I got to hear a whole lot of analogies and comparisons after the last comic. Many of these didn't feel like actual equivalencies, which got me to thinking about the criteria for something being a fair comparison.
As I see it, there are three primary things to consider if attempting to make a fair comparison to the issue of arachnophobia and video games.
1 - Relative commonality of arachnophobia.
"Video game developers can't account for every phobia" is, on its own, a reasonable statement, but this isn't a rare phobia that cannot be anticipated or managed. It's a foreseeable and probable issue.
2 - The prevalence of spiders in spite of the lack of necessity for spiders.
For some stories and settings, you're going to need a spider. For example, if your game is literally about the adventures of an anthropomorphic house fly (obviously named Buzz), spiders not being involved would be as weird as the protagonist not wearing a trendy t-shirt.
Many games, however, have spiders that don't need spiders.
The previous comic said spiders were boring, which was an oversimplification. It was meant to reference the way spiders are treated as arbitrarily added staple enemies in games.
In terms of "we have to come up with an enemy," they're a bit like the free space on a bingo card. Unless really appropriate to the game they're in, or made unique in some way, they feel like a lazy choice.
Not to be mean to Skyrim, my most played game of all time, but the spiders REALLY feel out of place in it, and they've kept people who love The Elder Scrolls from playing.
Coming back around to what the second primary thing is, spiders are common in video games, and they often could be replaced (or made less spider-like, more on that later) with very little impact on the game.
3 - Spiders are most commonly presented as hostile enemies that are intended to be scary and dangerous.
Exposure therapy to help with phobias, as I understand it, can do a lot of good!
It's something that should be handled by professionals, however, because the panic that can result from doing exposure therapy poorly can have very bad consequences for everyone involved.
As for games being used as exposure therapy, I imagine they technically could be part of the process (don't quote me on that), but exposure therapy is supposed to gradually make someone feel more comfortable and less threatened by something.
Video games in which the thing you're terrified of are giant and trying to murder you are not that. They're basically the opposite of that.
It's true the game can't actually hurt you, but that's not really the issue. "Yes, you're scared, and you lost your game progress while seeing something out of your worst nightmares happening, but look! Not one literal spider bite!"
That's not exposure therapy. That's "let's see if we can't make this phobia worse".
It might be different in a game in which every spider was a friendly Non-Player Character, but again, don't quote me on that, for it is untrained speculation.
Bottom-line, spiders being enemies in games invalidates any sort of "exposure therapy" argument. It's not going to cure anyone of their phobia.
The primary points simplified:
1 - Arachnophobia is a relatively common phobia.
2 - Spiders are overused and often unnecessary in games.
3 - Spiders are most often hostile enemies in games.
Again, I'd like to reiterate that I'm not arguing for no spiders ever in games. There are just questions worth asking when making a game, such as...
"Does this need to be a spider?"
"If it does need to be a spider, can anything be done about the arachnophobia factor?"
That second question is one more designers are considering these days. at least a couple games now have options that replace spiders, or make them look less spider-like.
It's also worth noting that people with arachnophobia are scared of literal spiders. The less realistic a "spider" looks, the less of a potential deal breaker they are, and I'm not just talking about making them cartoonish and/or stylized.
It may seem counterintuitive, but because they'll look less like a spider, giving a spider monstrous features might make them less scary to someone with arachnophobia.
A human torso with a spider-like bottom and six legs could be less of an issue that just a giant spider. Though, at that point, maybe make them half gecko? A gecko-taur! Yeah!
Anyway, if all else fails? Crabs.