I remember the first time I encountered giant, fire-breathing ants in Fallout 3. I wasn't afraid — just really itchy. Like, in real life. "This doesn't seem right," I thought to myself as I clawed furiously at my otherwise untouched skin.
Flash forward a mere six years: science to the rescue! Just in the nick of time. So it turns out, according to University of Maryland scientist and Curious Behaviour: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond author Robert Provine, that a lot of things make people suddenly and inexplicably feel itchy. Hearing other people talk about insects or even just reading about insects are among them.
Ants, ants, ants. Crawling, teeming, countless legs clattering over carapaces, mandibles snapping like a thousand tiny bear traps. There. You might be feeling itchy right now.
And if that's enough to get your flesh crawling (like an ant!), then you'd better believe super hi-fi, ultra-realistic video games can do it. Ants, spiders, mosquitoes — whatever. When I see or hear their rubbery little bits rubbing against each other, I scratch and scratch and scratch until I can scratch no more.
That's a really silly response to something that — I must stress — doesn't exist, right? So why do we do it? Provine explained to Science of Us:
"Itching and scratching, like yawning, laughing, coughing, and vomiting, is contagious. Simply seeing someone scratching is enough to trigger your own bout of clawing, in a vain effort to rid yourself of pests, real or imagined. You don't need to actually be bitten by a bedbug, louse, or flea. Simply seeing their image, thinking about them, or reading about them — as you are doing now — may trigger a seesaw bout of itching (the stimulus), and scratching (the response)."
"This hair-trigger, contagiousness and hyper sensitivity to itchy stimuli makes sense. Your neighbour's pest may jump ship and infect you. Better start scratching, just in case. Unfortunately, scratching causes more itching, locking you into an escalating cycle of itch and scratch."
Forever. And then you die.
Or, you know, you stop scratching eventually. But yeah, there you go. Thanks for that one, evolution. I get to be itchy constantly for no real reason, sometimes while doing an activity that requires both my hands to not be exploring long-abandoned crevices of my body for non-existent bedbugs. That's fun. That's totally what I play video games for.