The Minus Touch

Brendan Main | 18 Jan 2011 13:07
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Part of it is our nature - we've been reared from the start to scour gaming landscapes for bombable walls and hidden doors, trained towards escapology so completely that occasionally we can even slip between seams of code and escape from the game itself. The very methods we've learned to explore the extent of our games also serves to undo them, one glitch at a time. There's a certain pioneering excitement in entering a space outside of design and intention, or stumbling across a secret so secret it evaded even the developers. In these spots, we can find a different type of play altogether, removed from the usual railroad rambling towards planned objectives in the game's design. Why else would you want to seek out a level when you run, or swim, or fight until your time runs out or the screen cuts to black? What possibly could be gained in taking a hard left turn from the established course of things, intent not on beating the game but just beating tracks? What these minus worlds may lack in design and polish, they make up for in sheer weirdly wonder. Sometimes the joy we get from our games isn't from conventional victory and reward, but something more personal - the simple thrill of finding our way to someplace new.


It's true that minus worlds are "minus" in more ways than one: They're broken places full of dead ends and scrambled sprites. You run 'til you die. You swim 'til you drown. You fall forever; you lose all your guns. Which is why I expected, in chatting with my brother, that his Grand Theft Auto fall through the world might have been a frustration, a needless punishment for hitting the game from the exact wrong angle. But I was wrong.

He didn't mind. He said, "You could look up at the city, and see everything from underneath - all the buildings and road. Everything was hollow, like a big, empty shell. You could see how they did everything. It was kind of cool. "

Sometimes, perhaps, that change of perspective does us good. Games, no matter how vast, are finite, material things. We're reminded of this every time we head off into the pale blue yonder and bump against an invisible barrier, or approach a door, only to realize it's just a door-painted wall. How wonderful are those moments we can reverse these rules - when we turn walls into doors, and take that first step beyond the known world. There, we can see our games transformed: from the outside, looking in.

Brendan Main hails from the frosty reaches of Canada, which is like America's minus world, if you think about it. He prefers not to.

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