The Spider Queen Archetype : 8 Legs of Deadly Love

Hi, welcome to the first post of my blog. I’m going to be posting on a variety of subjects related to female representations in videogames and gamer pop culture.

I chose the name Obligatory Spider Queen to reference a trend in female monsters in videogames. See a spider? There’s a good chance a spider queen is nearby. It’s a little strange considering spiders aren’t a species of insect that lives in hives or has queens.

Spider queens come in many shapes and sizes, from monstrous to lithe and seductive. They are one of the few monsters who is sometimes gendered female without any visual indication of secondary sexual characteristics although more commonly they appear with a voluptuous hybrid body.

The spider queen from Doom 3.

She goes back to the archetype of the black widow who devours the male spider. In the victorian era, male scientists observed a species of spiders eating their mates and applied the term widow spiders. Popular culture quickly made the elegant looking black and red spider the symbol of a dangerous sexual woman. But the scientists failed to address an aspect of their experiments: the female spiders they tested were all starving, and rather than rushing head first into a sex-for-death exchange, male black widows can detect well fed females and prefer to mate with those if the option is available. Despite this fact and the accompanying fact that sexual cannibalism is common in many species of the insect world the reputation of these particular female spiders as sexual predators stuck. In Hanns Heinz Ewers’s short story the Spider he writes about a possibly supernatural female apparition, constantly weaving, who torments the residents of a boarding house with their attraction to her. The residents all end up hung with a spider crawling out of their mouth. The narrator speaks of watching a male and female spider couple, followed by the female devouring the male. Spiders were embraced as a symbol of the fear of being controlled by sexual, aggressive women.

A Drow High Priestess From Drow of the Underdark

I find the spider queen archetype to be extremely interesting. It’s a relatively recent phenomenon for a monster archetype. Search western mythology for spider human hybrids and you’ll find little else but Arache, the pitiful cursed weaver*  Lord of the Rings features the menacing Shelob, but she’s actually a little unique as spider queens go because no emphasis is placed on her either her sexuality or her capacity for reproduction. Dungeons and Dragons created the popular Drow Elves, an evil matriarchal society of seductive witches who love treachery and non-consensual BDSM. Their culture and their visual design are full of black widow imagery, they can transform themselves into human spider hybrids and they seem the most likely source of inspiration to the artists and designers who came after.

Chaos Queen Quelaag from Dark Souls ramps up the attraction/repulsion contrast.

Too often in video games monsters are only made female when it’s decided that they’ll be sexy sex monsters or because they make babies. Spider Queens combine both to become a potent symbol of male sexual anxiety, sexy women who want to suck out all your bodily fluids and then lay their eggs in your corpse. I don’t think spider queens should go away. Good art can be made that focuses on sexual anxiety, that shines a light on our uncomfortable subconscious thoughts about sex and gender.

I’d just like to see them deployed less carelessly and I’d like to see more archetypes of female monsters that aren’t dependent on psycho-sexual imagery.

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~ by obligatoryspiderqueen on June 19, 2012.

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