The RPG Scrollbars: Spiders In The Dark

Nope! Nope! Nope! Nope! Nope! Nope! Nope!

Something has been giving me trouble ever since I started playing RPGs back in the 1980s. You can probably guess what. I mean, it’s in the title. I’ve talked before about what a blighted pox arachnophobia is for a gamer, but no genre is more guaranteed to trigger it more gratuitously or more callously. Hell, how many RPGs have started by having us face off against a giant spider in a tutorial cave, as if that’s not at least ten times more horrible than the dragon waiting at the end of the campaign? Just off the top of my head, Arx Fatalis, Lands of Lore 3, Vindictus, Skyrim.

Brrr. It’s almost enough to justify letting these fantasy worlds burn.

OH COME ON! What do you eat to maintain that bulk? There is NO WAY you get enough miners and adventurers down here, nor is there even remotely the number of equally oversized livestock to prey on! The gods CLEARLY only created you to be a practical joke and would you please stop eating my face now?

While they’re an expected part of the genre, they really do make my spirits sink on a regular basis. The Underworld Ascendant Kickstarter for instance started out so well! Epic music! Beautiful graphics! Paul Neurath looking like Gabe Newell! What could possibly go wrong ah shit, there’s the spiders. First goddamn frame, they’re crawling up. Second scene… phew. Okay, that’s a really pretty location. Fire and wooden bridges and goddamn it they’re raining spiders down from the ceiling! And what’s THAT? Oh great! A GIANT ONE crawling down to say hello. Quick! Scroll down the page! Oh, there’s spiders from Stygian Abyss! And ANOTHER!

(Oh, if only the mod community was as committed to stripping them from games as, well, stripping sexy characters of their clothes. That’s a Raid group I could get behind…)

So many games have been ruined for me by the inclusion of these scuttling little bastards. Ultima Underworld 2 in particular stands out for a terrible scene where you’re dropped into the middle of a spiders’ nest, saved only by the fact that they’re placid. Aaargh! Late in the game though, you discover that you have to go right back in there to get an item needed to finish the game, which turns them hostile. Oddly, I never finished Ultima Underworld 2. Dragon Age 2 also quickly earned my sheer hate for its tendency to use them as jump-scares while exploring cave. No, that’s not a typo. It would normally be ‘caves’, but Dragon Age 2 lost its rights to that plural pretty early on.

They don’t tend to bother me too much when the camera is pulled out, in something like Pillars of Eternity, but I just can’t handle them in first-person. The legs, the hairiness, the lunging face-attacks are all an instant atavistic horror that would be one thing if that was the point, like being afraid of the xenomorph in Alien: Isolation, or even the future-spiders of System Shock 2, but which they’re rarely meant to be. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be in the bloody tutorial cave! Would they? No!

Honestly, what is it about bloody spiders? They’ll be making their own RPGs soon…

In its head, the spider thinks 'please don't go for the legs, please don't go for the legs, please don't go for the legs...'

Now, while I could very easily continue this rant, as well as break down the mindset of spider-obsessed designers in ways that range from ‘abusive’ to outright ‘libelous’, I’ll refrain. Instead, I thought I’d share some facts and figures from a survey I ran a while ago. It’s not particularly scientific, I warn in advance, just some questions shared on a service called Twitter that you might have heard of (it’s been quite popular lately), to see how others both felt and processed their arachnophobia. We’re talking a study of about 50 people, so treat with whatever pinch of salt you like.

Still, I thought the results were interesting.

For example, fear of spiders in games didn’t prove to be a sign of more general wussiness. Asked for instance if there were other enemy types that triggered anything similar, half of the arachnophobic audience flat-out said “No.” Of those who did have other mortal enemies, the poison-headcrabs of Half-Life were the most common, albeit pretty much honorary spiders in themselves, with scorpion enemies coming in second. That’s generally the giant kind of course, with no word on anyone was left screaming by the appearance of this happy chap.

(Personally, I can’t handle facehuggers at all, though Half-Life’s headcrabs have never bothered me much. There’s something about what I call ‘face attack’ enemies that really gets to me, especially in jump-scare form, like the snakes of Far Cry 3.)

Which were the worst-of-the-worst? That tended to vary. The Frostbite spiders of Skyrim topped the poll, though they are the highest profile of late. “I wish I could explain why – perhaps the horrid little spikes all over them? The fact you’re playing in first person? The way they drop on your head? I don’t know. Whatever it was, they alone are the reason I’m answering this poll.” After that came the tarantulas from Resident Evil, otherwise known as the reason I never played much of the Resident Evil games, and the hyper-aggressive warrior spiders of Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. At the time of the original poll, the giant spider from Limbo oddly didn’t get much attention. A return to it about a year later for more responses saw it picking up a decent amount of well deserved steam.

Part of the poll asked for reactions, which included these:

Depends on Size. Spiders have been apart of the gauntlet of common video game enemies since ever. Smaller spiders, or spiders that are easily defeated don’t bother me. Larger ones, like the ones in Skyrim are a little more creepy.

Depends on the size and complexity; for some reason, the low-poly arachnids in Torchlight don’t freak me out as much. Also depends how long it takes to kill ’em – a quick fight doesn’t bother me as much as a boss battle. Generally my reactions range from a brief “oh God” to cold flashes and a physical, full-body shudder. Even the thought of spiders will make me feel itchy, as if they’re crawling over me (especially in my hair); in-game spiders will have the same effect if they’re scaled appropriately small for my character (or there’s a swarm of them).

Revulsion, some kind of primeval panic.

Complete, paralyzing physical and mental revulsion. An aching pain that shoots to my finger tips and makes me feel vulnerable in some weird way. I never really had a problem with virtual spiders until now, in fact I thought it was comical how people got creeped out by spiders in games. Then I started seeing the Skyrim spiders and realized they were really fucking bothering me. Fortunately the smaller ones go down really quick. The big ceiling droppers are another story.

Generally disgust and if I’m helpless, fear and tension. If I can do something about spiders, less fear. I’m more afraid of swarms of miniscule spiders than giant fantastical spiders.

