There isn’t any official ranking of phobias, but I have to assume that the fear of needles ranks relatively high on the list of things that make people squeamish. Up there with claustrophobia, the fear of tight spaces, and of course, arachnophobia, the fear of needles seems to be a relatively ubiquitous feeling. The official term, trypanophobia, might not be as commonly known as some other phobias, but I’d be willing to bet that you or someone you know is deathly afraid of needles. Given how common needles are in horror games, it seems that there is an opportunity here for better accessibility. Obsidian became pioneers in the phobia space with Grounded’s Arachnophobia Safe Mode, and it’s high time that trypanophobes get the same level of attention.
Grounded hasn’t gotten much media attention since it launched in Early Access last summer, but Obsidian’s Honey I Shrunk the Kids-inspired survival/crafting game is chugging right along with major monthly updates. As we approach the end of Grounded’s Early Access tenancy, the most notable feature ever created for the game has still got to be the Arachnophobia Safe Mode, which aims to pair down the giant spiders that patrol the backyard at night. Not only are these massive arachnids nigh-unkillable, they’re also super gross to look at. Their bulging bug-eyes and jump scare-inducing audio cues creep me the hell out, and I’m not even particularly bothered by spiders in real life. It’s easy to see how a spider-averse person would want to avoid Grounded altogether, which is exactly why the developers cleverly included the safe mode.
Arachnophobia Safe Mode doesn’t just remove spiders from the game. It couldn’t do that because these monsters are an important hurdle to overcome while progressing through the game. Instead, the safe mode provides a variable slider that de-spiders the enemies until they eventually become unrecognizable amorphous blobs that don’t evoke spider phobias. If you’re a little afraid of spiders, you can reduce the number of legs they have to four and remove the hair from them. If that’s not enough, you can remove all their legs and turn them into floating bitey boys. If you’re really terrified of eight-legged freaks, you can completely remove all of their textures and reduce them to vague floating objects of indiscernible origin. Obviously, this is a great way to be inclusive with your games, by why stop at spiders?
Most games don’t have giant predatory arachnids that chase you around, but a surprising number of games do feature needles. Horror games are the most common culprit of course, and depictions of violence with needles tend to be the most memorable. Who can forget the scene from Dead Space 2 when Isaac gets a big ol’ needle jammed straight into his eyeball. I certainly can not.
Arkane’s Prey takes this a step further by including first-person cutscenes of Morgan ramming a needle directly into their own eye every time you use a neuromod. Of course, you can’t get through a single Resident Evil game without three characters being injected with some form of the T-Virus, and in Half-Life: Alyx, you can only heal if you’re willing to pantomime injecting yourself with a massive needle. If Grounded can replace spiders with blobs of cookie dough, surely needles can be made optional in games as well. I have a few ideas of just how we might be able to do that.
The obvious solution would be to just remove needles altogether, but I think that might not be enough. Imagine the Dead Space 2 scene where everything is exactly the same but without the needle actually coming down. It’s still very obviously a needle going into his eye, and it isn’t hard to imagine a narrow line of silver poking through his retina when the blood starts to trickle out of it. Rather than remove the needle, I think a Trypanophobia Safe Mode would need to replace it with something else entirely.
If you’re a needle-phobe, it’s not enough to look away from the stick. The game could just cover the needle up with any random PNG, but if you know there’s a needle going through an eyeball behind it, it’s not going to do much to relieve your anxiety. Instead, It’s important that the replacement also serves as a distraction. For this reason, I suggest that all needles could be replaced with glistening ballpark franks. Imagine your surprise when the Silent Hill nurse that’s been chasing you around suddenly catches up and slaps you in the neck with a piping hot bratwurst. The settings could adjust the girth and level of detail on the hot dog so that, if you’re particularly needle-averse, you can really hone in on the beads of sweat forming on the outside of the hot dog skin as it gets slowly pushed into your open eye. The game could even offer a vegan option that changes the dog into a plant-based substitute.
Obviously, there’s no use trying to replace every terrifying thing in a video game for the sake of someone’s comfort. Horror games are meant to make you uncomfortable with shocking and terrifying imagery. I just think there are certain phobias that are especially triggering for a lot of people, and if an accessibility feature would encourage more people to play the game, that has to be a good thing. I love what Grounded did for arachnophobes, and whether or not they opt for the hot dog option, every developer should be looking for ways to make their games more inclusive.
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Eric Switzer is the Livestream News Editor for TheGamer as well as the lead for VR and Tech. He has written about comics and film for Bloody Disgusting and VFXwire. He is a graduate of University of Missouri – Columbia and Vancouver Film School. Eric loves board games, fan conventions, new technology, and his sweet sweet kitties Bruce and Babs. Favorite games include Destiny 2, Kingdom Hearts, Super Metroid, and Prey…but mostly Prey. His favorite Pokémon is Umbreon.
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