is built on immersion, it simply opens more opportunities to create experiences that take advantage of that sense of physicality it can provide. Simply being in a scary environment can be a very engaging experience in VR on its own. This was already true when I started ‘Dreadhalls’ but the technology keeps moving forward and improving with new developments such as room scale or motion tracked controllers…In ‘Dreadhalls’ there are monsters that react to the player’s gaze direction, forcing the player to either not look at them directly or the opposite. This is a much richer interaction when the player is performing it herself rather than via a mouse or controller. ‘Dreadhalls would never have gathered such attention if it weren’t for the new types of interactions and features made possible by VR tech…The main ethical recommendation I have in this regard is that of not betraying the player’s trust. When the player enters a VR experience and surrenders control over their senses to the developer, it’s important that [the players are] aware of exactly what to expect, and that this promise isn’t broken by the developer”.


In an interview that May had with Ben Tester, the games developer of VR horror game Don’t Knock Twice, Tester noted:

“Developers are in a strange predicament where it’s now possible to make a game that’s too scary. For that reason, ‘Don’t Knock Twice’ includes traditional adventure gameplay elements, such as puzzle solving and environmental props, to aid storytelling and remind the player every once in a while that they are still playing a game. We want to make a great horror game that people will remember for sure but we don’t want to make it so uncomfortable that it makes it unplayable. In ‘Don’t Knock Twice’, we want to avoid the player going through a constant stream of scares one after another and instead, create an interesting and atmospheric environment which will creep out any horror enthusiast. It’s about finding the right balance between having a solid gaming experience and immersing the player in a terrifying horror situation…In the VR demo of ‘Don’t Knock Twice’, players can break down a door with an axe. [This often leads to players] leaning their heads forward and triggering the classic ‘Here’s Johnny’ moment [from ‘The Shining’], which only amplifies the jump scare which follows. A scare that wouldn’t have been half as effective if it was in traditional gaming style”.

Finally, May asked me for some advice for those who were scared witless by playing VR horror games. My quoted response? “Just shut your eyes”.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Ashcroft, S. (2015). VR revenue to hit $21.8 billion by 2020. Wareable, July 29. Located at:

Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Can virtual reality be addictive? Virtual Reality News, June 28. Located at:

Juniper Research (2016). White paper: The rise of virtual reality. Available from:

May, G. (2016). Could VR horror be too…horrifying? Wareable, November 3. Located at:

Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Game Transfer Phenomena and its associated factors: An exploratory empirical online survey study. Computers in Human Behavior, 51, 195-202.

Ortiz de Gortari, A.B., Oldfield, B. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). An empirical examination of factors associated with Game Transfer Phenomena severity. Computers in Human Behavior, 64, 274-284.

Ortiz de Gortari, A.B., Pontes, H.M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The Game Transfer Phenomena Scale: An instrument for investigating the non-volitional effects of video game playing. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 18, 588-594.

Stables, J. (2016).  Gambling, gaming and porn: Research says VR is set to blast off. Wareable, September 15. Located at:

Sung, D. (2015). VR and vice: Are we heading for mass addiction to virtual reality fantasies? Wareable, October 15. Located at:

Tractica (2015). Virtual reality for consumer markets. Available at:

Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Time loss whilst playing video games: Is there a relationship to addictive behaviours? International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 5, 141-149.

Wood, R.T.A., Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, A. (2007). Experiences of time loss among videogame players: An empirical study. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 10, 45-56.

Net bets: What makes betting online attractive to gamblers?

Over the past two decades I have carried out a lot of research on what factors are important in attracting people to engaging in online activities such as online video gaming, online gambling, online shopping, and online sex. Research has shown that virtual environments have the potential to provide short-term comfort, excitement and/or distraction – all of which can be highly reinforcing to internet users. My research has consistently shown that there are many generic factors that facilitate online use including accessibility, anonymity, affordability, convenience, escape, immersion, interactivity, disinhibition, and simulation. Today’s blog briefly examines these factors.


Accessibility Access to the Internet is now commonplace and widespread, and can be done easily from the home, the workplace and (via mobile gambling) on the move. Given that the uptake of consumptive behaviours is strongly correlated with increased access to the activity, it is not surprising that the incidence of activities like online gambling and online gaming is slowly increasing across different populations across the world. Fundamentally, increased accessibility of these activities enables the individual to rationalize involvement by removing previously restrictive barriers such as time constraints emanating from occupational and social commitments.

Anonymity – The anonymity of the Internet allows users to privately engage in such activities as sex and gambling without the fear of stigma. This anonymity can also provide the user with a greater sense of perceived control over the content, tone, and nature of the online experience. Anonymity also has the capacity to increase feelings of comfort since there is a decreased ability to look for, and thus detect, signs of insincerity, disapproval, or judgment in facial expression, as would be typical in face-to-face interactions. For activities such as gambling, this may be a positive benefit – particularly when losing – as no-one will actually see the face of the loser. Anonymity, like increased accessibility, may reduce social barriers to engaging in gambling, particularly skill-based gambling activities such as poker that are relatively complex and often possess tacit social etiquette. The potential discomfort of committing a structural or social faux-pas in the gambling environment because of inexperience is minimized because the individual’s identity remains concealed.

Affordability – Given the wide accessibility of the Internet, it is now relatively inexpensive to use online services on offer. Furthermore, the overall cost of has been reduced significantly through technological developments, again, rendering affordability less of a restrictive force when it comes to rationalizing involvement in the behaviour. For example, the saturation of online gambling industry has lead to increased competition, and the consumer is benefiting from the ensuing promotional offers and discounts available on gambling outlay. Regarding interactive wagering, the emergence of peer-to-peer gambling through the introduction of betting exchanges has provided punters with commission free sporting gambling odds, which in effect means the player needs to risk less money to obtain potential revenue. Finally, ancillary costs of face-to-face gambling, such as parking, tipping and purchasing refreshments, is removed when gambling within the home and therefore the overall cost of gambling is reduced making it more affordable.