It’s not always the big name spiders though, the George Clooneys of virtual arachnophobia if you will. Quite often people had much more specific objections. SimAnt for instance. A cave of them in Drakan. Even the Arachnotron from Doom got a mention at one point.

Ah, Menzoberranzan, all about the Drow, the spider-queen Llolth and all kinds of other things that make it clear that the translation of 'Menzoberranzan ' is 'Nope: The Game'.

For the most part of course, these spiders are enemies, and not just because they tend to be coded as evil (despite that filthy propaganda in Charlotte’s Web, which in reality would have seen poor Wilbur sitting happily under the words “YUM”, “BACON” and “DELICIOUS SAUSAGES”.) But what about friendlier encounters? They’re rare, but they exist.

In general, yes, that changed matters. While there aren’t that many example of them outside of pets, few had any real objections to the idea.

“Yes. NPC or friendly spiders are inherently less creepy/gross than enemy spiders.”

“I didn’t mind having a spider pet in World of Warcraft (oversized and cartoon-like)”

“Once you were riding the ones in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow it was slightly better as at least I knew it couldn’t attack me anymore.”

“If it was a friendly spider, I’d probably cut it some slack.”

The level of threat doesn’t automatically make a difference though. Neutral spiders, such as the ones you might find in webs in Metro 2033, were still counted for their squick factor, and the overwhelming number of respondents agreed, a dead spider doesn’t become a good spider. Even having them still there with their legs in the air provided shivers and a reminder that more would likely be in the area,

I dislike having to manoeuvre around their carcasses in skyrim, very unpleasant, all limbs and spiny bits, hate the fangs, when my character insert sword in mouth of spider. I’d never ever get that close

they’re tricky little gits you know

Perhaps oddly, most did agree on one thing – robot spiders aren’t remotely the same as ‘real’ spiders. It might not seem like it should make that much of a difference, both being fictional clusters of pixels. Generally though, when they’re not presented as organic, they cease feeling like any more of a threat than their HP and weapon loadouts make them.

Yes, I don’t feel scared when facing an inorganic spider. In SWTOR for instance, many of the mining droids resemble spiders, but I don’t feel anything when fighting them.

I’d say I’m not bothered by robots or spider-like objects rather than an actual spider. Except maybe bodyhorror spiders. (Spiders with human arms for legs, for example)

“Robot spiders aren’t scary to me because in my eyes they’d lack the same predatory, ambush or trap hunter instincts of an animal or animal/demon hybrid. Nothing created by a man is going to be as scary as what comes out of Mother Nature’s horror-infested womb.”

Seriously, with these horrors hiding everywhere, who gives a shit about ancient evil gods? Bigger problems to deal with here!

Asked to give a fear factor rating from 1-10, respondents averaged out at 4.3/10 for virtual spiders versus 5.92/10 for the real kind; their actual wriggling about and the evil behind their eyes still trumping the size and power of their fantasy equivalents. Still, it’s closer than I expected.

There’s an obvious argument to be made here, that many players have many different phobias and we shouldn’t insist that developers restrict their art accordingly. Should we get rid of high buildings because some have vertigo? Remove snakes just in case? No, and I entirely support developers’ rights to keep ruining games by infesting their every cave and dungeon with hateful oversized monsters from the realm of nightmare. (I do however entirely endorse bribing them to put in a ‘no spiders’ mode, perhaps with some nice chocolate cake, or at least allowing for the player character to subcontract any spider related work to other, more expendable adventurers. Ahem…)

Still, if you’re lucky enough to not suffer from this affliction, do spare a thought for the rest of your comrades in arms the next time a giant salivating spider attacks. It’s a common problem, and one that really does get in the way of a wonderful genre for usually no good reason. There are so, so many possible monster types that could fill in for these eight-legged horrors, and even in their place, they’re a tedious cliche thrown in more from expectation than anyone’s actual creative vision. The more developers step back from them, the more space is left open for new and interesting monster types – and monsters less likely to ruin a good quest for so many, but most importantly, for me.

Next time: Rats, and why they deserve a damn good stomping instead of a swordfight.

147 Comments

  1. Syme says:

    I only have quite a mild phobia, but yes this has been annoying me just how prevalent they’ve become. I generally cope with them all right in games, but I’ve been playing the chalice dungeons in Bloodborne recently and some of those areas feature these enemies that will keep summoning giant spiders until you kill them, but the spiders can start pursuing you before you’ve seen them so you’ve got these bastards summoning spiders but you’re not quite sure where they are. But generally they aren’t too big of a problem for me in games, because they’re quite easy to handle, it’s more the itchiness, the thought of them crawling over my skin that bothers me.

  2. Gothnak says:

    My fiancee hates Spiders in games and is always freaking out about the Frostbite Spiders in Skyrim.

    In fact the most freaked out i have ever seen her, is when i captured a spider in our lounge in a pint glass, sure it was a reasonable sized beastie, and i threw it in the garden. Later that day, she drinks some water and outright freaked out. She had gone into the kitchen, grabbed a glass, and filled it up and was drinking from it and realised part way through a mouthful, that the glass HAD ONCE HELD A SPIDER! Even my reassurance that the spider was no longer in the glass was not enough as she sat crying on the sofa. Took a few hours to get over that one…

    We’ve started to get false widows in our guttering now (ooer), so although i don’t hate spiders at all, i’ve now started being careful around them as i don’t want to get bitten.

    • Sin Vega says:

      A weird thing: I’m not phobic but (oh dear) anything resembling a black widow makes me freak the fuck out. Which is really quite ridiculous given that (a) they’re very rare in the UK and (b) they’re not all that aggressive, and (c) even if they were, I’m unlikely to be seriously hurt by one even if it bit me.

      It is quite ridiculous.

      Also, walking into cobwebs. Blargh.

  3. mandrill says:

    Vertigo is a physiological condition affecting the perceptions and is a dizzy spinning feeling. This is usually associated with inner ear problems.

