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Attack of the Eight-Legged Cliché

By Christina Gonzalez on October 07, 2011 | General Articles | Comments

Attack of the Eight-Legged Cliché

Even without knowing you, fellow gamer, I can guarantee you’ve encountered many a giant spider. Their eight hairy legs, snapping mandibles, multiple beady eyes, and insane power to just creep out almost anyone thoroughly have been rendered over and over to haunt our games for decades now. Throw a dart at a list of MMOs (note: MMORPG.com is not responsible if you throw said dart at your monitor while reading our Game List), and you’re almost guaranteed to have some variant of the giant spider or giant insect crawling about waiting for your character to greet it with a heroic act of slaying worth 200XP. This is not even limited to MMOs, because single player games have been in on this since way before the MMO was born.

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I’ve been a gamer since I was about three years old. When I was nine or ten, I came home from school to find a termite infestation had chewed through my bedroom wall and taken up in my bed. I developed a phobia of spiders and bugs that persists to this day. As gamers, I think you probably see the issue her. Even reading about or fighting spiders in games is enough to make my skin crawl. Recently, I was playing Lord of the Rings Online and decided to explore the area in which I was questing. I stumbled into a marsh filled with ruins—and spiders. It wasn’t so bad for a few minutes, until I noticed the spiders swimming in the water near my Hobbit. I could avoid them well enough on land, but up until then, none of them had ever been swimmers before. I climbed a ruin and tumbled down off the top into a hollow, surrounded by them, and felt just about as small as the character I inhabit.

In Guild Wars, having spiders drop down from the trees suddenly has been good for a scare, even when I am on guard for it. Funny enough, one of the first deeds I completed in LOTRO was for killing spiders. I have all the deeds for that particular task. It doesn’t mean it has been an easy time. There’s even a quest where you have to eradicate a spider infestation in the appropriately named town of Scary. However, in LOTRO, I do consider the spider to be an appropriate addition to the landscape. Tolkien’s lore includes Cirith Ungol (which translates to "Spider’s Cleft"), along with Ungoliant and his daughter Shelob, whose presence Frodo and Sam memorably encounter. But even Hello Kitty Online has big spiders – some of which are neon pink and yellow. If that’s not jumping the shark, then what is? For many games, they’re honestly just filler.

Luckily, there are creative mobs that can even have us on the edge of our seats without resorting to just slapping in a few big bugs and calling it a day. I’ve been getting more and more excited for The Secret World, partly because of the monsters that the game has unveiled. Drawing from international mythologies and the influences of Lovecraft and horror fantasy, the game has my attention. I’m a huge fan of the dark and creepy, as well as horror games in general. I love games and movies that can play with my head and leave me feeling glad to have gone along for the ride afterward. The Secret World features creatures such as the Revenant, said to be made up of parts of those who were very evil in their lives. The Spectre is equally as haunting. One of my favorite all-time antagonists is Pyramid Head from Silent Hill, and if an MMO can get something like him right, then I’d be a very happy woman. It’s not merely about unique design, though that is a part of it, but a collective sense of atmosphere and novelty that still feels organic to the game environment. That’s why spiders work in LOTRO, and why I’d expect them in Guild Wars 2.

I’m a fan of the fantasy genre, but we can have compelling settings and lore that can foster something new and different as well. This is also something that ArenaNet has done to a degree with Guild Wars and seems to be doing with Guild Wars 2. The setting is fantasy, yet there are elements of technology, steampunk, and mythology-based influences. You can still collect wolf pelts in an environment like this, but also theoretically turn around and engage in some technological find. There are spiders and other creatures that don’t stretch the imagination too much in Guild Wars as well, but then there are cases like the Charr (once the invaders you fought against, and now a playable race in GW2) and minor species, such as the Hylek.

Okay, devs, we get it. Spiders are scary. But their scariness comes more from being naturally creepy than from any real creativity or design inspiration. For me, it sure would be nice to play through just about any MMORPG without having to worry about being freaked out. I recognize that sometimes these creatures’ presence in a game grows organically from the setting or the lore, but that can’t always be an excuse either. It’s just plain lazy at this point to put them in any game not called Arachnid Battle World 3000. I keep imagining the conversations between devs and creature designers and some pats on the back when they decide to infest some corner of their virtual world with giant bugs as over the top as they can make them. I imagine the conversation going something like this:

Dev 1:  We need some mobs in this field for Heroic Newb to fight.
Dev 2: Lizards? Chickens?! No, not epic enough. Hmm, how about a giraffe? They’re tall, and that’s pretty epic.
Dev 1: They chew leaves all day. I know! A spider the size of my Volkswagen. With fur and uh… teeth… and covered in flames!
Dev 2: New! Awesome! A genius decision!

Nope, just overused, hence the cliché in the title of this piece. Seriously, if you’re listening out there developers:  Stop this already! You’re better than that. Can we have a pile of giant kittens or maybe velociraptors? Now those would be pretty nifty. Just don’t everyone rush to code them into your in-development games all at once, because then we would be right back here again.

Christina Gonzalez / Christina is a freelancer and contributor to MMORPG.com, where she writes the community-focused Social Hub column.