Confession: I am no fan of spiders. Snakes? Fine. Heights? No problem. But spiders? You can keep your damn spiders, thanks.
"You should have seen the one that I killed this morning," Vic said. "It was right there." He pointed his spatula at the corner of a free-standing umbrella, just above our heads. "I knocked it to the ground. It was one of those mean spiders. It coiled up. Like it was ready to come at me."
Naturally, the question for me in this moment, without fail, is always the same: "How big was it?" I asked.
Vic made a circle with his forefinger and thumb. Much to my chagrin, his finger and thumb did not touch. Whatever hellspawn demon spider this was, it was larger than the span of Vic's finger-thumb circle.
"JESUS," I said. I started involuntarily brushing invisible things off my arms and legs and neck like a crazy person. (If you watch Reviews regularly, and you've got a quick eye, you can often see me swatting away non-existant bugs.)
Another guest at the BBQ overheard our spider story and weighed in with one of his own. "I remember going down into the basement in our old house a few years back," he said. "And I spotted this huge, black spider scuttling across the floor. I grabbed the closest weapon--in this case, it happened to be an old hockey stick--and went after it."
"JESUS," I said.
"I hacked at it a few times, but it just kept going. It was faster and tougher than I thought it would be. And though I'd landed several solid blows and wounded it, the thing still got away."
"I never saw it again. I always wondered where it went. I pictured it down there, healing in our basement, one of its legs in a tiny cast, plotting its revenge on me. Then, about a year later, we were moving out of the house. I pulled an old sofa away from the wall, and there it was. Dead. Upside down. Its corpse was huge."
"I went, 'Ha, ha! So that's where you went, you little bastard! Ha, ha, ha, ha!"
"So. How big was it?"
He held up his hand, fingers splayed as wide they would splay. "It was probably just slightly smaller than my hand," he said.
"OH, COME ON," I said.
"Trust me, it was big," he said.
Again I started swatting at the non-existant bugs that were crawling on me. Goddamn invisible bugs!
Finally, a third guest at the BBQ overheard us and weighed in with his story. "When my girlfriend and I were moving out of our old place, I went down to our storage unit to get our things. I saw something moving around in the shadows and when I looked closer, I saw that it was this huge spider."
"I'd never seen a spider like this around here before. It was a frigging tarantula. It had these thick legs and this fat body and hair all over it."
"So what did you do? Did you kill it?" I asked.
"No. I just grabbed my boxes and got the hell out of there."
"THAT MEANS THAT IT IS STILL ROAMING THE EARTH," I said. I was beside myself with worry now. No one told me, before moving to the Pacific Northwest that this was THE LAND OF THE GIANT SPIDERS. Nobody warned me. If someone had informed me of this before I moved here, I might have reconsidered. We have cockroaches and waterbugs--and yes, large rats with pink tails--in New York City. But the spiders, if you do see any in NYC, are usually only modestly sized. Before I travel anywhere for a vacation, I always do some research, to get some idea of the size of the local spiders. If they are above a certain size--bigger than a silver dollar or so--THAT DESTINATION IS OFF. (South America, for example = OFF.) I had some friends who honeymooned in the south of France about 10 years ago. They stayed in an old manor house, with high-beamed ceilings and stone walls. It sounded like just about the perfect place to honeymoon--roaring fire, red wine, blah, blah, blah--until they discovered A MAMMOTH SPIDER in the room. They covered it with a shoebox, and then mummified themselves inside their blankets for the night and didn't sleep a wink that night. (South of France = OFF.)
Yesterday I was playing Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light on the 360 when I received a new objective: ENTER THE SPIDER TOMB.
"OH COME ON," I said out loud, even though it was just me and the cats in my apartment. No sooner had I opened the door to the Spider Tomb than a horde of spiders the size of German shepherds came rushing out to greet me.
Spiders are one of the most ubiquitous enemies in all of gaming, second only to zombies. Almost every videogame ever made features a fight at some point with a spider, or spider-type creature. Here are a couple off the top of my head: Brutal Legend (heavy metal spider), the entire Resident Evil series, Devil May Cry, all MMOs, Doom II, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of T., Earth Defense Force 2017, Ghostbusters: The V.G., Overlord II, Bomberman 64, Darksiders, and Spider Fighter for the 2600.
I stepped inside the Spider Tomb--which is far more intimidating-sounding than "Spider Picnic Area" or "Spider Wild Times Fun Park"--and, naturally, there were webs EVERYWHERE. Suddenly, more of the German Shepherd-sized spiders came galloping out. After I dispatched them, a second horde arrived. Fine. Then a third horde. Fine, again. In the middle of the third horde AN EVEN LARGER SPIDER APPEARS. (JESUS.)
I traveled deeper into the Tomb, and things got worse when a BEHEMOTH spider appeared. I have a 42-inch HDTV, and this thing practically filled up the entirety of it. It was so hairy that it appeared to be wearing a $16.99 JCPenny Mohair sweater.
But what I feel when I play through spider levels of games is not fear, or anxiety. I'm not literally afraid of these virtual spiders. Mostly what I was yesterday while playing through the Spider Tomb was really fucking annoyed. I was annoyed with the lack of creativity on the developers part for yet again trying to draw water from a well--call it The Spider Well--that has long gone dry. Using spiders as enemies is cheap and unimaginative.
Think about it: a bunch of Mohair sweater-wearing game designers are sitting around a table at the Crystal Dynamics offices, brainstorming their way towards a new Tomb Raider game, when, glory be, one guy says, "Eureka, I have it! People have an irrational fear of spiders. Let's USE THAT TO OUR ADVANTAGE. Let's play off of their irrational fear! LET'S BUILD AN ENTIRE LEVEL CENTERED AROUND SPIDERS. That will really give gamers a jolt! Ha, ha!"
A second guy says: "And let's put all of those spiders...IN A TOMB."
A third guy says: "HOLY CRAP, THAT'S IT."
Fourth guy: "I can't believe how wildly inventive we are!" (Rampant back-slapping and high-fiving ensues.)
I'm a zombie fan, and an exploding-barrel fan. I will argue passionately for both zombies and exploding barrels to be integral elements of videogames until the day I die. But Mr. Spider: The sun has set on you. Yes, tales of your exploits will continue to cause me to involuntarily say the word "JESUS." But your presence in videogames is no longer required. Good day, sir.