The Edge of the World

Helicopter in GTA IV

When you’re younger – it seems like there’s more time for pushing the boundaries in game-worlds. I remember playing some god-awful motor-bike game on the PC where every now and again, I would veer off the poorly carved dirt track where I was meant to be pulling off gnarly stunts, and I’d drive that little bike off towards the horizon where I would eventually hit some weird sort of Grand Canyon Wall Thing that I couldn’t vault over with even the gnarliest of jumps off the sweetest of ramps. And it’d take a while to get there too. I could have been reading or studying physics or learning to pass a Rugby ball off my left hand (something that eludes me to this day.) But I chose to drive to the end of this poorly realised stretch of desert in a bargain bin PC bike game, just to see what was there.

These days, I rarely go to the Edge of the World. The last time I went looking for it was probably on the PSP’s ‘Vice City Stories’ in which our hero would eschew the usual crime rampages and turf wars of the game’s missions, and fly his sputtering helicopter out to sea to see how much sea he could see. I might have tried it in GTAIV too, but the memory isn’t quite as strong.

There’s a soft pang of loneliness when you hit the edge of a game-world and see the artificial way in which you’re hemmed in. I stumbled upon it most recently in Deus Ex Human Revolution when, in Detroit – Adam Jensen reached a motorway tunnel in which a truck had jack-knifed, blocking the path for a bunch of motorists who act dissapointed, even though I’ve never seen anyone drive a car in Deus Ex. (In truth, they sprayed the same ‘anti aug’ insults my way, as if my robot arms were worse than a traffic accident.)

It strikes me that few games have used the feeling created by ‘hitting the limits of the world’ as an actual part of the game. It could be argued that Assassin’s Creed’s ‘Animus’ method (of blocking off areas that “Aren’t in this memory”) does just that. But I’m talking about something a bit more specific. Something that’s a bit more like The Prisoner, where Number 6 repeatedly tried to escape the confines of his ‘world’ and is repeatedly dumped back where he started by the end of each episode (sometimes, a few times within the episode.) The closest thing that comes to mind in the gaming is The Chronicles of Riddick, Escape from Butcher Bay which sees Riddick’s escape plans constantly thwarted by X-ibit or whatever.

Far from being a surreal, metaphysical mind-fuck device, this idea seems much more real to me than the concept of being able to ‘go anywhere, do anything’ that games are so obsessed with these days. I do have the freedom, and the right to go almost anywhere and do almost anything at any time – but come 9-oclock on Monday morning, I’m sat at my desk doing my job – not clinging to the top of a car bonnet with my shirt off and a scimitar tucked into the waist of my jeans.

This seems perfect for some kind of list feature as a future post. I might come back to it.

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