A recent update for Horizon Forbidden West (coming alongside the new Burning Shores DLC) has something interesting tucked away beside some subtitle and item changes: there’s now a toggle for anyone who suffers from Thalassophobia, or “the persistent and intense fear of deep bodies of water such as the sea, oceans, or lakes”.
As The Verge report, anyone who enables this option will find that the game’s underwater sections—there’s part of the Bay Area that’s explorable under the waves, for example—will be a lot less taxing on the nerves. Developers Guerrilla describe it as:
This feature aims to ease thalassophobia symptoms by improving underwater ambient visibility and allowing you to breathe indefinitely, regardless of story progression.
If that sounds stupid to you, that’s fine, don’t enable it! But as I’ve blogged repeatedly on this website the ocean is a deep, dark and terrifying place, and video games do a good job—perhaps too good—of playing up to the most fundamental aspects of that fear, namely the way they restrict visibility and then put loads of dangerous (and more importantly unseen) things in your vicinity.
Throw in a super common underwater stage trope—a limited supply of oxygen—and you’ve got everything you need for an experience that goes beyond challenging and into the realms of truly stressful. Like, voluntarily skip entire sections of a game levels of stressful.
So this is a toggle that, for me at least, is something 30 years in the making. Thank you, Guerrilla, I appreciate it, and especially the fact that it’s an optional thing, because as fucked up as I get playing 3D underwater levels I also realise most people have no such problems, so it’s nice to have the choice.
If this sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because a few years back Obsidian promised something similar, only in their case for anyone afraid of spiders. Which, again, as an Australian, I have nothing but understanding for.