Enjoyment of frightening content is a paradoxical issue in communication research. Revising Zillmann’s model of suspense, we propose a three-factor model examining the audience appeal of horror content in a virtual reality (VR) survival horror game. In a laboratory study, participants played a VR horror game. The results show significant effects of the three-way interaction among horror self-efficacy, physiological arousal, and fear on enjoyment and future intentions to play similar games. Horror self-efficacy interacts with fear to affect enjoyment only among high-arousal participants. Among high-fear participants, higher horror self-efficacy leads to significantly greater enjoyment than lower horror self-efficacy. We measured enjoyment through self-reported ratings, future intentions to play similar games, and the behavioral choice of subsequent games to demonstrate the appeal of horror content. Horror self-efficacy in coping with mediated fright is the key to explaining the conditional positive association of fear and enjoyment in the gaming context.
New Media and Society, First Published December 5, 2017