Retro Review: “E.T. the Extraterrestrial” – Too Many Holes (Atari 2600)
As reviews for E.T. The Extra Terrestrial have piled up over the years, I’m here to talk about one aspect of the game that could impact your desire to buy a copy, as it has mine. I am a trypophobe, and I cannot play E.T. The Extra Terrestrial because of all its damn holes.
[Since this post discusses a phobia, we won’t include any “expressly offensive” imagery. Go ahead and do whatever you want in the comments, though. I’m not your mom.]
Trypophobia (Google at your peril lest you suddenly and violently discover you too are afflicted) is described as the “fear of small holes.” (Shout out to the American Psychiatric Association for at least waiting a few paragraphs before including images that caused me to yeet my laptop; most online explanations of trypophobia unfortunately include pictures.) Trypophobia is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, so it’s not an officially recognised mental disorder, but it’s estimated that 9 out of 7 people in Portland suffer from it. I am, unfortunately, one of them.
Any uniform arrangement of small holes or spaces induces revulsion in me, accompanied with a slight “flight” response. Common triggers for me are usually organic but can include man-made things, such as certain manhole covers, those lotus pods that can come with Korean BBQ or dried in potpourri, pinecones, screen windows, cat carriers, chain link fences, laundry baskets, a bowl of Cheerios, sunflower heads, wind chimes, some sponges, salt shakers, gauze or bandages, pipe organs, cheese graters, any liquid mixture that bubbles like cooking pancakes or blooming yeast, pizzas if the pepperoni is arranged just right, my bank account, words with several consecutive circles like poopoo (Reee!) and doodoo (Reee!!!), maps of election results, and of course, the pits scattered across the overworld of E.T. The Extra Terrestrial.
I knew that E.T. was going to be trouble the minute I first saw screenshots years ago. The holes are just big and prominent enough to trigger a response. Travel-sized, black and white televisions are a bit better, since the holes are small enough to be obscured when viewed at a distance. Up close, it’s still slightly unsettling, but the annoyance factor is more negligible. My response to all these holes is not very strong, so I can continue to work at The Splintering without gagging every five minutes as our coverage of the cursed game comes up from time to time. But I don’t think I could keep E.T. in my home without prolonged exposure making me want to throw the game away.
In the realm of video games and phobias, I could do a lot worse than trypophobia (see: spiders, snakes, conventionally attractive people, challenge, etc.). But the insidious thing about trypophobia and video games is that it can manifest suddenly and in weird, innocuous places. My new desktop computer has a vent at the top, and the first couple of days with it, I was ok. But seeing the holes in my periphery every time I sat at my desk was enough to make me cover the grate up with a sheet of paper.
I get skeeved out in other games too. Older games sometimes feature certain triggering textures in objects or on walls. For more modern games, a recent example for me is Resident Evil 7: Negative spaces that look like holes can freak me out, and there are a ton of maggots in that game. (Believe it or not, actual maggots don’t bother me; it’s the space between a swarm of them that sets me off. Humans are weird.) D’vorah from Mortal Kombat 11 is also a problem: She’s one of my favourite new characters, but she has a move that unleashes bugs from her chest, and the holes, man… I can’t do it. Plus, Whack-A-Mole, you know…
My trypophobia manifests unevenly — small holes don’t always send me over the edge. So I’m ok with things like Chex Mix or the metal mesh of my custom black Sennheiser E 835 cardioid dynamic vocal microphone. In fact most games and their penchant for using small holes for characters to fall into don’t bother me at all — except in E.T. The Extra Terrestrial.
I could employ similar strategies for E.T. The Extra Terrestrial that I did for my computer. I could try to hide it in my entertainment console. Burying the game in a landfill would also obscure it. If I absolutely had to have a copy of E.T., I could make it work, but why should I suffer having a triggering object in my home when I could just own a hole-free Yars Revenge instead? Your move, Atari.
Note: This is a parody of Kotaku’s Xbox Series X review which you can find here.
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