Convenience – Online behaviours usually occur in the familiar and comfortable environment of home or workplace thus reducing the feeling of risk and allowing even more adventurous behaviours. For the internet user, not having to move from their home or their workplace is of great positive benefit and increases the attractiveness of online activities compared to offline activities.

Escape – For some internet users, the primary reinforcement to engage in an online behaviour is the gratification they experience online. However, the experience of activities like online gambling, online gaming and/or online sex may be reinforced through a subjectively and/or objectively experienced ‘high’ or positive change in mood state. The mood-modifying experience has the potential to provide an emotional or mental escape and further serves to reinforce the behaviour. In short, online activities can provide a potent escape from the stresses and strains of real life.

Immersion – The medium of the Internet can provide feelings of dissociation and immersion and may facilitate feelings of escape (see above). Immersion can produce lots of different types of feelings that may be reinforcing for the internet user such as losing track of time, feeling like you’re someone else, and being in a trance like state.

Interactivity – The interactivity component of the Internet can also be psychologically rewarding and different from other more passive forms of entertainment (e.g., television). The interactive nature of the Internet can therefore provide a convenient way of increasing such personal involvement that can – in online situations – lead to increased online use. Furthermore, the alternative methods of peer interaction are available within interactive online activities that retain the socially reinforcing aspects of the behaviour. Individuals can communicate via computer-mediated communication in most online activities (including gambling and gaming).

Disinhibition – The feeling of disinhibition is one of the Internet’s key appeals as there is little doubt that the Internet makes people less inhibited when they are online. Online users appear to open up more quickly online compared to offline situations and reveal themselves emotionally much faster than in the offline world. This has been referred to by Dr. John Suler as ‘hyperpersonal communication’. According to Dr. Suler, this occurs because of four features of online communication: 

  • The communicators usually share social categories so will perceive each other as similar (e.g., all online poker players)
  • The message sender can present themselves in a positive light, and so may be more confident
  • The format of online interaction (e.g., there are no other distractions, users can spend time composing messages, mix social and task messages, users don’t waste cognitive resources by answering immediately)
  • The communication medium provides a feedback loop whereby initial impressions are built upon and strengthened.

Simulation – Finally, simulations provide an ideal way in which to learn about something and which tends not to have any of the possible negative consequences. For instance, most online gambling sites have a practice mode format, where potential gamblers can place a non-monetary bet in order to see and practice the procedure of gambling on that site. Furthermore, gambling in practice modes can build self-efficacy and potentially increase perceptions of control in determining gambling outcomes motivating participation in their ‘real cash’ counterparts within the site.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (1998). Internet addiction: Does it really exist? In J. Gackenbach (Ed.), Psychology and the Internet: Intrapersonal, Interpersonal and Transpersonal Applications. pp. 61-75. New York: Academic Press.

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Internet gambling: Issues, concerns and recommendations. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 6, 557-568.

Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Internet gambling in the workplace. Journal of Workplace Learning, 21, 658-670.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Gambling addiction on the Internet. In K. Young & C. Nabuco de Abreu (Eds.), Internet Addiction: A Handbook for Evaluation and Treatment (pp. 91-111). New York: Wiley.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Internet abuse and internet addiction in the workplace. Journal of Worplace Learning, 7, 463-472.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet sex addiction: A review of empirical research. Addiction Research and Theory, 20, 111-124.

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J., Billieux J. & Pontes, H.M. (2016). The evolution of internet addiction: A global perspective. Addictive Behaviors, 53, 193–195.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2002). The social impact of internet gambling. Social Science Computer Review, 20, 312-320.

Griffiths M.D. & Szabo, A. (2014). Is excessive online usage a function of medium or activity? An empirical pilot study. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 3, 74–77.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Online social networking and addiction: A literature review of empirical research. International Journal of Environmental and Public Health, 8, 3528-3552.

Kuss, D. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012).  Internet gambling behavior. In Z. Yan (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Cyber Behavior (pp.735-753. Pennsylvania: IGI Global

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Online gaming addiction in adolescence: A literature review of empirical research. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 3-22.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet and gaming addiction: A systematic literature review of neuroimaging studies. Brain Sciences, 2, 347-374.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Online gaming addiction: A systematic review. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 10, 278-296.

Kuss, D.J., Griffiths, M.D., Karila, L. & Billieux, J. (2014). Internet addiction: A systematic review of epidemiological research for the last decade. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 20, 4026-4052.

Pontes, H.M., Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The clinical psychology of Internet addiction: A review of its conceptualization, prevalence, neuronal processes, and implications for treatment. Neuroscience and Neuroeconomics, 4, 11-23.

Pontes, H.M., Szabo, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The impact of Internet-based specific activities on the perceptions of Internet Addiction, Quality of Life, and excessive usage: A cross-sectional study. Addictive Behaviors Reports, 1, 19-25.

Suler, J. (2004). The online disinhibition effect. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 7, 321-326.

Widyanto, L. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Internet addiction: A critical review. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 4, 31-51.

Widyanto, L. & Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Unravelling the Web: Adolescents and Internet Addiction. In R. Zheng, J. Burrow-Sanchez & C. Drew (Eds.), Adolescent Online Social Communication and Behavior: Relationship Formation on the Internet. pp. 29-49. Hershey, Pennsylvania: Idea Publishing.