pl. n. horrors; v. to horrify, horrifying, horrified; also adj. horrifying, horrific, horrible
1. an intense and overwhelming feeling of fear or aversion, often in response to unthinkable violence or the threat of it; Middle English horrour, Latin horror, horrēre “to tremble.” Also n. horror, pl. horrors, something that is horrifying.
2. a genre of fiction, represented in literature, film, and in gaming, intended to induce feelings of fearful excitement in its audience; often, the horror genre explores supernatural and occult themes, but more realistic themes inducing fear, such as serial murder and other violent crimes, are also depicted; may also refer to entertainments that depict common characters and themes from horror milieux, but that are not necessarily intended to frighten, such as in comedies.
Addendum: It’s quite something to be able to frighten someone with fiction, when they know they are not in actual danger. Gothic horror literature first appeared in the 18th Century; but the early horror authors whose names we still remember, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, and Edgar Allan Poe, appear in the 19th Century.
The modern horror genre however, in both literature and film, and in games inspired by those stories and films, springs from the work of Howard Phillips Lovecraft. It has become fashionable recently to downplay the influence of Lovecraft and to disparage his writing style. But just as all popular music after owes everything to The Beatles, consciously or not; and all fantasy literature after owes everything to Tolkien, whether this is acknowledged or not; so does all modern horror find its genesis in the “nightmare corpse-city of R’lyeh.”
From the beginning of the art, filmmakers experimented with horror themes, and both the early classics Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922) and Dracula (1931) are based on Stoker; these films form the basis of the modern vampire trope, which has evolved a complex ecosystem of rules (such as destruction by sunlight, which does not appear in Stoker). Countless adaptations of Shelley’s Frankenstein have also been filmed. The 1960s saw an explosion of low-budget, exploitative horror films, largely out of Europe, that inspired today’s horror filmmakers. George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) launched the zombie subgenre; Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy inspired countless low-budget films more interested in entertaining with action, comedy, and gore, than in merely frightening audiences. Meanwhile, popular and well-made big budget studio films, from Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 The Shining to M. Night Shyamalan’s 1999 The Sixth Sense, lent the genre artistic legitimacy.
Horror themes have appeared in videogames since the beginning as well. Survival horror games, which feature the player-controlled character attempting to complete tasks while avoiding or fighting off hordes of supernatural monsters, appeared on the earliest consoles. Famous examples include the Resident Evil, Alone in the Dark, and Silent Hill franchises. Modern horror videogames, particularly those made in Japan, make a genuine effort to scare players with mood, music, atmosphere, and violent surprises, and can be more effective at creating fear than many modern horror movies.
On the tabletop, the earliest iterations of Dungeons & Dragons mined horror literature for supernatural monsters, and dungeon masters could always explore horror themes and situations; but these elements were intended to supplement and enhance the overall medieval fantasy theme (although the original Ravenloft module was meant to be a horror module, just as Expedition to the Barrier Peaks was a science fiction module). The earliest role-playing game with a specifically horror-based theme is probably 1981’s Call of Cthulhu, based on the works of Lovecraft. Other examples include Chill(1984) and GURPS Horror (1987). The World of Darkness games largely explore horror themes, particularly involving vampires, werewolves, and wraiths (although the creatures themselves are the protagonists). Some popular horror board games include the Arkham Horror series and the Call of Cthulhu: Collectible Card Game (both Lovecraft again). And no game collection is complete without Zombie Dice.