ByMarcus O'Shea, writer at Creators.co
Resident RPG nerd and SoulsBorne fanatic. Can be spotted by their floofy hair.
Marcus O'Shea

Take a look at almost every fantasy and horror title and you'll find one enemy that always seems to show up. Well, actually two enemies, because zombies are everywhere, but today on we're talking about our eight-legged friends: spiders.

A History Of Horror: What's With All These Spiders?

Yep, spiders. Despite Indiana Jones's complaints about the ubiquity of snakes, they don't seem to show up anywhere near as often as spiders do. It's gotten to the point where the phrase "Spider Level" is an actual thing. But why are they so common? And why do so many people find them so creepy?

Spiders Have A Long History In Horror Games

I could deal with zombies, but frankly, fuck this ['Resident Evil' - Credit: Capcom]
I could deal with zombies, but frankly, fuck this ['Resident Evil' - Credit: Capcom]

The first appearance of spiders in a game came in 1981, with Haunted House. This primitive Atari 2600 title featured a crude red tarantula made up of a few red pixels as one of the primary enemies. Spiders didn't seem to catch on for quite a while however, perhaps the technology limitations at the time made it hard to instead a good scary spider. Maybe arachnophobia, like wallet chains, just didn't pick up until the '90s.

But the big breakout hit for our creepy-crawly friends came with the two forefathers of the genre, Alone in the Dark and (although both were predated by Sweet Home). Alone in the Dark featured spiders front and centre in their lineup of enemies, and even offered up a selection of sizes for your perusal. Resident Evil offered up less variety in size, but made up for it by having that size be 'gigantic'.

Spiders are people too, at least they are when things go horribly wrong ['The Evil Within' - Credit: Bethesda]
Spiders are people too, at least they are when things go horribly wrong ['The Evil Within' - Credit: Bethesda]

Since then, the humble spider has been spinning its webs and creeping its legs all over the horror genre. System Shock 2 horrified us with its mutated demonic spiders, while the RE series and AitD series were rife with oversized arachnids. Even games that lacked actual spiders often took inspiration from their movements and forms to create horrifying enemies. Consider the clicking, waving limbs of the mannequins from Silent Hill 2.

And They're A Dose Of Horror In Other Genres

The atmospheric puzzle platformer 'Limbo' used a shadowy spider to freak you out [Credit: Microsoft Studios]
The atmospheric puzzle platformer 'Limbo' used a shadowy spider to freak you out [Credit: Microsoft Studios]

Even more common than their appearance in horror games is the use of spiders to add a dose of creepiness to games outside the genre. Almost every fantasy RPG player has encountered a giant spider or two while delving deep in a creepy cave. From the giant Black Widows of Baldur's Gate to the Duke's Dear Friede of Dark Souls 2, spiders and spider hybrids haunt the fantasy genre. They're so common to RPGs in fact, that almost every PC RPG features a spider removal mod, sometimes with hilarious results.

Oh thanks 'Skyrim', that's much less terrifying. [Credit: Bethesda]
Oh thanks 'Skyrim', that's much less terrifying. [Credit: Bethesda]

SciFi isn't safe either. It seems every second game in the genre features some ass that either played god with arachnid genetics or built a bunch of robots that look suspiciously like spiders.

You'd think spider enemies would at least be isolated to shooters and RPGs, where you can safely dispose of them at a distance, but Mortal Kombat X managed to bring the spider into the fighting game genre, complete with a wonderful jump scare where one leaps in your face.

But Why Spiders? What Makes Us So Afraid Of Them?

How could you be afraid of this? ['Doom 3' - Credit: Activision]
How could you be afraid of this? ['Doom 3' - Credit: Activision]

There's a couple of theories on the subject. The leading theory, originally proposed by Martin Seligman, is that spiders constituted a primal threat to ancient man. Spiders could kill us, quite easily, so we learned to fear them as an evolutionary defense mechanism. This concept was called preparedness.

Scientists like Arne Ohman developed research that supported this theory. In lab conditions, they found that it was extremely easy to make people fear spiders and snakes more than other stimuli. They also found that young children were both quicker to spot spiders and more afraid of them than cockroaches, despite both of them being similarly creepy-looking.

Aaaaaand I'm out. ['Xenoblade' - Credit: Nintendo]
Aaaaaand I'm out. ['Xenoblade' - Credit: Nintendo]

There's certainly merit to this theory, but a few holes as well. For example, why do so many westerners fear spiders despite the comparative lack of deadly venomous spiders in Europe, while other cultures, in areas like Africa, South America and Indo-China either eat spiders or consider them in a positive light. Spiders in these regions tend to be both more numerous, larger and deadlier than European spiders. So why wouldn't they be universally feared there?

If we're so afraid of spiders because of historical danger, why does almost no one freak out at a photo of say... a wolf? Or a big cat? They'd have caused a lot more trouble than the average spider.

Why are the horrifyingly realistic spiders of 'Dark Messiah of Might and Magic' so much creepier than a realistically rendered wolf? [Credit: Activision]
Why are the horrifyingly realistic spiders of 'Dark Messiah of Might and Magic' so much creepier than a realistically rendered wolf? [Credit: Activision]

Another theory states that we naturally fear more angular creatures, which signal danger. While it's true that many artists use sharp angles to suggest anxiety and fear in their work, it's a weak theory. Many spiders aren't actually particularly angular, especially when compared to say, stick insects. Fear of snakes is incredibly common as well, and they're basically big tubes.

The most obvious answer is probably that we're afraid of them because people once decided we should be, and we've been teaching each other that spiders are creepy ever since. People are a suggestible species when it comes to fear, just look at the reaction to sharks ever since Jaws. Sharks kill less people every year than toasters, but you don't see people suggesting we go around culling the kitchenware section of stores.

Whatever the reason, those little eight-legged freaks still spook a lot of us, and we're not going to see them going away in games any time soon. Hell, Nioh has an entire castle full of them.

Do you find spiders terrifying or passé? Got a History of Horror subject you want me to delve into? Let us know in the comments!

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