Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Sensationalist: Exploring Confined Spaces

This post is part of "The Sensationalist," a continuing series here at Experience Points in which we examine games' abilities to evoke emotions and sensations in video game players. Please have a look at the series' introduction as well its previous entries. As always, we welcome your thoughts on all the matters we discuss, and look forward to analyzing one of gaming's most powerful, yet intangible, abilities.

My latest post is up on PopMatters: Exploring Confined Space. While not conceived of as a Sensationalist post, I think the subject matters fits nicely into the series. I also want to maintain my habit of posting this approach to videogames with at least some frequency.

I have actually been meaning to write about Escape the Room games for awhile now, ever since playing Sagrario's Room Escape, which is one of the best of the genre. The simple white-washed room you find yourself in is deeply unsettling. It actually reminds me of the television show Lost, which features mysterious and sterile confined spaces. Also like Lost, most of these games have only the shred of an interesting story. It is a missed opportunity considering how much single-room experiences can offer.

Watching any of the films I mentioned in the article should convince you of the opportunities confined spaces can offer to game designers. Buried is not film of the year quality, but it is proof that a compelling and unique story can be told in terribly limiting circumstances. Some games do exploit confined spaces to evoke claustrophobia or other neat sensations. I mentioned Dead Space and Bioshock, which create an enclosed space that feels very confining. You could include a few levels from Halo in there as well. If you think of any others, definitely let me know. I am certain I am missing some fantastic use of a closet.


  1. In Demon's Souls, you are confined by the amount (or lack) of light in a given area.

    The game creates a strong sense of oppression in dark areas. A player avatar carries a lantern that provides minimal light; in any direction one can only see two or three steps ahead.

    It wasn't unusual to hug the wall as I walked along a ledge because I could never be sure just how wide the ledge was. Mines and caverns played host to some passages so tight that it seemed like my avatar could barely fit. The light from the lantern intensifies as the space grows smaller and smaller. It's a powerful visual effect. The space was so tight that I, as a player, couldn't actually look over my avatar's shoulder.

    On occasion - perhaps too often - the game presents you with a wide-open pitch-black space, and you have no choice but to wade into it one baby-step at a time, taking ten minutes to go twenty feet, looking for pitfalls along the way...and feeling a mix of relief and irritation when you realized there weren't any.

    The confinement becomes psychological more than anything - even when there is no danger, the room is too dark to be sureof it. You have to case the joint and take a few missteps before you can be certain of your way.

  2. @ Butterfly

    I couldn't have thought of a better example. I'm playing Amnesia right now, and darkness and confined spaces (mostly hiding in a closet) work to similar and great effect.