    Acrophobia is the fear of heights and it’s symptoms may include vertigo.

    • Spakkenkhrist says:

      As someone that is lucky enough to have both, thank you for pointing this out.

      • Bugamn says:

        As someone that also has both, I can handle any kind of monsters, but acrophobia still defeats me at some games. I don’t really fear spiders, although the black widows around where I live now scare me to hell, and the palm sized monster that somehow got through my window this night almost made me scream before I killed it. Wasps, on the other hand, and bees too, make me leave the room almost immediately if I have a choice. That’s helped by the fact that I have a light allergy to bees and if stung I get fever. But in games neither of these really scare, even if they are dangerous to my character. Heights, on the other hand, make me feel genuine fear if I feel threatened. The Valley of Drakes on Dark Souls was terrible for me.

  4. Premium User Badge

    distantlurker says:

    I was reading the piece and just couldn’t grok it. They’re just spiders…

    Then I imagined if my RPG worlds had been forever fueled by the relentless assault of giant, frickin’ wasps. I don’t hate wasps, I fear them, irrationally and completely. The mere sound of one sends me sprinting away, arms flailing. I’m a 40 year old 6’3″ man, and I’m terrified of these 2 inch long hymenoptera.

    Empathy, master Richard, I find I haz it.

    • mashkeyboardgetusername says:

      Me too, I fucking hate the things. If a wasp arrives it’s pretty much a case of check all the windows are open then ABANDON ROOM. Thankfully they’re pretty rare in games, and those wasp-like creatures that exist in games don’t set me off the same way. Not sure why, maybe they don’t have that threatening flight pattern.

      (Funnily enough I’m okay with bees in real life but the bees in magic carpet freaked me out. Thankfully that game had a Run Away Really Fast spell and an All The Fireballs spell.)

      • Cockie says:

        Bees are nice. Wasps are assholes.

        • Silarn says:

          Depends on the bee! Bumblebees? Sure, they’re alright. Africanized bees? Don’t make any sudden moves, or they’ll literally stab your eyes out. En mass.

          I definitely get freaked out more in real life by hornets/wasps/to a lesser extent bees, though I can muster myself to dealing with them if I have to. Spiders generally don’t bother me, because they (usually) aren’t mobile enough to be a threat unless they’re hiding in your shoe. And relatively few are actually dangerous to humans (though those few are notable exceptions, especially in some parts of the world…)

          That said, I never have the same reaction to any kind of insect in a game, even the most realistic and disgustingly rendered of them. I guess I can’t mentally get into that space where I actually feel real personal danger. Which is amusing because I get strong emotional responses from fake peoples’ deaths all the time.

          • Cockie says:

            Ah yes, I was referring to the European honey bee, which doesn’t sting you unless you assault it first.
            The most terrifying wasp I have seen so far is the European Hornet. Those things are huge. *shudders*

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          particlese says:

          Cicada killers are massive like the European hornets mentioned just below, but they’re a non-social, fairly inert wasps. My dad once blasted one in half mid-flight with a baseball bat since it seemed like a very threatening insect at the time. The next time I encountered one, it nearly blundered into my face while flying down across the lawn from a tree or something. It was weighed down by a cicada, and since I had read about them after the last one, I just watched it crawl through the grass for a while with some fascination, awkwardly carrying the other large insect. They really are bizarrely huge buggers…

          That said, carpenter bees, perhaps the kings and queens of bumbliness, used to scare the heck out of me at the same age I gleefully walked around the playground scaring girls with the yellowjacket crawling around on my hand, and they still make me more nervous than yellowjackets to this day, provided we’re not talking about swarms, hives, or burrows. Then it’s “run inside as fast as my legs will carry me and grab the chemicals” time. I think it’s the hair, because even honeybees and bumblebees creep me out more than yellowjackets on an individual basis. I’ve also been stung by hairy or spiny caterpillars more often then bees and fear them proportionally more. I’m out of links, but please refer to The Saddleback Caterpillar, my archenemy. Not only do they look evil, but they are evil. One even assaulted me while I was swimming in a pool. Those and the “hickory horned caterpillar”, which I’ve only seen once in real life and also look evil, are the closest things I have to this article’s spiders. I’ll still appreciate them in controlled situations, but my hands get sweaty just looking at the pictures on the internet. Good gravy, some people are insane…

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      SoundDust says:

      Fallout has those annoying fly-like things, but luckily no wasps.

    • FriendlyFire says:

      I’m glad to know I’m not alone in my irrational and overwhelming phobia of wasps. I just can’t help it, these things make my skin crawl and my legs run.

    • TheWhippetLord says:

      Nothing irrational about being terrified of wasps. Spiders make me cringe in terror. Wasps make me run out of the room, the house and in one extreme case the country.
      Wasps are not nice.

      • PerspectiveDesigns says:

        Wasps’s are terrifying evil monsters from hell, and I love em for it.

        • Darkheart says:

          Nothing against a good ol’ irrational fear, but you guys know we would drown in bugs if it wasn’t for spiders and yes, wasps, too!

          For the record, I don’t like to touch spiders, too…

    • erikose says:

      Was acting all superior reading about spider-fear, ’til I saw this comment about the wasp. Terrified, paralyzed, and running like the wind can be applied to me. Especially embarrassing during an outdoor cigar event where one wasp infused my day with random surges of panic and kept me looking over my shoulder ready to bolt for hours – providing great entertainment to others! Once even had an epic, multi-hour, fight to the death when one found it’s way into my apartment. It was a close thing . . .

      Thankfully, not often seen in games – although the giant cazadore in FONV were probably some of my most visceral encounters. They always seemed to pop out of nowhere (thank god for VATS). Even seeing the empty nests could give me a feeling of nausea and dread. OK, no more wasp talk for me.

    • James says:

      Wasps scare me far more than spiders. What RPGs involve wasps I wonder? They are missing a trick there.

      Buzzy, stingy little bastards. A good shot from a bb gun will resolve that, just not indoors.

