Friday, April 25, 2014

Jungly Corridors

January 8, 2013Print This Post         

3D Monster Maze, J. K. Greye Software, 1982

From Edge:

A videogame corridor is possibly the simplest way to create epistemic suspense through spatial engineering. You can look down the corridor, thanks to games’ adoption of scientific perspective (the ‘firstperson’ view), but you don’t know what lies on the other side of the door at the end, or around the corner (as with the trailblazing corridor-horror 3D Monster Maze), or perhaps the end of the corridor is shrouded in sable shadow or cordite smoke. Corridors are inherently mysterious – in Resident Evil as much as in Gothic fiction of the 18th century, with all its dark, secret passageways in cursed ancient castles. Even more suspenseful are corridors with covered skulking points or several entrances feeding in from the sides. It’s no surprise that a whole genre came to be described as the ‘corridor shooter’, although if any bright digital satirist has made a game where all you do is literally shoot the corridors, I am tragically unaware of it.

The corridor is inherently authoritarian, seeking to corral unbounded biological movement into unnaturally linear paths. Early man did not grow up in corridors but on wide savannah plains, which is posited by some evolutionary anthropologists as the reason why our field of vision is wider than it is tall. To put a human being in a corridor, then, is to create a tension between our sensory equipment, tuned to one environment, and the artificial new surroundings. It is to say to us, with a sneering challenge: ‘Adapt to this!’

The phenomenon in videogames of what I like to call the ‘jungly corridor’, then, may be taken as a sophisticated joke about man’s struggle to negotiate modernity using his woefully inapt primate heritage. What looks like lush, natural rainforest or tropical island vegetation turns out to be a series of corridors no less soul-destroying than your local council offices. The Uncharted series has lately taken the jungly corridor to new heights (or at least new lengths), and the newest entry in that series’ inspiration, Tomb Raider, showed a competitive playable level at the Expo: a one-way limp through an extremely jungly corridor, punctuated by scripted scenery breakages and a bit where you have to walk carefully across a log. (When was the last time you had to walk carefully across a log in a videogame and thought, ‘Wow! This is really fun! I hope I don’t fall off’? No, me neither.)

“Videogames are fixated upon corridors, be they literal or otherwise. But why, and is it a problem?”, Steven Poole, Edge

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