Dear Video Games, I’m Begging You: Cut It Out With The Spiders

Dear Video Games, I’m Begging You: Cut It Out With The Spiders
Here's a look at Torchlight III hypothetically reimagined for arachnophobes. (Screenshot: Echtra / Kotaku)

Torchlight III, an action role-playing game that came out this week, starts innocuously enough. You choose from a cadre of traditional fantasy roles (mage, archer, soldier, or person with mountainous biceps and a murder train) and go on your merry way killing goblins. In short order, you’re sent into a dungeon that’s loaded up with a far more terrifying enemy genus: spiders.

[Since this post discusses a phobia, we won’t include any screenshots of spiders. Please be respectful and don’t share any similar imagery in the comments.]

I, alongside an estimated 3 to 6 per cent of the population, am a total arachnophobe. Seeing spiders pop up in Torchlight III almost made me walk away from the game. It wasn’t a one-off occurrence, either. Seemingly every other dungeon has spiders of various shapes, sizes, and abilities. Spider eggs and webs are strewn across crevasses and coat the walls. Same goes for many parts of the overworld. And, because it’s Torchlight, these creatures swarm you in hordes! No thanks.

I write for a living, and yet it’s still difficult to put into words the primal fear I feel when seeing a single spider, let alone an entire army of them. So, to illustrate, I’ll just run down a few of the least-embarrassing examples of what has happened in the past when I saw a spider. A few years ago, on my way to work, I saw a spider crawling up my jacket sleeve. Forgetting that my phone was in the pocket, I tore my jacket off, causing the phone to land screen-first on the subway platform. Once, four minutes into a first date, I spotted a spider on the other side of the booth, leapt out of my seat, hit my knee on the table, and spilled both of our drinks everywhere. In fact, just last night, at my gym — don’t worry, it’s in the basement of my apartment building, and I always wear a mask — I saw a spider on the ceiling and let go of my weight mid-rep. Whoops!

My brain tends to make an exception for web-slinging superheroes. (Screenshot: Insomniac Games)My brain tends to make an exception for web-slinging superheroes. (Screenshot: Insomniac Games)

Experts often recommend exposure therapy — basically, spending hours looking at pictures of the exact thing that scares the daylight out of you — for overcoming a phobia. One can reasonably suggest that video games with eight-legged enemies, like Torchlight III, are a form of such exposure therapy. One can also bug right off.

Torchlight III is just the latest offender in a long list of (mostly fantasy-themed) video games that use spiders, or arachnids of some sort, as cannon fodder. Here’s a small sampling: the Frostbite Spiders in Skyrim, the spiderants in Borderlands, the spiderbugs from Metro, Ariados from Pokémon’s second generation, the Ungol in Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, the spiders in Dragon’s Dogma, the spiders in Tales of Zestiria, the spider in Limbo. The wyyyschokk from Jedi: Fallen Order aren’t technically spiders, but c’mon. Those are spiders. Even Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a game ostensibly built from the code up to serve as a safe space for mental health, features face-sized tarantulas.

Folks, I’m sick of it.

I’m not alone, and the problem isn’t limited to fantasy games. On the Steam page for Shadow of the Tomb Raider, one reader inquired about the presence of spiders in the game. “I have … arachnophobia and I don’t really like spiders,” they wrote. “I’m so sorry, but even small spiders scare me enough.” A similar thread showed up on the official forums for the game. Reddit, too. (Ultimately, Shadow of the Tomb Raider features brief moments where you can interact with small spiders to collect their poison. Compared to the rest of the game’s bombastic sequences, it barely registers. My skin nonetheless crawled.)

This isn’t all to say that spiders can’t or shouldn’t exist in video games. There’s just a way to do it with phobias in mind. Earlier this summer, for instance, Obsidian added a feature to Grounded, the insect-laden adventure game, that transforms spiders from nightmarish monsters into huggable blobs. In 2018, Vice reported about Skyrim mods that removed spiders from the game, allowing people who otherwise wouldn’t have played to give it a whirl. (Full disclosure: The writer of that article, Patrick Klepek, used to work here at Kotaku.) Things like this are a huge step forward for an often neglected type of accessibility. It would be nice if more games followed a similar tack in the future. Otherwise, I might just pass on Torchlight IV.

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  • My fear of spiders is limited to the real world, game and film spiders don’t really illicit any reaction from me.

    • I’ve gotten a lot better with my fear of Spiders over the years.

      And I’d like to say most Video Game spiders don’t have an effect on me, but occaisonally I run into one which does. And I don’t mean one game, I mean one spider out of many in the game.

      Example, Spiders in World of Warcraft: Meh. The Spider mount in World of Warcraft still makes my skin crawl.

  • Yeah I cant handle spiders on any level, most in game spiders I am okay with but I was watching a MR Fruit video when Grounded came out and the spider in that completely freaked me big time, just by merely watching the video.

  • The spiders are your friends friend…. at least certain ones are. Jumping spiders in particular are shown to be very friendly and curious.

  • Poor games developers. Bad enough they get the constant calls from the loopy writers on Kotaku for characters of different colours, hairstyles, sexuality, disability, shoe size and fashion sense. Now you want them to eliminate any bad guy of which people might be scared.

    Great. In our next game a lesbian Asian paraplegic with large feet and an Afro – ah shit, cultural appropriation- with totally kawaii bangs will hit this neutrally coloured cube with a rubber mallet. Have fun.

    Enjoy the games you play. Stop trying to tell everyone that they’re bad because they don’t tick your boxes.

    • Yeah, I’ve got to agree here. We’ve already got people whinging constantly about a character being too sexualised, then counter arguments that characters are de-sexed to avoid offence, complaints about cultural appropriation, then complaints of cultural diversity when that’s removed, and basically the argument goes back and forth between people arguing games are too troglodyte, and games are far too politically correct.

      Now we have to remove spider because people are scared of them? Well, better take out zombies too. Skeletons, nope, no good. It’s dishonoring the dead by having the reanimated, so people will feel like their ancestors are violated.

      I’m sorry, but if you can’t deal with spiders, you need to either learn how to get over it, or just stick to playing games without spiders. If designers cut out everything that might be offensive or inspire fear in people, then we’d have nothing but the most bland and generic games.

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