Sunday, September 4, 2011

What games did for me: Spider's Bane

Games are awesome. I think I must point that out, emphatically, after my last post painted such a sour picture of my relationship with games.

Much has been made of “gamification” in the last year or so, and anyone even remotely interested in smugly arguing about how important video games are could do worse than reading Jane McGonigal’s “Reality is Broken”. But today is not the day I’m going to ramble on about that topic - but a ramble is coming, count on that! 

No, today I’m going to write about something much less grandiose, but still life-changing. Well, life-changing for me, at any rate. A little change. But significant! For me. 

Since being a kid, I was deathly afraid of spiders. I’m not sure if I would qualify as an arachnophobic, but sure enough, the teeniest spider would render me unable to move, petrified in abject fear. The mere hint of a spider web in my room would keep me awake at night, dreams of thousands of the little critters swarming over me in my sleep - crawling inside my mouth and ears - waiting to ambush as soon as sleep took over. 

Yeah, I was fucked up, and I have, to this day, no clue why. 

And then, Baldur’s Gate came along. I was fifteen or sixteen at the time, and still coming to terms with this CRPG thing - this was so different from the Japanese games I loved, with their spiky-haired heroes and menu-based battle systems. 

But this game, it had something special about it. There was something raw, an earthiness to it, the way the tiny computer people moved around their tiny computer world that was so much like watching a medieval diorama come to life... I was enthralled. 

And so, soon after gathering a full party and having my first skirmishes and victory against kobolds in iron mines, I found myself wandering through the Cloakwood (or was it the “Woods of Sharp Teeth”? I always forget.). And then spiders appeared. 

Mind you, these were not simple spiders, they were giant spiders! And as if it was not enough, they came with a sword spider, a lumbering beast of metallic colour whose every step was a cross between a gnashing of teeth and the scraping of swords - a beast plucked out from my worst nightmares. 

I was paralyzed. I could not even remember to press the space bar to pause the action. No, I just sat there, hearth pounding, as my directionless heroes were hopelessly exploded by the severe poking of the dreaded beasts’ legs. Yes, I had seen spiders in video games before, but they had always been quite cartoony. These were monsters to me, they were, at that time, jarringly real. 

I loaded my save, and then pondered for a long time if I should venture into the forest again. I was still trembling, but yet, the comforting thing about video games was there to help me: the fact that they rarely surprise you a second time. I knew were the spiders had attacked me; I knew how to approach and what to expect. This time, I would be ready. And so, my curiosity and compulsion to explore got the best of me and into the Cloakwood I went again. 

Turns out, the first time around I had deftly avoided a web trap. No such luck this time, and the spidery monsters made shot work of my webbed party. I was still terrified, but now annoyance was catching up to fear. 

The third time, I approached from another side, and loaded my characters up with their best ranged ammo. Two spiders went down before they even touched us, and with everyone gaining up on the sword spider, it soon went down. 

I don’t think I got so excited after any other victory in that game. It was, strangely, like a big weight had been lifted of my shoulders. I knew there were bound to be more spiders around, and that scared me somewhat, - I still edged onwards with ridiculous cation - but now it seemed manageable. 

But this was not the most meaningful event that would happen in that area. No, that was the cave. 

This cave that was covered with spider webs, and filled with spiders, tiny and giant, green and sword-like. It was more or less circular in area, if I recall correctly, and in the center, the spider-mother - not a huge spider, but a fat, bloated woman, her body taken over as breeding ground. This woman was the manifestation and victim of my worst nightmares. 

The battle was tense, and my memory of it is blurry; I don’t recall if I could beat it right as I got there, or if I needed a couple of tries, but beat it I did, and put the bloated victim out of her misery. 

It was cathartic! And the prize? A beautiful two-handed sword, my fetish at the time (all those japanese RPGs, you know?), magically enhanced for the specific purpose of killing spiders. Never up until my WoW years have I looked upon a virtual item with such glee. 

I don’t know what happened to my brain that day, but sure enough, after my afternoon of spider-killing, I was not so scared. While it would make for a great story to say that I was “cured” of my fear, the reality is far tamer. It was a first step, and the next time I saw a spider, I was able - very slowly and reluctantly- , to muster the courage to grab a shoe and squash it. 

It was a start. 

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