Survival horror games are a classic genre, with popular titles like Silent Hill and Resident Evil. Underwater games are a different kind of game, with their own survival elements and a focus on exploration and discovery. Sometimes, though, these games meet and become one and the same. There are various examples of survival games that take place underwater, and although many may not advertise themselves as horror games, some have more than enough horror elements to scare you out of your wits. Such games that come to mind are Subnautica, a classic survival game on an alien planet whose deeper biomes will be sure to terrify you, but there are also lesser-known titles like the HTC Vive VR game Narcosis.

But these games, as great as they are, have shortcomings. In fact, there’s something many underwater games have continually missed since they began: realistic diving mechanics. I’ve written before about how survival games aren’t exactly conducive to realism, but in the case of underwater games, a bit more realism could help with immersion and an increased sense of danger.

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Narcosis, once played by YouTuber Jacksepticeye

Diving’s Not Exactly “No Pressure”

One of the first things an underwater survival game might include is a change in pace. In most games, players can travel up or down at a leisurely pace, swimming down as far as they like before coming back up to the surface for air, but in reality, diving deep into the ocean is a much more dangerous endeavor. Divers have to be constantly aware of their depth and the pressure of the water around them. Every 10 meters down, water pressure increases by one atmosphere, which means a diver that goes down even 20 meters deep will be experiencing a pressure of three atmospheres, or three times the normal pressure you experience when not even in the water.

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Screenshot of the ‘Spider Crabs’ from Narcosis – which are a very real organism deep beneath the ocean!

Because of this, divers have to constantly equalize the pressure in their ears and their diving masks to keep from experiencing complications. Descending too quickly can cause vertigo and rupture your inner eardrum, while ascending too quickly can cause the notorious decompression sickness, otherwise known as the bends. This occurs when the nitrogen in your blood builds faster than your body can purge it, causing a collection of bubbles to form in blood vessels. This is a serious condition that can lead to permanent damage, even death.

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Screenshot of Subnautica’s infamous Reaper Leviathan, which I had to get up close and personal with to bring you this image.

The Importance of Depth

To compensate for this, divers take things very slowly, moving up or down at a rate of one meter per minute, or as slow as a few feet every minute for our American readers. Divers also make use of safety stops, where they’ll stop moving for a few minutes to let the pressure inside them equalize. This is wildly different from Subnautica’s speed of movement at 10 meters per second, which would certainly cause a few problems for a diver in real life.

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Now of course, the game in question does take place in the future, with advanced technology, so who knows what kind of automatic pressure compensation is built into that dive suit, slowing the game to realistic speeds would probably be boring and hamper exploration quite a bit, but a more down-to-earth survival diving game might be enhanced with realistic movement speeds. Imagine the terror of trying to ascend safely while running from an angry, roaring Reaper Leviathan. Honestly, if it’s a choice between nitrogen bubbles and being digested, I think I’d take the bends.

If you wish to experience Subnautica for yourself, you can play it right now on PC, Switch, Xbox 1, Series X|S, and PlayStation 4 & 5.

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