So, I’m a bit of an arachnophobe. I spotted a spider making its way from my living room’s ceiling to my living room’s floor the other day and while I managed to throw it out the window eventually, it involved a lot of screaming and panicked jumps all over the room.
To be clear here: I don’t hate spiders. I don’t kill spiders, ever. I merely don’t want them near me. Surely, that is not too much to ask. They are hairy and deadly and have a very scary way of catching and killing their prey and I’d rather they just stayed away. I mean, that’s reasonable, isn’t it?
So, what do games designers do? They put them in every single game that doesn’t have the words NFL, NHL or Tetris in its title. For someone who has a minor nervous breakdown every time a spider farts somewhere on the same continent, I had to deal with a lot of those eight legged beasts in my gaming.
But, of course, game designers can’t really have us deal with normal spiders – as if those weren’t scary enough to start with. No, usually we deal with giant spiders. Or mutant spiders. Or sentient spiders. Or cybernetic spiders. Or a combination of all of the above. Remember the final boss in Quake 2: Ground Zero or those minibosses in Doom 3? Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.
So, here’s a quick, off-the-top-of-my-head list of various spiders I had to meet, fight and beat in some of the games I’ve played. Of course, it goes without saying that the level of psychological trauma in some of these cases was so high that I simply had to walk away from these games. Either that or the gameplay really, really sucked.
Thanatos: a case of cavernous arachnid infestation
There used to be a little UK developer back in the eighties called Durell Software. I loved them because they were really passionate about their vision even though in many cases their technology was more impressive than their games. Turbo Esprit was probably their most famous game because it was essentially a 1986’s skinnier version of GTA. Sure, after a while racing across town in a police car and bringing in criminals got boring but the game gave us a fully three-dimensional town to race through, a tricked out Lotus Esprit and a loaded gun to compensate for our already underdeveloped masculinity. That was a rare treat back in them days.
The other Durell’s game I remember with fondness was Thanatos, an epic tale of a good dragon on a mission to save an enchantress (or whatever the woman riding on his back was) from other, evil dragons, evil people who would have her killed, giant sea-snakes and, you guessed it, giant hairy spiders.
Now, Thanatos was about as comfortable to play as it is to masturbate with boxing gloves on. The dragon was as manoeuvrable as one-wheeled eighteen-wheelers come and the damn woman he was supposed to save was more vulnerable than any NPC from all your least favourite escort missions combined but I kept coming back to it because it was so god damned beautiful. Seeing a breathtakingly large animated sprite taking half the damn screen on a machine that technically couldn’t do sprites (ZX Spectrum) was just too great an experience to pass.
However, I never completed the game. I could deal with the archers and evil dragons, but reaching the caves and seeing how their walls were decorated with giant arachnids usually sent me into seizures. It didn’t help that the spiders couldn’t hurt the dragon himself but one touch on the fragile frame of the enchantress would send her plunging to the ground. And then the damn spiders would actually climb down themselves and crawl towards her, in no particular hurry. They knew I was too much of a pussy to ever successfully fight them. No, it’s OK, I am.
You can see the horror of my youth in the below video starting at about 6.28.
Lord of the Rings: Return of the King: Previously I could just dream of being bitten and eaten by a giant spider… now I can live it!!!
So, you know, when I was a kid I used to read The Hobbit every couple of months or so. And the part with giant spiders would send shivers down my spine every single time. The way Tolkien described how the dwarves got immobilised, webbed and stored to be eaten at a later date gave me uneasy BDSM nightmares years before I allowed the Internet to teach me what the word ‘mummified’ means in the today’s sexual jargon.
Of course, graduating to the Lord of the Rings and seeing how there was a whole new level of arachnid-related horror lurking in the corridors of Ephel Duath didn’t really help the nightmares go away.
Years later Peter Jackson gave my nightmares a fresh spin, efficiently visualising the thing I was just barely brave enough to imagine in my head.
But of course then came the damn game.
LOTR:ROTK was not such a great game. Its main claim to fame (besides the licence, of course) was that it would throw literally hundreds of enemies at you which was somehow novel at the time. Unless you played any of millions of Koei’s titles that did exactly that. Or Power Stone for that matter. Or, you know, Gauntlet.
So, anyway, this game’s main claim to fame was its licence and the fact that you could see how the models in the game vaguely looked like the actors in Peter Jackson’s films. Good enough I guess. Gameplay was frantic and at times fun but the game loved to cheat and artificially stretch playing time by breaking the rules left right and centre, so I only completed it because I had nothing better to do back then.
And, of course I knew I’d have to fight Shelob at one point.
Now, thankfully, Shelob in this game is just a really fat, big spider and not visibly
‘an “evil thing in spider form,” living high in the Ephel Dúath mountains that border Mordor; the “last child of Ungoliant to trouble the unhappy world.” There are numerous references to her being ancient, and predating the events recalled in The Lord of the Rings by many ages. Although she resides in Mordor and is unrepentantly evil, she remains independent of Sauron and his influence‘,
but still, you know, a giant fat spider is just good enough to scare me off.
The below video shows just exactly what makes me feel uneasy in my gut whenever I so much as think of this game: a mummified Frodo on the ground, a hungry, angry big black spider, smaller spiders racing to assist their boss… If my nightmares had physical shape, this would pretty much be it.