    • Kempston Wiggler says:

      Wasps. Satan’s footsoldiers.

      The only creature (that I commonly encounter) capable of pushing my panic trigger. On the ground, scuttling up a wall or window I can handle them, although my senses go to hyper-alert. But as soon as they take flight I’m a screaming me-shaped blur of flailing limbs.

      Spiders tickle my alert reflexes, for some reason, even when they’re perfectly still, but they’ve never done that to me.

  5. walstafa says:

    Amazing choice in making an article about in-game arachnophobia unreadable by arachnophobes. 10/10 :-)

  6. ztiw says:

    strange thing is: every feature on spiders, especially those on arachnophobia, in any kind of picture-related media is feeding the reader/watcher huge scary pictures of …spiders. now why is that? it seems there is no way of thinking around that kind of necessity.
    all those features strangely can’t stand the temptation of scaring the reader too. but those features are being written and produced mostly for those who suffer from arachnophobia, right?
    but: nobody with a diagnosed severe arachnophobia could read/watch those features without breaking a real sweat and hyperventilating breathless and there ARE people who would really suffer from the described fact in RPGs.
    it seems those phobias, like vertigo for example too, are not taken very seriously in games. but thats maybe just because, those phobias are very common in a very mild or light variant in any of us and thats maybe just because those phobias are very old in the history of phobias among mankind and thats maybe just because RPGs or games in general are accessing to it so often.

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      Sinomatic says:

      Also see: on telling someone you are an arachnophobe, they tell you – in full blown detail – their absolute, most terrifying encounter they’ve ever had with one (because that’s obviously just the thing you want to hear).

    • ubrakto says:

      For this very reason, I have appealed to Mr. Cobbett to take a page from my book and replace all spider pictures with kittens. :)

      (Was the track I took when I wrote very much a few years ago.)

      • ubrakto says:

        Not sure what I did wrong with the link tag, but that should have said, “When I wrote this bit a few years ago.” (Seems I can’t properly edit the original reply.)

  7. HALTHALTHALT says:

    Created an account just to say this: FUCKING DAGGERFALL. Playing that game as a child probably aggravated my nascent arachnophobia to an entirely new degree. I remember the tension of stepping into a new dungeon and listening hard for that horrid, unnatural sound. They were only pixelated sprites, but they were DISGUSTING beasts with the most disturbing creature sound effect in the history of games. Even as an adult that’s gotten past most of the arachnophobia and can handle more “realistic” spiders like the Skyrim ones without much trouble (although it’s unpleasant), there’s still a Pavlovian reaction to the sound and sight of those Daggerfall spiders. I played the game a little recently in its modern DosBOX reincarnation and promptly quit as soon as I encountered one in a dungeon. The stuff of nightmares. Quite literally, in the case of my childhood.

    • Gothnak says:

      I was truly scared of Lich’s in Daggerfall as they killed me in about 1 second flat. Added to the fact that they could open doors, i became afraid of doors opening, added to the fact that ambient dungeon sfx in Daggerfall included the sound of doors opening (without a door actually being present) I BECAME SCARED OF AMBIENT SFX!

  8. cylentstorm says:

    …M’kay… I’m really not a big fan of swimming in deep water, but that hasn’t stopped me from swimming in the ocean or playing games set underwater. I’m also mildly claustophobic, but I’ve played dozens of corridor shooters and dungeon crawlers and have crawled through a few caves in real life. I’m also a little uneasy in high places, but love flying and climbing to great heights (both within and outside the dital realm.)

    My advice: either play something else or grow a pair. Oh, and I happen to like spiders.

    • cylentstorm says:

      err that’s “digital realm” — Just in case you’re afraid of typos

    • gunny1993 says:

      lol, comparing a normal flight vs fight response to a phobia is like comparing a dislike of nuts to a nut allergy of varying severity.

    • fish99 says:

      Nice lack of empathy there.

    • instantcoffe says:

      Grow a pair of what?
      Breasts?
      I need more details on how your primitive brain seems to work.

    • FriendlyFire says:

      Or perhaps your extremely superficial analysis of the situation is rather lacking. Virtual heights and swimming are far less likely to trigger any kind of phobia since they are not close enough to the actual experience. The biggest issue by far is that there is no immersion factor, which is key for both of them. Try the same games with a virtual reality headset and tell me how it feels. It won’t be there yet, but it’ll be far closer.

      Arachnophobia, in contrast, only requires a visual depiction of a spider. You don’t need full immersion, because a spider is unlikely to cover a significant part of your field of view in reality. You don’t need particularly strong sound design, because spiders generally don’t do sound. You don’t need touch, because most arachnophobes panic well before the spider’s touched them.

      Comparing the two and telling the latter group to “grow a pair” is a rather antiquated attitude. I’d suggest you reconsider your views before you get identified as intellectually challenged.

      • Reefpirate says:

        It’s so true. I’ve learned to handle my arachnophobia in a lot of games now. I typically just keep my eyes lower than usual so I don’t actually focus on the spiders I’m fighting, and just spam whatever I can to make them dead as fast as I can.

        However, the last game to really ‘get’ me with the phobia feelings was Hand of Fate. Those bastards had an ‘ambient’ spider that would just poke out from under some books or whatever on the table where you play the card game. It didn’t even take up much screen space, but it freaked me the hell out and I wasn’t even able to use magic or swords or anything to kill it.

  9. Spacewalk says:

    My problem with spiders in games is that they aren’t scary enough.

  10. Barberetti says:

    Imagine if spiders could fly.

    • Spacewalk says:

      Imagine if they were invisible due to a rendering error.

    • Anthile says:

      They had that in Sliders. Needless to say, it’s one of the few alternative Earths where mankind is doomed.

    • Cinek says:

      But… spiders can fly.

      Some spiders have been detected in atmospheric data balloons collecting air samples at slightly less than 5 km (16000 ft) above sea level

      • DrScuttles says:

        Why are spiders collecting air samples? This development fills me with an unnameable dread.

