The first time I see a spider, I can’t move. Either in-game or in real life.
The twitching of the long, spindly legs – I can only see three, but I know there’s another five of the fuckers hidden off-screen – finally kicks me out of inertion, sending a shudder up my spine and making me jump hard enough to accidentally hit the left stick. Inadvertently nudging my helpless avatar a little closer makes those legs twitch a little more and I’m done. You hear me, LIMBO? I. Am. Done.
I don’t care if you’re award-winning, LIMBO. I don’t care if you’re on every must-play list between now and eternity. I think your art style and premise are fascinating, and I’m sure you’re very worthy of all the praise indeed, but you also have a giant fucking spider with enormous, twitchy legs and therefore I cannot play you. I cannot even try.
It was barely on the screen, for Christ’s sake, but its shadow was enough for me. My brain charges full-steam-ahead into fight-or-flight mode, unperturbed that the threat is utterly make-believe.
Spiders – any spiders, all spiders, big, small, cartoony, hyper-realistic – freak me out and I physically cannot play a game if I have to face one. It doesn’t matter if they’re only on a screen. My brain is incapable of differentiating between fake ones and a huge, hairy nightmare sitting in my lap, and it’s dreadful.
My arachnophobia is so acute I don’t even attempt games with spiders in them anymore. There’s honestly no point. It’s possible industry-wide improvements in crafting realistic sound and visuals haven’t made things easier for me, but I’ve always been like this, to be fair.
And look, I’m not a game designer, but spiders feel like such a lazy enemy. Admittedly they’re exceedingly effective in my case, but my god, can we blue-sky this a little more? Be a touch more creative, perhaps? It doesn’t matter if it’s a horror or a sci-fi or a platformer. It doesn’t matter if it’s a pixel-art love letter or the next triple-A shooter. It feels like they’re in everything.
Bloodborne. Skyrim. Luigi’s Mansion 3. Child Of Light. Ocarina Of Time. Anthem. Ori And The Will Of The Wisps. A buttload of Resident Evil games. They all feature spiders of some size or description.
Hell, even Animal Crossing: New Horizons has tarantulas in it. While most of the creatures and bugs you’ll encounter on your island paradise are cutesy and cartoonified, stray too close to one of New Horizon’s spider population and they will raise their front legs and FUCKING HISS AT YOU.
You’d think taking the things on with guns and flamethrowers would be good for me, that it’d be cathartic to smite my in-game world of their presence, but it just doesn’t work that way. Which was why I was so devastated to see the giant (well, not giant exactly – they’re normal-sized, it’s the protagonist who has shrunk) spiders populating Obsidian’s gorgeous-looking new survival game, Grounded.
But guess what? It’s got a “spider-slider”! Within the accessibility menu is an arachnophobia mode that lets you mutate the appearance of the enemy, enabling those with phobias to amend what they’re seeing without compromising combat or difficulty.
And while the phobic in me is still a little perturbed – even at its strongest settings, I’m still not super-easy with their appearance – this kind of forethought and understanding of arachnophobia is so impressive. So kind. A small, cosmetic tweak that has zero impact on gameplay can make all the difference for those of us incapable of tolerating them in any other way.
Obsidian isn’t the first studio to do this – Satisfactory developers Coffee Stain, for instance, implemented a setting that hid spiders behind cat gifs – but my God, I hope it’s not the last.
Given that essential accessibility features like subtitles remain hit-and-miss, I won’t hold my breath, but maybe one day we’ll be able to convince developers to include arachnophobia modes as standard so we don’t have to rely on community-made mods to modify the beastly things. Maybe one day, I’ll even be able to finish LIMBO.