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Scary video games help us understand ourselves, says guest professor


Studying horror allows us a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world we live in, says video game researcher Bernard Perron.

Photo by Magnus Denker

Professor Bernard Perron is no stranger to fear. In fact, he has made a career out of it. Perron is known as a leading authority on video game theory, particularly when it comes to the connection between fear and play. Normally based at the University of Montréal, he is currently visiting the School of Arts and Communication at Malmö University, where he lectures interaction design students.

“Being at Malmö University is wonderful. The work environment here is a lot more open and interactive than what I’m used to,” he says.

As a researcher, Perron describes his approach to video games as formalist.

“That means I’m interested in the form of video games,” he says. “I am not interested in the video game itself, but rather in the gameplay. I want to explore how the game is experienced and how fear is felt. Fear is an incredibly powerful emotion.”

So powerful, in fact, that some of Perron’s lectures come with a disclaimer about the potentially disturbing nature of the images students will be exposed to.

“When you come to my class, you have to accept that risk. If I were to describe the content to students beforehand, the effect of the horror would be gone,” he explains. 

All work and no play

Video game studies is still a relatively new field, and one that Perron believes to be ideal for studying horror.

“Video games are a great medium through which to study fear because fear is an action emotion; when you’re afraid, you have that fight or flight instinct. With films, you are scared for the character, but with video games you are personally immersed in the action.”

Experiencing this immersion is obligatory for Perron’s students, and he expects them to take gaming seriously. As part of the programmes he heads in Montréal, students have access to a gaming lab.

“We have around 4000 games, many of which are only available at the lab. Although the lab is where we play, it’s important to underline that it is not a playground; it’s a space for work and research,” he says.

Flesh and blood

Monsters, ghosts and zombies might be the stuff of nightmares, but Perron would like us all to embrace the horror genre a little more. 

“We are all made out of flesh and blood, but we don’t often need to reflect on our own mortality. Studying fear lets us do that. Fear reveals what we are afraid of and where our boundaries lie when it comes to what we find abject. It speaks to our perception of the world.

“I have loved horror ever since I was a kid sneaking into my local cinema to watch films I was too young to watch. For me, horror is fascinating because it’s all about the power of the image.”

Text: Maya Acharya

Last updated by Maya Acharya