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    Sinomatic says:

    One thing more reliable than tutorial level giant arachnid face-off is an article about arachnophobia covered in godawful pictures of the bloody things. Seriously, it’d be really, really nice to read one of these articles without having to spend my time getting over the revulsion.

    As for me, I a) have to just spend time getting used to them in each game (as they all look/move/sound differently), and b) look at the screen but unfocus my eyes to the point where I can still play but I’m not actually actively seeing them. It’s not anywhere near the same terror as a real live encounter, but there’s a definite rush of fear/revulsion/panic every time, even if it is momentary. I can understand why they are so ubiquitous – it’s easy pickings for the ‘icky enemy’ category, but I’d much prefer to see some innovation in enemy types.

  12. Philopoemen says:

    I live in Australia, so spiders in games tend to be less scary, because they’re so oversized. The spiders in games don’t have that sneaky, super-fast scuttling where they end up biting you by hiding in your boots, or coming out from under the toilet seat. The ambush aspect of real spiders is why they’re scary for me, and I say that after having spent time in hospital for redback/black widow and white tip bites.

    Big things that move slower and I can keep track of make it easier to squish.

    • drinniol says:

      Yeah, once you’ve had a huntsman spider chase you, Skyrim spiders are weaksauce.

      • bonuswavepilot says:

        But as Philopoemen points out, the huntsmen aren’t the ones to worry about – they’re easy to spot and not too venomous. Also the ones I’ve run across were nearly always timid… That said, even though I’m someone who will attempt to collect them in a container and put them outside, I do have to overcome a significant amount of repugnance for the task to get it done.

    • Coming Second says:

      Nails it. Giant spiders in video games rarely scare me beyond being mildly unpleasant to look at because they rarely act in the way which makes them so upsetting in real life. A giant spider that is so still you might assume it’s just a random shadow on the floor, and then it suddenly bursts into life and shoots towards you at inhuman speed… perhaps I shouldn’t be suggesting this.

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    teije says:

    So I’d guess Spiderweb Software’s RPGs are definitely out then. Even if there are some silly friendly spiders in a couple of them.

  14. Zekiel says:

    I like the article. I learned sympathy for my arachnaphobic brethren and sistren – generally spiders in games don’t bother me in the slightest. Then I played Limbo. THAT spider bothered me very much indeed.

    • Coming Second says:

      It’s because of how malicious it was. Most game-nids evidently just see you as food, and once they’re dead they’re dead. Limbo’s spider wanted you to pay, and hell and high water was not going to stop it.

  15. gunny1993 says:

    I’m fairly sure the reason game designers use insects so much is because all of humanity has some kind of low level hatred for them, anyone who doesn’t is a traitor and a member of the insect alliance. I know spiders aren’t really insects, but in a war they would side with the insects.

  16. kament says:

    I don’t even have the phobia, and yet I’m annoyed with how common spiders in videogames are. They work, yeah, but so do scorpions or indeed wasps (sorry distantlurker) or whatever those things in New Vegas were, hell, even roaches work just fine as giant hostile insects. So this stubborn insistence on spiders is just, I don’t know.

    • Ben says:

      Yeah, I don’t have the phobia, but hate spiders in games. There’s always loads of them, they’re really hard to kill little ankle-biting fuckers, sometimes they’re fucking poisonous (thanks Dark Messiah), and they’re not even visually interesting. Dull and irritating.

    • TobleroneRoloCombo says:

      I still can’t help but find the scorpion-related enemies in Fallout: New Vegas to be the scariest arachnids in gaming, although that might just be a nasty experience I had when attemping a “permadeath” playthrough.

  17. FriendGaru says:

    How about the Giant Intelligent Friendly Talking Spiders of the Exile/Avernum games? Those guys were pretty adorable. I guess you should expect as much from a company called Spiderweb Software,

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      Harlander says:

      I recall in Neverwinter Nights 2, there was a giant spider – bigger than a horse – that you could meet. If you restrain yourself from stabbing it, it starts writing messages to you in the dust. You can invite it to live in your stronghold, and it’ll weave magic silk cloaks for you.

    • Anthile says:

      I still have a screenshot from that: link to steamcommunity.com

      D’aww.

      • Cinek says:

        No option to say Yes?! What kind of outrageous pseudo-RPG is that?!

  18. CookPassBabtridge says:

    Corporation on the Amiga. Mechanical spider crabs which suddenly dropped on your face. 12 year old me stopped playing. Could not play. Too scared.

  19. TheWhippetLord says:

    Spiders don’t even have to be animated to be horrifying. Just reading about them can be just as bad. A certain island in Sunless Sea – as bad as the ones Dark Messiah in my opinion. What kind of monstrous spider-sympathising fifth (RPS-)columnist could write that? *cough**

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Spiders? What spiders? Do not speak so rudely of the generous neighbours.

    • Reapy says:

      There’s a certain island in the malazan books of the fallen that is my living nightmare, well same as the character that had to drink themselves stupid once they got stationed there, that would probably have been me.

  20. RuySan says:

    In grimrock 2 there’s a place not much student from the one you just described in underworld 2.

    I dare you to play it.

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      Autocorrect lol.

      Students are horrifying though

      • RuySan says:

        Just yesterday I wanted to insult someone on a sms, and I asked him to go to a “catalog”.

  21. Zaxwerks says:

    This is the one issue that scares me rigid about wanting an Oculus Rift. I’m SO excited about stepping into Skyrim totally immersed in its world EXCEPT when it comes to the spiders, I WON’T be able to cope and will have to switch to using my monitor during those bits.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      I’ve played Skyrim in my Oculus Rift. Modded them out of existence before even installing the driver.

      • CookPassBabtridge says:

        My oculus horror method: Get slightly drunk, then deliberately run into the horrible, usually almost dissociation inducing abominations. Do the whole thing like a speedrun. Then do the same sober. Then play normally. Fear all gone. I call it SOD-T – Speedrunning Oculus Drunken Therapy.

