Jump scares have a reputation as the worst kind of gaming horror. My goal is to defend jump scares and put forward that they are possibly the best form of horror in game form.
The argument goes that jump scares are not scary and are just a sign of lazy design. It is claimed that a fly buzzing past you ear or a roofing tile falling has the same effect as a jump scare, and since the tile can do horror without meaning to, it is therefore crap. Or something like that.
That argument focuses on the payoff, the scare itself, rather then the build up. You can apply that thinking to anything to claim it's crap. Without the “will they or won't they” aspect of a romance film, it's basicly 2 people who kiss and the credits roll. Likewise taking just the explosions of an action film wouldn't be entertaining. The thrill is the sense of “How the hell is going to get out of this one?” Using this same argument you can shoot down all kinds of horror. Psychological issues of a character, without the build up, is basicly a man doing something before saying “That was mentally exhausting and tough to deal with.”
Basicly, as with many things, you can have good jump scares or bad jump scares. A good jump scare builds up the tension to the point that even when you know it's coming, you still leap out of your seat. It's that tension, that fear that you feel knowing that death is going to happen any second now ...no? Definatly NOW! ...oh, I guess not- AAAAAH! By contrast, a bad jump scare is just a guy going “Bleh!” out of cupboard like pretty much 99% of Doom 3. It's startling at times, but you never feel fear unless your life is low, and that's mainly because you forgot to save and don't want to have to replay the last 20 minutes.
Even if we ignore all that and accept jump scares are the lazy way, many 'psychological' horror games use them. Silent Hill, Amnesia, they all try and make you jump out you skin at some point.
For me though there are 2 great things about jumps scares when done right. First and foremost they are a rational fear everybody understands. I have mentioned in the past that Silent Hill 2, outside of the music and a couple of scenes, isn't all that scary because toblerone face and a a man with his hands in his pockets don't scare me, I find them more confusing then creepy. Sometimes is laughable. The second is that they are instant, so going to the toilet or letting the dog out doesn't kill the experience. In most other types of horror game going to the toilet will kill the atmosphere and it can take half an hour to build it back up again. With a jump scare based game, you can turn off the game and come back later without harming the experience.
In summery, jump scares are not as bad as many claim. Jump scares are about building up tension and releasing it when you least expect, even if that is exactly when you expect it. All to often people focus on the payoff and bad scares rather then on the good ones, and the same arguments used to condemn them can also be turned onto all other types of horror and genres. I guess what I'm saying is don't dismiss an entire sub genre because you played a bad one. Give jump scares another go.
I'll leave you with a hilarious video that also shows how jump scares can be scary in the still unbeaten classic, Resident Evil 2.