Fear is an odd thing. Especially a fear of something silly and tiny like a spider. I am one of these silly people with this silly fear of spiders. I’m not sure if I was arachnophobic before playing video games or if it developed after my many years of gaming but I don’t think the excessive and unwelcome appearance of the creepy buggers in games has helped. The thing about spiders in video games is that they are rarely as tiny as their non-digital counterparts in the real world. Video game spiders are usually about 60 feet tall, with the ability to shoot smaller minion spiders out of what I assume is their arse (spider anatomy is not my strong suit). They are ALWAYS angry and they ALWAYS charge straight at you, shrieking viciously with their razor-sharp fangs and their eight horrible hairy legs. You can imagine my paranoia when I’m playing a game and suddenly I see cobwebs everywhere. If I’m aware that a game has oversized spiders in it then I become hesitant in buying it and no games developer wants to lose that sweet moola.
I didn’t experience true arachnophobia until I played Limbo. The antagonist, simply referred to as ‘The Spider’, is incomparable to anything else I’ve ever faced in the digital realm. A still image of The Spider isn’t scary at all. But when you play Limbo, you will realise why it’s so petrifying. The monochromatic tones, the film grain filter and the acousmatic music. The ambiance in Limbo is so peaceful, as you explore this spooky forest. It makes you develop a false sense of security as you think to yourself that no game with a little child as a protagonist can be scary or gruesome. That is until you reach an odd-looking tree. A tree that somehow lunges one of its’ branches at you and penetrates your stomach. It’s not a tree. It’s how you’re first introduced to The Spider. It’s in that moment where I screamed a few words that are too profane to write down; whilst simultaneously appreciating the use of silhouettes as no other art style could’ve pulled this feat off. I hoped that it would stay in the tree. It didn’t. He disappears for a while, but unfortunately you walk straight into his lair. The web slows you down as he creeps up on you. This would actually be my worst nightmare in real life and it made me feel so sorry for the insects you see on nature documentaries that get immobilised in spiders’ webs. The Spider foolishly spares you and cocoons you to munch on at a later time. You free yourself and have to hop away still cocooned, Spider in chase. Eventually, after a few close calls, The Spider gets crushed by a boulder and all that remains of him is his body and one leg. He lunges at you for the final time and you catch his leg and pull it out of his body. Victory.
Even after I had killed the Limbo spider, I spent the majority of the rest of the game thinking that his family would want revenge and come for me.
Giant spiders in video games aren’t a rare occurrence. Franchises like The Elder Scrolls, Devil May Cry, Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, Castlevania and even Sly Cooper all feature hideous arachnids. They have been in their fair share of film and literature too (big shout out to Shelob in The Lord of the Rings) but arguably they aren’t as overused in these mediums. I don’t understand why games designers will go out of their way to fit huge spiders into their games. Surely a game that implements something as unrealistic as massive arachnids could easily have just included another villain that has been constructed from the character designer’s imagination. Horror games use them because they are scary, but they could be unique and design another creature to use for their annoying boss battle instead. Crafting games (Don’t Starve and Minecraft etc.) use them as a means to drop valuable resources like silk but you could easily just replace them with cobwebs and just normal sized spiders…
I’m in the minority but there are still around 3-6% of the population that are classed as arachnophobic and there are a lot more people that are just afraid of spiders; not necessarily to the extent of full blown arachnophobia. I wish that designers would be more considerate because it is in fact a chunk of their audience, and by having spiders, they make the game a bit irritating and uncomfortable to play.
My tip to you if you unwillingly stumble across something you’re afraid of, whether that’s cockroaches or lizards: mute the game, it helps a lot.
Spiders have been done, can we move on please?