The most ordinary locations in computer games often take on a life of their own. I’m thinking of the empty school in Silent Hill, rain on the windows in Gone Home, a back alley in The Secret of Monkey Island. There’s an insignificant window in the mansion of the first Resident Evil where text appeared to tell you that a dog could be heard howling in the distance. For some reason, that felt more lonely and vaguely threatening than any realistic sound effect.
Digital hinterlands have our full attention in a way their real world cousins usually don’t. How often do you admire the way rain looks on a window, or consider the unlikely narratives that might burgeon in an unprepossessing alleyway? And of course, intrepid players are rewarded with secrets, and occasionally glimpse the cracks and joins overlooked by developers. Growing up, we’d spin these flaws into the fabric of the game: veering off the road and driving through blurred forest textures; walking for an hour in repeated landscapes; In Quake II, rocket-jumping into the skybox and crawling above the level; In The New Zealand Story spending hours trying to find a way into a void we’d dubbed ‘THE BLACK’. It became a search for the mundane in extraordinary worlds.
Should you blow the dust off your old machines, you’ll find strange caverns eerily unchanged even after many years, when you yourself are outdated and blockier to look at.