For as long as I can remember, I've felt unsettled around deep water. There's no real reason for this; I never had a traumatic experience as a kid, and in fact, I grew up around swimming pools, lakes, and summer trips to the beach. I feel very at ease in the water generally, but something about the depths has always made my skin crawl. I never had any issue about swimming in the deep end of my pool, but once the sun goes down and I can't see the bottom? You won't catch me in there, not without a flood light clearly illuminating the entire pool.
Lakes are fine until I start to think about what else might be swimming around with me, and I always do fine in oceans until I'm literally in over my head -- then I find myself wading back to shore. I always thought this was just me, that a fear of deep, dark water was an inherently unique thing manifested in my own psyche.
Turns out, it's far more common than I realized, and it took the Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores DLC to teach me that my fear had a name: Thalassophobia.
Thalossophobia Is the Intense Fear of Deep Bodies of Water
I remember once telling a friend in college that the most frightening thing I can think of would be going back in time to the late Cretaceous period and being dropped in the ocean in the middle of the night. The thought of massive sea creatures and prehistoric dinosaurs swimming around me and potentially eating me was horrifying, and I've never quite gotten over that image. Where Horizon Zero Dawn featured no underwater exploration, Horizon Forbidden West is filled with it, and the Burning Shores DLC adds even more.
The water is not an inherently safe place anymore, with Snapmaws looking to take a bite out of you and the threat of drowning very real, at least at first. Where the waters in the base Forbidden West game are fun to explore, they don't offer the same sense of scale that the oceans around the Burning Shores do. Swimming along the surface, you don't realize the world that exists below the glassy surface, that is until you dive beneath the waves and discover what should be the sandy bottom is just murky darkness.
Dark canyons can sprawl out in different directions, and fish and other sea creatures can swim out of the blackness. Thankfully, if this is all a little too unsettling for you, then you can turn on Thalassophobia Mode. With this feature on, Aloy can visualize the edges of the ocean in all directions with a SONAR-like ability. This makes the depths much more tolerable, allowing the player to clearly see what's below and ahead. I like to switch between turning this mode off and on to get a better sense of my surroundings. It helps to ease the anxiety I might otherwise feel, and make me feel as at-home in the water as I do on land.
The Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores's Thalassophobia Mode is an addition in a long line of video games adding accessibility options for people with different fears.
Video Game Accessibility Settings Address Phobias In Different Ways
While the Burning Shores's Thalassohpboia Mode allows Aloy to breathe indefinitely and adds greater visibility while underwater, other games address common fears in different ways. One of my favorites is Grounded, which has an Arachnobphobia Safe Mode. Did I mention I also have a crippling fear of spiders? This feature allows players to scale back just how realistic the spiders in the game are, allowing for greater enjoyment for those who might shy away based on the content.
Other games, like Subnautica, lean into the natural fear many have of the open ocean. It's designed to make you feel fear and rip you out of your comfort zone. For a game like this, a thalassophobia mode may not make sense, but if it did include one, it could maximize the audience of people willing to play the game. And isn't that something we're all aiming for? Getting more games into the hands of people who will enjoy them.
Whether you're exploring the ocean depths in the Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores DLC or going up against your favorite challenging machine, one thing is certain: the PlayStation 5 is as impressive as it has ever been.
Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores Reminds Me What the PS5 Is Capable Of
Next-gen officially launched nearly three years ago, and since then we've had a steady rollout of impressive games, but few titles that felt like they truly lived up to the promise of what the PS5 and Xbox Series X were capable of. Now that we're in 2023, it feels like we're getting games that were built from the ground-up on current-gen hardware and not compromised to have to run on a PS4 or Xbox One.
The Burning Shores DLC is an example of just how good a game can look and feel when the developers are given the time to focus on tailoring it to modern hardware. Whether players prefer the ultra-sharp and gorgeous-looking Quality mode or are enjoying the smooth 60 FPS of Performance Mode, Horizon Forbidden West is a game that runs well no matter what your preferences are. And with the inclusion of phobia-inclusive modes like thalassophobia, it allows even more people to experience Aloy's story and get a glimpse of what she's up to before the inevitable Horizon 3 is announced.
I'm extremely happy that we're getting so many amazing games across all three major platforms this year, with each company pulling out every bell and whistle to showcase what they're capable of. And thanks to the phobia-inclusive modes that Burning Shores and other games are sure to include, more people than ever before will be able to enjoy AAA video games instead of sitting out and missing those experiences.
Maybe you're like me and Burning Shores helped you find a name for a phobia you never realized was identifiable. Maybe you played a game like Grounded and sighed in relief when you didn't need to aggravate your fear of spiders every time you booted up the game. You may even be the opposite, and like the feeling you get when a game makes you feel scared, and that's OK.
The point is, we live in an age where games are customizable to all different skill levels, and in the interest of breaking down barriers and making games more accessible than ever before, it's enlightening to see phobias taken into consideration, too. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is launching with countless accessibility options that'll make it playable for nearly any fan, and I'm excited to see this trend continue.
For now, I'm just excited to ease my anxiety as I explore the ocean depths of the Burning Shores.