        • Aluschaaf says:

          You might laugh, but that is quite similar to how the actual therapy works: link to onlinelibrary.wiley.com

          • CookPassBabtridge says:

            Yeah but exposure therapy usually has you doing a hierarchy of fearful events and building up to the worst ones, with intervening therapy sessions and thought examination. SOD-T, with the aid of Alcohol (TM) just asks you to find the nearest 10 terrifying monsters and sequentially allow yourself to be mindf***ed. Speed running and booze help by: a) Not allowing you to build up tension e.g. OH MY GOD IS THERE A SPIDER OR NOT I THINK I CAN HEAR IT I WILL TAKE A PEEK OH GOD WAS THAT A LEG I DON’T KNOW WHY IS MY HEAD ITCHING, and instead you just go steaming into the obvious spidery lair and aim straight for the leggy mass. Then you aim for the next leggy mass as quick as possible, and the next one; and B) BOOZE. I find Baileys give me just the right warm fuzziness.

            You also don’t need to fill in a form asking you “what would be the very worst thing if a spider got near me” (PUNCTURING OF MY EYEBALLS AND MILLIONS OF BABY SPIDERS BIRTHING FROM IT) and rating your fear out of 10 or doing belly breathing exercises or listening to Jon Kabat Zinn mindfulness CDs. Its also free!

            In all seriousness though, VR for anxiety is looking interesting, at least for stuff like spider phobics. Social Anxiety apparently has not been quite as successful, but it will be interesting to see if the new headsets and better graphics will help.

      • frymaster says:

        I was going to say – my friend needed to install a mod that turned spiders into bears and spider eggs into honey pots (or possibly hunny pots) before he could play Skyrim.

        That’s a possibly underreported benefit of modding – being able to do stuff like that

    • James says:

      Recently I intstalled a mere hundred mods onto Skyrim including losts of graphical enhancements and such. It was great, just wondering to Whiterun, admiring the HD plants, the distant detail, the new lighti- oh god the spiders are in HD! Run! Run!

      With the indoor lighting mods you can’t even see the buggers until their fangs are buried in your skull. I cannot imagine playing that on Oculus. I’d need therapy.

  22. Stropp says:

    I’ve been an arachnophobe all my life. Those eight legged freaks make my skin crawl. I even have trouble watching a movie.

    Or at least I used to.

    It’s funny but when I first started playing RPGs, I had the same reaction to the spiders as noted in the article. But over the years I’ve noticed that I’m no longer as scared of the little hairy bastards as I used to be. Just the other night I walked into the laundry and there was a big-arse huntsman on the wall. Startled me at first, but I didn’t run screaming for a broom, I just said hello, did what I needed, and left.

    I think that years of fighting virtual giant spiders has desensitized the phobia making it easier to deal with in real life.

    On the other hand I still hate killing cats in games with a passion…

  23. jerf says:

    Funny that I’ve just accidentally read two spider articles in a row, the other on is on xkcd what-if: link to what-if.xkcd.com

    Ontopic: yeah, it makes sense for the video game developers to tone down their spider mania.

  24. waltC says:

    Spiders in the human psyche are a universal constant, not unlike many themes in RPGs. Which is, of course, why so many RPGs feature spiders…whereas created monsters that never existed elicit “ho-humms” from some and “It scares me!” from others, the visceral dread of arachnids taps something primordial in most people. And it’s not just spiders, it’s anything with many legs that creeps and crawls and…bites. Of course, so many spiders in so many RPGs you’d think would serve to make people less sensitive to the real thing. But somehow it doesn’t…and I think that’s because what really scares us is the fact that these creepy crawlers are so small that before we even notice they’re around, they will have bitten us…over and over again…with the rest of the family not far behind…

  25. sassy says:

    An article on spiders in games with no mention of Legend of Grimrock? I nearly quit that game when I reached those abominable creatures. Far worse than anything skyrim had to throw at me. Heck just thinking about them is getting to me!

    I think I’m going to have some serious issues with occulus rift spiders.

    • Premium User Badge

      Severn2j says:

      very much this.. If it wasn’t for the no-spiders version that some charitable soul put on the steam workshop, my quest into Grimrock would’ve ended at the start of level 3.

    • Zafman says:

      Spiders in dungeon crawlers have a too long lasting tradition. Whether it’s Dungeon Master, Eye of the Beholder or Legend of Grimrock, you simply KNOW you’re boned when you haven’t got any anti-venom potions ready. In Grimrock they respawn far too quickly on top of that! Maybe I should turn the difficulty down a bit. At least in Dungeon Master you could lure them under a door and smash it on their heads for extra damage, a feature sorely missed in Grimrock, where doors are located in between squares.
      I’m not an arachnophobe as such, but spiders in games do tend to be a tougher fight. As if venom, speed and swarms wasn’t enough, the overall creepiness rounds it all off. Baldur’s Gate’s sword spiders were horrifying!
      At least Driftmoon gives you the option to turn spiders into cardboard boxes. Schroedinger’s spider. :)

  26. Premium User Badge

    Harlander says:

    Usually, the giant spider monsters in video games make horrible high-pitched screeching noises as they leap at you. I don’t think real spiders are quite so vocal, though to be fair, they’re certainly not so enormous.

    • jrodman says:

      Back when I used to play Wow, I never got over calling out the loudness of the spiders to other players. “Who knew spiders were SO LOUD!” in the middle of a dungeon after enduring 3 pulls of the screechy things was general crowd pleaser.

      It’s amazing how trite it seems now, but was fun to say in context. Perhaps MMO games accustom us to repetition.

  27. Solidstate89 says:

    The only thing that bothered me about the spiders in Skyrim is that, as big as those bastards are, they still somehow managed to surprise me. Many a brown moments were had traversing – what I thought – were completely cleared caves.

    It didn’t matter whether they were spiders or not, they were just sneaky little buggers.

  28. fish99 says:

    I played Skyrim in stereo 3D and definitely had to look away from the screen a few times when fighting the spiders, especially with a melee character. Having said that I do think they missed an opportunity in Skyrim to make them much worse. They don’t grab you, they don’t move around on the ceilings and walls, and they’re generally weak and predictable. Also they don’t have sticky web to get stuck in. So yeah things could have been a lot worse.

