Just as some people seem realer to us than others, some places seem to be solid while others are ephemeral and hypothetical. Our map of the world is akin to a sensory homonculus, exaggerated out of proportion in our homes and offices and atrophied to nothing around the forests and deserts.
When we travel, we see so much land pass beneath us, and it seems strange that such an empty space, a space with such a limited concern for human troubles and priorities, can oppose our movement so staunchly. It seems strange, in a world and time where most of the things we care about blink around the globe in moments, that it should still be so time consuming and expensive to push our way past these nondescript non-places.
Of course, these places are as real and solid as any office. Even if no one is around to hear a falling tree make what may or may not be a sound, the tree is still fallen. The shape of the world is still changed, just a bit. You could explore that forest, you could go into the wild, and though at first it might seem to be a sea of identical trees, sooner or later they would become distinct and, if you survived, if you found your way, you might one day find that forest to be as familiar as you find your home neighborhood now.
Most games, though, omit these spaces completely. Most games are airbrushed around the waist to make themselves seem more appealing, more streamlined, to save the developers the trouble of creating an in-between space, to save the players the confusion of navigating it. So many game worlds are just a series of plot relevant locations, and once each has served their purpose they are set aside. now wrung out, used up, empty of meaningful interaction.
Truly, though, a place that cannot change or be changed is barely a place at all. If you cannot feel the grain of the wood, can’t carve a heart with names into a chest or a trunk and feel it beat, the place is not real. The places we occupy, no matter where we choose them to be, also then occupy us, and we change each other, subtly but permanently, by scars and splinters.
Most game worlds are blow-up dolls, and expect us too to sit there with our mouths agape. Most game worlds are cardboard cut-outs with a hole punched for you to stick your head through and pretend to be a cartoon body-builder. Most game worlds are pristine in their artistically crafted dirt and stains, eternally dirty and un-cleanable, clean and un-dirtiable, staged to present an impression of disrepair or of immaculacy no matter how much we might wish to tidy or muss.
It’s not a disaster. Game worlds are not worthless. They are beautiful in their artifice, glorious aesthetic dioramas for us to explore. That has value. That is wonderful.
But: As long as they are untouchable, they will not be places. They will be the in-between, and will pass by our windows as we go, companion to the anonymous forests and deserts, and they will leave no lasting imprint upon us