How an Underwater Adventure Game Transformed My Understanding of Fear

On this Page

I was quite excited when my brother recommended Subnautica. He gushed about how much he enjoyed it and how it was unlike anything he had ever played before. Intrigued, I bought the game online, wanting to experience it for myself.

As my brother and I sat in front of the TV and watched the download finish, we talked about the game's details. The more he talked, the more I realized that Subnautica was not just a survival and adventure game as it's listed online but an intense horror game too. I started to feel pretty anxious - I've never been good with horror games, and my brother didn't know that.

As the download reached its final stages, my heart rate increased. I knew I had to hide my fear from my brother, who adored this game. The anticipation was almost unbearable as I reluctantly clicked to boot up the game, wondering what I had gotten myself into. Finally, the introduction screen appeared, and I braced myself for what lay ahead.

image credit: MobyGames

In Subnautica, the premise is that you are the sole survivor of a devastating shipwreck on an unknown ocean planet. Stranded with just your escape pod as a base, you must venture out into the depths of the planet's vast ocean to scavenge for resources, food, and water.

The prospect of exploring a vast and unknown underwater world is quite terrifying. Every time I play, my palms start to sweat as I venture out further and further from my escape pod. My anxiety is so high that with every small obstacle, the game throws at me, I panic and do something dumb. But I am still slowly progressing through the game.

image credit: MobyGames

Don't read past this if you don't want game spoilers

After gathering some basic materials, food, and water near my escape pod, the game introduced me to the harsh reality of my situation. In order to survive and eventually leave this ocean planet, I would have to venture deeper and deeper into the ocean to get gather resources to build a base, vehicles and eventually a rocket.

But the deeper you go, the darker it gets. To make matters worse, you can't always have your lights on because some predators are attracted to light and sound. Despite my fear, I pushed on, gathering resources and constructing the tools I needed to survive. Every dive brought new challenges and dangers, but it did make more confident and less afraid of the game.

image credit: MobyGames

What I can't fully convey in words is the bone-chilling atmosphere that Subnautica creates. As I dove deeper, the sounds of the ocean grew louder and more menacing - the creaking of ancient coral, the haunting wail of distant whales, and the eerie whispers of creatures lurking in the shadows. If I thought my hands were sweaty before, I was wrong.

Then on one particular dive, when I was supposed to go deeper than I ever went before, I  encountered my first leviathan (a large predator).

image credit: Subnautica's Clever Design

When I saw it, my mind went blank with terror. I couldn't move, couldn't think, couldn't do anything but turn tail and go back to my escape pod. My brother's questions only added to my shame and embarrassment - why did I turn back? Why couldn't I just kept going?

I had to hide my fear by making up excuses. For days, I avoided the deep waters, using my excuses to avoid confronting the uncertainty of the abyss. But deep down, I knew I couldn't stay in the shallow areas forever - I had to face my fears if I ever hoped to leave the planet.

I hated myself for being scared because it made no sense to be scared, it was just a game. I reached the same point 4 or 5 times, always turning back to my escape pod until I  eventually mustered up the courage to go past the Leviathan. It wasn't easy, I did almost die a couple of times.

But that event made me more confident and the overall game is a lot less scary now. But that didn't mean that the fear went away. It just meant I got better at dealing with my fear and anxiety.

On completing the game, I realized that it wasn't just a matter of survival - it was also about self-acceptance and learning to push past my limits. And though I still feel ashamed of the need to hide my fear, I have learnt that the only way to progress was to embrace and admit my fear.

Final Thoughts

Subnautica was more than just a scary game - it was a crash course in managing fear and anxiety. The game's clever use of thalassophobia - the fear of deep water - left me feeling powerless and vulnerable, forcing me to confront my own limitations and shortcomings.

But as I slowly overcame my fear and learned to navigate the game's challenges, I began to realize that the lesson about fear and courage applies to other areas of my life as well.

Pushing past the fear and horror elements of the game was worth it because as I delved deeper into the game's rich and immersive world, I found myself drawn in by its fascinating storyline and intricate details. What had started as a terrifying experience had transformed into a great experience. I ended up enjoying it so much that I have also completed the second Subnautica game.