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Megalophobia in gaming

Mhairi Winfield looks at how the gaming industry has used this phobia to create atmosphere in non-horror games.

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Image Credit: DavidRavine: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/3.0/. No changes made

Megalophobia is the fear of large objects - a phobia that the video game industry is using to their advantage. Fear causes feelings of anxiousness, panic and sometimes even nausea. Video games, in all their technicality, are participatory media on a screen requiring game developers to use a sense of scale and space for gamers to connect with what they are playing. In action and adventure games, fights with big bosses that create a feeling of victory when you beat them invoke a sense of fear when you first encounter them. The likes of Demon Souls and Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild are some of the most prominent examples of developers using this sense of dread to create an atmosphere in games.

One way that this feeling of megalophobia is created is by making the large objects and bosses be larger than the size of the screen that the game is being played on. By forcing the player to pan upwards to see the entirety of the character that they are fighting, the developers are adding drama to the game. A way of doing this is by having the camera angle fit with the eye-line of the character that you are playing. So, rather than having the boss that you are fighting be the same height as you, the camera angle is looking up, making the bosses look significantly larger.

The tactic works, personally when entering into a fight with bosses such as the Tower Knight in Demon Souls above there is a sense of panic to some extent that makes you mash buttons or completely lose all sense of strategy until you die at least once. This can keep happening too, and with repeated defeats, the emotions that gamers are feeling are amplified and the only way to stop playing the game is to either give up or keep fighting until you are victorious. However, the size of the boss doesn’t always play a significant role in the gameplay.

Comparatively to games like Demon Souls, the divine beings of Breath of the Wild are used as a simple scare tactic to start off the mission. Each divine beast has four terminals that Link has to work his way through to rid them of the Blight – the energy that is corrupting the world that Link lives in.

This difference in how megalophobia is used massively changes the atmosphere of the game. Whereas Demon Souls is considered to be a challenging action game, Breath of the Wild is more focused on the adventure with the puzzles to activate each terminal not being overly complicated or difficult to achieve. In my opinion, while the size of the Divine Beasts is shocking at first, once you are halfway through activating the terminals, the size of the beast is forgotten. As such, you could say that invoking megalophobia in this case is not overly successful.

Megalophobia is used consistently in video games and most likely will be continued to be used for the feelings that it invokes in the player. With video games being on a screen, feelings whether it be happiness, empathy, or in this case fear and anxiousness are only created through the visuals and the script that developers make. In the case of the games mentioned here, the character you operate does not speak because they want you to feel like you are the player. However, this means that the game is required to use more visual elements in order to have people feel connected to the game - the creation of large objects and bosses to fight is one way to do that.

These games use large objects to make the player feel that they cannot defeat them and that it is an impossible task to defeat something so large. However, due to their scale, the feeling of victory that players have afterwards is all the sweeter. We all simply have to be like Legolas and find an alternate route to defeat the large enemy in our own way.

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