Literally, of course, but also emotionally.
I’ve got my reasons for this—mostly that horror doesn’t give me a “rush”, it just makes me physically sick—but my aversions aren’t restricted to spooky games. There are “scary” experiences I prefer not to handle in all kinds of games, but the one I seem to run into most regularly (and that is fucking me up right now) are sharks.
From Half-Life’s alien fish monster to Resistance 2's sea battle to Assassin’s Creed Black Flag’s diving missions, there are tons of games that I either won’t play, or will skip entire sections of if possible, if they include sharks (or shark-like creatures).
I don’t make those calls lightly! I have a genuine fear of sharks based on real world events, like multiple close encounters with them while living in a country where human beings are definitely on the menu. I also very nearly drowned as a teenager while surfing, and ever since have been terrified of the dark depths of the ocean in general.
So it’s killing me that they’re everywhere (or at least seem like they’re everywhere, even though they’re obviously not) in my game of the moment, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. I’ve been loving almost every second of the newest game in the series, lapping up every open world task it’s asked me to do. Ride here and kill a guy? Sure. Sneak into this fort and steal some stuff? Hell yeah. Dive to the bottom of the ocean to search a shipwreck and get jumped by four huge man-eating sharks?
Get me the fuck out of here.
Here’s my main problem: the limitations of the game’s camera mean that I can only ever see a small area in front of me, which means that while underwater—where I’m vulnerable to attacks from all sides—every second is anxious death for me, as I don’t know whether I’m just swimming around or if I’m moments away from a sharp, bloody demise.
(Yes, there’s a small audio cue to alert you if a shark is striking from behind, but its sharp nature only adds to my anxiety, because I then swing the camera around like a madman and lose my bearings).
So much of the Assassin’s Creed experience (on land anyway) is about me being the hunter, creeping up on my unsuspecting prey and dealing out swift death and judgement. I’m the one in control. Going beneath the waves and running into sharks flips this on its head; suddenly I’m the one lost and disoriented, stripped of most of my speed and powers, while the sharks, in their natural habitat, have the advantage. And I hate it.
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Daily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.
Being underwater in Odyssey triggers that same ol’ horror game feeling: I get anxious, and then I start to feel sick in my stomach, and then I don’t wanna play (or at least play that part anymore).
It’s got to the point where I’m actively avoiding missions involving diving into the ocean, and on any quest where I have to get down there, I’ve been...trying to stand on a boat and shoot arrows at the sharks from the surface.
What’s funny is that another animal I’m terrified of for Australian reasons are snakes, which are also in this game. But where my fear of actual snakes comes from how they slither around disgustingly, unseen in the grass, in Odyssey they just kinda sit around hissing until you stab them.
I wish the sharks had been nerfed like that. But no, they had to be turbocharged, bloodthirsty underwater death machines.
This sad state of affairs is testament to just how much of a video game coward I am, I guess. It’s also a credit to Ubisoft, though, for nailing what makes a shark so scary: it’s not their size or their teeth, but the fact they can—and do in this game—strike from out of the darkness anywhere, at any time.