    In real life though I’m a proper arachnophobe though. Once they get over about an inch long, I can’t deal with being in the same room as them, to the point of near paralysis. Half an inch though, I can brush them off a wall with my hand. Weird isn’t it.

  29. Menethor says:

    I have a quite strong arachnophobia, and i am a big fan of fantasy games. That really doesnt mix up pretty well.
    I bought Legends of Grimrock because i wanted to try this so bad, i couldnt play it, so i didnt even bother to buy the second game. I was really happy when i saw the no-spider-mod for Skyrim, only with that mod i could enjoy the game.

    I contacted some developers about that, asking if they could make a secret option to replace spiders, but sadly i didnt get positive responses
    To be clear, i do not except developers to sit tons of hours to make a spiderfree alternate game version. I would be happy with a half-assed attempt ala “replace all spiders with wolfes”-script.
    It’s the difference for me if i can play your game or not.

    • SanguineAngel says:

      LoG spiders give me the massive creeps in a skin crawly way. I kinda like that about it. It makes me panic

    • tonylaverge says:

      There is a for Grimrock.

      • tonylaverge says:

        I accidentally “no spider mod”.

      • Menethor says:

        Bought it first day and wrote it off after i saw those creeps. Thanks, will look into it again on the weekend now!

    • Premium User Badge

      Severn2j says:

      Weirdly, in Grimrock the spiders are all contained on one level, so if you can get past level 3, you wont see them again..

  30. SanguineAngel says:

    This post could have been written by Sargent Hellian

  31. Jackablade says:

    I’ve no issues with spiders besides them being a rather lazy fallback enemy type, but if we’re removing elements of games that cause people distress, then I’d be happy to recommend removing anywhere where I can get stuck under water and drown.

  32. LennyLeonardo says:

    Spiders are ace. Um…that’s all.

  33. Premium User Badge

    SoundDust says:

    The way the spiders in Dragon Age : Origins (pic 2?) did the overpowering was always kinda cool, with all that crunching sound going on – even if it the attack itself was often simultaneously very annoying.. Anyway, I was a bit disappointed they didn’t include that in Inquisition.

  34. Strangerator says:

    I have a phobia of giant fish.. and fortunately it doesn’t get triggered too often. The notable exceptions are of course the HORRIBLE DEMON FISH in the Half-Life games. And the giant fish colossus from Shadows of the Colossus. The latter boss battle left my stomach in a knot the entire time, but I loved the game so much I forced myself through. I find with this phobia, it’s not a frequent thing, but when it hits it is going to be major.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Don’t play Outer Wilds. Or if you do, don’t go to the water planet. Instant alt-tab.

    • Eldiran says:

      Son of a…!! I could have sworn you could edit comments but I guess not “I’m actually making a TACTICS RPG” it’s supposed to say, and the link was not supposed to spread to the rest of the comment…

      • Cockie says:

        There used to be an edit function, but it has been removed some time ago due to server performance issues.

        • Eldiran says:

          Ah, that’s a shame… I hope they find a better edit function someday.

      • James says:

        There were performance issues. Though it seems sourcing a less intensive edit function is impossible.

  35. PerspectiveDesigns says:

    If anybody here wants to fight their fear of spiders, I highly suggest learning more about jumping spiders. Yes I know, spiders that jump sounds terrifying, but they’re actually incredibly cure little critters and they’re harmless. Here’s some pictures of jumping spiders with dew drops that look like hats.

    link to buzzfeed.com

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      WOW!

      • CookPassBabtridge says:

        Yeah but… isn’t it storing the bodies of its victims in that hat? Its cute but it is basically wearing a morgue in its head.

        • LennyLeonardo says:

          I thought those were reflections, but if you’re right then those guys are even more great. Spiders!

          • PerspectiveDesigns says:

            Those are reflections. There are no damselflies that small, and those ones aren’t dead, they’re mating.

          • CookPassBabtridge says:

            All I needed to be happy was an adorable jumping spider water droplet hat morgue, but no. You had to take it away. I hope you can sleep at night.

            Well alright that was a bit harsh and maybe you can’t sleep at night anyway, because there are spiders in your room, and if there are, then sorry, but also still maybe feel guilty about the hat morgue a bit if thats OK? OK.

    • Cockie says:

      Peacock spiders are very cute too.
      And they like to dance!

  36. alexispolak says:

    I have a really bad arachnophobia. I just can’t play this kind of games. I have to quit playing Skyrim, Fallout and all major RPG games. I can bearly play Dragon Age Inquisition… This sucks. I think the developers need to add an option to change spiders, scorpions and crabs (all theese three are arachnids) for any other insect. Like ants, beagles and wasp.

    • Cinek says:

      Crabs? But crabs are cute! (yes, I dare you to click it!)

      • Geebs says:

        Spiders: OK. Crabs: OK. Seeing a spider-crab move about underwater: nearly threw up in my regulator.

    • James says:

      Wasps, sir? I refer you to the comment chain on wasps. There shall be no wasps.

    • jrodman says:

      Crabs are crustaceans and wasps are insects. Arachnids is a pretty narrow group, consisting of only scorpions, spiders, ticks, mites, harvestmen (which we typically think of as spiders), and “solifuges” or “camel spiders”. Which I was unfamiliar before this and am now horrified of.

      Anyway the common classification that includes those three things is arthropods, which is an enormous phylum including all insects, arachnids, crustaceans, etc.

      • Jackablade says:

        It’s odd that we don’t see many solifuges in games. They’re a weird beastie with those two vertical jaws that go in and out while they’re eating. Wouldn’t be hard to turn them into a really scary monster, even if those beady eyes atop the head make them look kind of cartoony.

        I’d post a video, but I suspect this is the sort of thing that’d put the arachnophobes in therapy.

    • RedViv says:

      Inquisition then doubles down with a Big Ass Spider Demon Boss that is also Trypophobia Incarnate.

