video games

Let Me In

[Having taken a recent interest in physical, designed spaces, I have begun to question the very basic tenets of gamer knowledge. This, maybe a first in many such posts, points out something that has always bothered me: useless doors.]

I stand at a door. I try and fail to open it. I try again and again. I am being pursued by some twisted puppeteer. Drawing the bodies of the warrior dead to their feet around me, he sends them against me. I’ve struck them down continuously yet he raises them again. I’ve grown tired of the endless war of attrition and now look for an escape, I look to enter this room and leave the battle.

This door however cannot be opened. It was never meant to be. The game is Fear 2 and I am trying to do something I should know better. I am attempting to open a door that is but a wall. It is a picture of a door and not a true door. How do I know this? I have been taught to ignore the obvious.

I could have picked any number of first-person games as an example. Be it Half-Life (2), Call of Duty (X:Y:Z) or even an indie game like Penumbra, there are doors that cannot be opened, places you cannot go. Yet, many people never think about it. We are taught to ignore the very thing that is most obvious to anyone who is not a gamer, what is beyond that door?

The answer is, of course, that there is nothing beyond that door. It is placed there, designed that way. I am seeing, through eyes and of an ‘I’, a level of realism that is but flavor text to a level. The door is there not so that I may open it but to show me that this world I am in is bigger than whatever I am currently doing. Other people, I am to assume, have, are or do live in this world too. They would use these doors, I cannot. Most of the time, this is enough.

This breaks down when the game teaches us that we can do more. Since it is most commonly known, I will give an example from Half-Life 2. Early in the game, we are shown that, using a gun, we can break a lock and escape an area. We can unlock a door through force. Yet, we cannot use this on other doors. Why? Because we can’t. That’s it. The game was designed in such a way to teach us that we can unlock certain doors, unlock certain things. This does not work on all doors. They are not for us. This is a classic example of ludo-narrative dissonance. I have been taught (or shown) that I should be able to complete a task by the game and yet I cannot.

I want to use that door. I shouldn’t. It wasn’t designed for use. Yet, I want more from my world, all worlds.