Video game worlds are facades, and sometimes we catch a glimpse of what’s beyond. Recently, while exploring one of the intricate levels of Dusk, I somehow managed to slip through the cracks and found myself on the other side of the invisible partition that upholds the illusion of coherent space. I’d entered a world of broken, gravity-defying architecture, and there in the middle of the level had opened a pit that revealed a vast grey void beneath my feet. Close by, there was an exasperated message on the ground: “YOU AREN’T SUPPOSED TO BE HERE, GO AWAY.”
Anyone who’s spent a lot of time playing games will have their own stories of discovering the cordoned-off spaces behind spaces. We know the strange feeling of clipping through the ground only to plunge into a bottomless void while the level we’ve been exploring recedes into the distant ether above us; a tiny island unto itself, a dwindling speck suspended in the great digital void.
These are accidents and glitches, but then again, if we’re not supposed to gaze into the abyss, then why is the void such a popular trope in games? It seems any self-respecting fantasy game offers its players a tour of the void: There’s the Void of the Dishonored games (read more about it here), the Fade of the Dragon Age series, the Realm Between Realms of God of War (2018). Divinity: Original Sin 2 and Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire also dip their toes into the great nothingness. These are metaphysical spaces inhabited by or associated with gods and spirits, the afterlife, and, most significant of all, origins and acts of creation. They are displaced and timeless, existing in between or beyond conventional space-time, and are only accessible through special pathways that pierce the veil: dreams, visions, rituals, death or magic.