  37. Premium User Badge

    serioussgtstu says:

    I wonder if it was Rich who wrote the Spider Island part in Sunless Sea. Maybe that was his way of having the last laugh by making all the spiders in an RPG text based.

  38. OmNomNom says:

    Why all the hate? They can deal with pests like snakes for you!

    link to i.imgur.com

    • Immobile Piper says:

      As a non-arachnophobe…

      That’s mean. Well done(?) sir.

      • Cockie says:

        As a fellow non-arachnophobe:
        AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA *runs*

  39. Shazbut says:

    Spidery or crab like things that jump at your face render a game unplayable in an instant for me, pretty much no matter what.

    Facehuggers are… I mean, I can hardly conceive of something that would scare me more.

  40. Immobile Piper says:

    I’m quite lucky in that I have no phobias of any kind.

    What I do have is a squeamish attitude and any sort of small, slimy, slithery and bug like thing has me jumping in my seat. Even worse if they go straight for the 1st person face.
    I’m also quite uncomfortable when darkness and emptiness is involved (Tomb Raider, No One Lives Forever, Half Life all had some spooky water sequences).

    I don’t enjoy them, but I enjoy the feeling of unenjoyment due to it’s rarity, if that makes sense.

  41. Tiltowait says:

    I don’t mind the spider battles if they are well done. Beholders are the ones that give me the creeps, they can turn you to stone or insta kill you if you fail a saving throw. The Spinner of Shadows dungeon in DDO was good and you get to see a bit of Lolth the demon queen, which was part of the transition to Forgotten Realms from Eberron.
    link to youtu.be

  42. Hordriss says:

    Ugh – should have known better than to read this before bed. Those images are going to be in my head for a while. Stupid, irrational phobia.

    I can’t stand spiders and I’ve never understood why they are such a common feature in games. Living alone has forced me to learn to deal with them IRL although I do sleep with a can of Raid under my bed, just in case…

    Game-wise, ‘no spiders’ was the first Skyrim mod I installed (it replaced them with bears that sort-of slid across the floor… creepy in its own way but better than arachnids). I could tolerate the more cartoony spiders in WoW – I found them far worse dead than alive – I hated the way the dead ones lay on their backs with their legs in the air.

  43. Sin Vega says:

    I strongly oppose the use of spiders in RPGs because they’re lazy, tedious and trite, but yeah, it’s also inconsiderate.

    Also, the facehuggers in Aliens Vs Predator (the good one) still reduce me to a gibbering wreck every time they get me. They were wonderfully horrible. The fear never goes away.

  44. BooleanBob says:

    It’s the fucking trapdoor spiders I can’t abide. If I can see it coming, fine. If it’s going to come at me from under the goddamn floor I’d rather kill myself than even take my chances with it.

  45. Sidewinder says:

    Something I would suggest to you, Richard- and, indeed, to many of the others here- is to head on down to the southern US and make the acquaintance of some fire ants. They don’t bite; which is nice, but that’s because they sting. A lot.

    If that doesn’t help, armor up and head a bit further south until you encounter army ants, which are essentially single-form Zerg. In the interests of not scaring the over-sensitive, I will say no more here, except to add that I wasn’t kidding about the armor.

    Still not convinced (or eaten)? Keep heading south, and you’ll find bullet ants. So called because being stung by one is as painful as being shot.

    The main thing keeping these critters back is the cold- but global warming’s taking care of that just fine. Once it’s gone, there will be nothing protecting you except predators- and you can probably guess who that’s referring to. I’m less familiar with the nasty insects of the Mediterranean (and thus those further north in Europe), but I do know that you all ought to fall down on your knees and thank every spider you see for keeping you safe from things are actually bad. Spiders are not. They’re some of the best friends we as a species have, and we jeopardize that at our peril.

  46. The King K says:

    While I have a healthy respect (fear) or spiders in real life once their body/leg relation reaches something like “one” on the mass-scale, the only spiders in a game that lead me to discomfort (code for “I stopped playing”) were in Dark Messiah.
    I’ve recently considered why and I think it was mostly because you were in this giant nest and they could come from anywhere. Spiders from the top are apparently scary. Also, I don’t mind big spiders like in Skyrim, it’s when they are smaller that I have trouble. Imagine hundreds of small spiders rushing you instead of a giant one.

    Also, at least in games, it’s perfectly accepable to hurl balls of fire at spiders. But do it in real life, and you’re an arsonist all of a sudden.

    • Premium User Badge

      teije says:

      Once at Chichen Itza in Mexico, I looked down an abandoned well that had strangely dark walls. I foolishly threw a stone down there (shades of Pippin in Moria I know – never do that!). The walls started moving frantically – which is when we realized that the dark coating was thousands of spiders in some sort of colony that we had now disturbed into manic activity.

      Luckily I’m not too scared of spiders – if so, my heart would have stopped then and there. As it was, I don’t think I’ve ever been so creeped out in my life. Skin crawling and all that.

  47. liquidsoap89 says:

    I’ll just go ahead and throw this .

    • liquidsoap89 says:

      Solid hyperlinking by me! That period in the sentence above is a video for anyone interested in having their childhood memories of Spiderman ruined by Skyrim.

  48. JackMultiple says:

    Reminds me of the time, back in the early 90s, I was playing Spider Fighter on an Atari 2600 “redux” machine, when I heard a loud “pop” to my left. I looked over at my dot matrix printer, and sitting on the pin-feed paper was a spider that had PLOPPED down from the ceiling. As I involuntarily LEAPED UP and back, the spider crawled down into the printer mechanism! I threw the printer out. Damn if I’m going in there looking for it!

  49. Yanko says:

    I actually based my MSc. research on spiders in games to treat arachnophobia. My wife was deeply arachnophobic (she couldn’t even see the screenshots in this article without having a panic attack), so I ended up using her as a guinea pig study subject. Fortunately she’s now pretty much cured!

    (it’s arachnophobic-safe, no spider pics!)