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What Lies Beyond: Doorways in Gaming
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What Lies Beyond: Doorways in Gaming

June 10, 2013 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 6 Next


Sega's attempt to present a realistic portrait of life in a Japanese town in the Dreamcast game Shenmue included engineered detail at a previously unheard-of level, driving the game's development budget to similar heights.

The Doors

Shenmue's doors are many and varied, with sliding paper-thin Japanese doors inside houses, more substantial doors on homes and businesses, and dresser drawers and cabinets that can be opened all over the place.

The Experience

The game's world is largely, naturalistically contiguous, and opening a door only rarely reveals a new experience.

This Is Your Brain On...

As far as our brains are concerned, the net effect of all these realistic doorways is a vaguely unsatisfying and even un-game-like atmosphere. It's possible that the sheer number of doors, drawers, and gashapon machines available dampens the effect; everything starts to seem routine and unremarkable when the player spends so much time on mundane activities like actually opening doors. Moreover, the detailed design is so laid-back that it provides few truly exciting moments when we make the transition from one part of the map into another -- so while we continue to forget why we're here and what we're doing, there's nothing to provoke a rush of new neurological activity either.


Valve's physically impossible first-person puzzler plays with our perceptions in fascinating ways.

The Doors

The player has great freedom -- we're allowed to create passageways from any visible part of the world to any other, by means of the Portal Gun.

The Experience

There's something very weird but immensely rewarding about walking through a hole in one wall and coming out through another hole in another wall, as we make our way toward the exit of one level and on to the next.

This Is Your Brain On...

Oddly enough, while Portal messes with our perceptions in many unique and fascinating ways, the portals themselves don't seem to elicit the doorway reset response from the player. This may be because we are never truly entering an unknown space; we may be walking through physically impossible passageways to get from one area to another, but we are always acquainted with where we are going, even if we've only seen it from a distance. 

But Portal does elicit a doorway effect whenever we reach an end-of-level elevator -- these sequences cover loading time and support the game's storytelling, giving the inimitable GlaDOS time to comment on the proceedings. They also give our brains a moment to prepare for the next trans-dimensional challenge. 


The Doors

Surprising Fact: There's not a single traditional, clearly-marked point-of-demarcation door in Arnt Jensen's art/puzzle platformer Limbo.

The Experience

There are obstacles and gates, of course, and there are checkpoints between puzzles -- but we're never quite sure when we've reached one, at least until our avatar dies and gets sent back to it.

This Is Your Brain On...

Limbo's lack of obvious structure contributes to the game's eerie stream-of-consciousness feel; there are discrete events, to be sure, but the design doesn't segment the game experience into clear or consistently sized chunks from the brain's perspective. The game is more linear than a dream, but it's intentionally just as disorienting. We only see the boundaries when we have failed, and as there's no going back, our brains simply reset and deal with whatever's at hand; our lizard brains never quite clue in to the fact that progress and death are treated much the same. 

Article Start Previous Page 5 of 6 Next

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