Devil May Cry: because just once is never enough
Hideki Kamiya and Shinji Mikami were clearly just not content with making one of the toughest action games of its hardware generation. In addition to other exaggerations at every possible level, they made sure that the first boss in their new franchise was not just very tough to beat but that you also had to fight it three different times in the game, using different tactics, just in case you thought you now knew how to beat it.
It didn’t really help that the boss in question was a giant, angry, smack-talking arachnid called Phantom. And, you see, Phantom is not just a regular giant spider with unbreakable chitin exoskeleton (who can talk) (and summon lava showers out of thin air). Why, Phantom is not a spider at all, but a hybrid scorpion/ spider.
Does that even make sense, you ask. Sure, spiders and scorpions are both arachnids so they kinda are family but if they could breed in real life, they would have already, right?
Does that even matter? I have seen some South-American arachnids in Ecuador that actually looked like a cross between a spider and a scorpion, but regardless of Phantom’s faithfulness (or lack thereof) to the natural order of things, the point is still that at several points in the game Dante has to fight a big friggin’ angry spider/ scorpion thing that spits insults and lava at him.
Now, Dante is half-demon and also likes to talk shit whenever given option, so to him Phantom is just another face (albeit eight-eyed face) in the line of enemies who talked big words but were beaten just like the rest – after all, the original DMC is taking place after the events of DMC 3 – but beyond every confident Dante is a scared, fragile human being crying to be released. That would be me.
Watch, just watch Phantom getting his arachnid arse handed to him in every of the below videos. There used to be an old text-adventure game back in the Stone Age that would let you kill the big enemy spider only by typing “trample spider”. Oh, how I wish Dante was given this option back when I was trying to play this game looking away from the screen.
Okami: you’ll never eat vegetables again, you goddamn hippie fagot
So, Hideki Kamiya obviously has a thing for giant arachnids. Sure, he didn’t make Devil May Cry sequels but sure as hell his influence was so great that those games contained some big ass giant spiders. The latest game in the series so far even features a boss that is some cross between a hot woman, a dragon, a spider and a goddamn plant. Thanks for that, guys, thanks a lot!!! I could do with more ambiguity in my masturbation fantasies!!!
But then, for really disturbing vegetable-spiders you need look no further than Kamiya’s later masterpiece – Okami.
Now, Okami is a lovely game, a proof that not only you can actually do a Zelda game and not be Nintendo, but that you can also outZelda Nintendo in their own game… that is making games… Zelda games. Yes.
Okay, the language kinda commits suicide at this point but the fact still stands: Okami is an achievement in the field of all kinds of design: game design, visual design, sound design, even writing. It’s a visually arresting, aurally seductive, mechanically sublime game with feet firmly planted in Shinto mythology/ spirituality and it is damn funny in many ways.
But of course it features goddamn giant spiders!!! As if, you know, many-headed dragon beasts were not intimidating enough. And just for that extra drop of psychological perversion (as if there was some other kind) the spiders in this game – bandit spiders that you regularly meet at points, as well as the impossibly large spider queen that acts as the first boss – all of these beasts have an unmistakeable feel of being vegetables in addition to being huge, bloodthirsty eight-legged animals.
It’s cute. On some level. On other levels it’s just sickening. I am a vegetarian for crying out loud!! Now every time I look at an onion or a bunch of peas on my plate I can think of only one thing: spiders. Goddamn vegetable spiders.
Demon’s Souls: because metal will never die
For the latest entry on my list of games that scare way more shit out of me than they normally are designed to, I offer you Demon’s Souls.
Sure, we talked about this game here, several times. I waxed lyrical about how deep and engaging it is, how well designed it is, even how gorgeous it looks. I also mentioned how boss and miniboss fights in it are really demanding. Difficult even. Did I also mention that one of the bosses you are required to fight is a giant spider? A giant spider that spits fire because clearly mere venom would simply be substandard. A giant spider that is, just to add the extra layer of frustration there, also wearing armour!!!
In all honesty, as bosses in this game go, this one’s easily the sissiest of the bunch and it took me a mere handful of attempts to render its armour useless and pierce its black, ugly, hateful heart with my trusty Claymore. But still, being mummified in cobweb and then blasted with fire, that’s just more fuel for my sexual nightmares that I hoped I grew out of…
Demon’s Souls creators, the From Software company seem to have a theme going here. Their recent game, Ninja Blade also featured a towering armoured spider boss (as shown here) but I guess it’s the ability of Demon’s Souls’ Armoured Spider boss to slow its victim, (I mean its slayer, its slayer) by mummifying them in web and then burning their flesh off is what really gets me worked up every time I think about it. At the end of the day, most spiders don’t bother to hunt but let their food get entangled in their web and then they feast on it. While it’s helpless. Immobile. Completely out of control. And still you laugh at me when I admit I am scared of Spiders.
Sure, you say that in real life they can not psychically grow large enough for this to ever become an issue, but let me tell you: this is exactly what Conan thought when embarking on his mission to loot the Tower of the Elephant. Conan though to himself: Imma rob this old building here because, realistically, I am a mountain person and I can climb like a muthafucka and, really, what are they going to throw at me? Lions? Pig-sized arachnids? Yeah, that’s just crazy talk!!!
And what did he find there? Lions attacking without a sound!!! A seemingly human creature with the head of an elephant!!!And, sure enough, a big, bad, pissed off giant spider. Now Conan got through because, after all, he is Conan. But what about you and me, friend, what about you and me?