Platforms: Nintendo Entertainment System
Price: $10-$20 (used)
Content Areas: Film/Psychology, English
Suggested Age: High School, University
Warnings: Psychological horror, some blood and weapons
Play Length: 30 min – several hours
Number of Players: 1
Difficulty Rating: moderate
While some may say that the golden age of horror films has passed, those decades certainly left us with images of Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, and Jason Voorheese haunting our consciousness. And though reboots of many iconic horror movies have been showing up on the silver screen, video games have proven to be as much a horror experience for players as their on screen counterparts. Games like Alien Isolation are shining examples of how iconic film characters can transcend media and still carry the same weight as they did in other forms.
As most horror films rely on shadows and music to set the tone for a quick scare, Friday the 13th does not follow suit. However, this isn’t a bad thing. The music, albeit simple, quickly becomes background noise and only changes to alert the player that Jason is lurking inside a cabin and must be found before he murders the children. Though most of the enemies encountered do not pose a real threat, there are howling wolves in the woods that prove difficult to defeat unless the player can run away fast enough to change screens or jump high enough to avoid being bitten. Other enemies like the slow moving zombies and nose diving vultures take minimal health away when encountered but do not vary their attacks. Jason, on the other hand, appears in many different locations: inside cabins, on the camp paths, in the woods, and in Crystal Lake. And though the anticipation of meeting up with the king of horror is enough to put the player on the edge of his seat, the instant Jason pops on screen is truly frightening.
The most satisfying part of the game, however, is the intense feeling of fight or flight that is essential to the core gameplay. When Jason is not actively stalking the player or the children, there are periods of calm where the player can search cabins to collect weapons, health tonics and keys, or can search for clues to hidden rooms found throughout Camp Crystal Lake. These weapons provide some comfort for the player when facing Jason or other enemies, but finding a hidden cabin in the woods or finding the hidden room in the cave that holds the head of Jason’s mother feels satisfying and empowering. When Jason is actively stalking, the player must make a decision to fight for the children of the camp or keep searching for clues and items to ensure his own survival. This fight or flight situational discomfort provides a definite sense of dread for the player throughout the game.
As many survival horror films and games tend to favor gore, death, and psychological discomfort as key components to delivering a fearful experience to viewers and players, Friday the 13th (NES) follows suit in so much that an 8-bit game can. There is no MSRB rating for this game as it was released in 1989, but there are moments throughout the game that could easily scare children. In some sections of the game, Jason wields a machete that is covered in blood and Jason’s mother’s severed head could be disturbing to those not expecting it. With these ideas in mind, the game may be best suited for high school students who are studying film or psychology. Film students could examine elements from many different horror films (from Night of the Living Dead to Paranormal Activity) to determine core elements that are required for films to be considered horror. In transferring those elements to games, students could select a variety of survival horror games and compare both forms of media. Students studying psychology could examine more deeply the fight or flight mentality and analyze how it is applied to horror films and games to create a sense of dread in viewers and players.
In the end, Friday the 13th (NES) stays true to its film counterpart to provide a fun, heart-pounding experience at Camp Crystal Lake. Though by today’s industry standards Friday the 13th (NES) may be cartoony or lack the production value of horror games like Dead Space or The Evil Within, it is the simple gameplay and focus on fight or flight survival horror that keeps players coming back for more. As a re-imagining of Friday the 13th as a game was recently announced seeking funding on Kickstarter to be released in the Fall of 2016, there is no shame in looking back to the original for a few nostalgic scares.
Educational Rating: 1/8
Classroom Friendly, Motivation, Concrete Learning, Additional Skills, Feedback, Difficulty, Accessibility, Extension
Overall Rating: 7/8
Immersion, Environment, Storyline, Replayability, Entertainment, Gameplay, Originality (stays true to the film “narrative”), User Control