Escape: exploring agency as a fear-inducing mechanic in video games

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University of New Brunswick


Horror games and movies share many similarities when it comes to how they elicit fear. However, a major difference between the two is the aspect of agency found prominently in games, but little, if at all, in movies. Agency is the capacity to act upon something. Previous work suggests that media with more agency have a greater propensity for eliciting fear than media without. However, this work relied solely on watch (i.e., low agency) versus play (i.e., high agency) comparisons. In this work, an agency manipulation with three separate agency conditions (low-agency watch, medium-agency directed play, and high-agency undirected play) is used in a horror video game. Results of the study show no measured difference in fear, agency, or other metrics where differences were expected. Correlational analyses revealed positive correlations between several factors, but not fear and agency. Potential reasons for the lack of differences are discussed, including the need for the study design to be conducted remotely instead of in a controlled laboratory setup due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This work brings into question the role of agency and fear in uncontrolled and possibly more ecologically valid scenarios.