Here's Why Video Game Insects Make You Feel Itchy

Here's Why Video Game Insects Make You Feel Itchy

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.

Why Just Reading About Bedbugs Is Making You All Itchy [Science of Us]


    Wierdly all the talk of insects didn't make me itchy at all.

    Mention nits, though, and instant scalp itch, despite the fact I have never had them.

      Yeah insects don't make me itch like that, mention ticks and I'll have nightmares for weeks.

      Vomiting on the other hand.

    Er, what...?

    I got bitten by bedbugs in Milan (or possibly Zurich) last year, and my reaction to insects being mentioned or in things has never been the same. Normally like poita, it was pretty much nits or nothing, but now just a mention of bedbugs takes me back to how incredibly itchy the bites were and my complete paranoia I'd brought them home with me and nothing was ever going to be the same.

      I got violated by the bastards in Florence. It was a fancy hotel too!

      The other time was a little closer to home. Whilst I was renting with friends a house mate, unbeknown to us, brought home a mattress which had been left on the side of the road for council clean-up.....the rest is history.

    Mention bed bugs and I itch and shudder and shiver and moan softly.......

      I get that way with spiders and Joan Rivers

    The only thing I feel is an itch to play Fallout 3 again, amirite folks!

    Up top!

    None of this makes me itchy at all...

    Nits, bugs, ticks, spiders, whatever. Self control, people.

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