6 Surreal Video Game Environments: A Plea for Surrealism
One of my biggest frustrations with the video game industry is this unnecessary reliance on realism. I mean, we could make the most out-there, fantastical, nonsensical, surreal environment in a game. So why do we keep making the same industrial cityscapes or the same lava mountain regions? And I’m not just saying “add more dragons”. I mean wonky landscapes where the environment itself lacks consistency, or logic. So, to help inspire the industry, here’s a list of the most surreal environments in video games.
Arkham Asylum: Scarecrow Hallucinations
Probably the most popular example of this happens in the Arkham series, especially Arkham Asylum. Scarecrow will occasionally poison Batman with Fear toxin, sending Batman into nightmarish hellscapes inside his own mind. The effects are subtle at first. It’ll start to rain indoors, or cockroaches will become a sudden infestation. You’ll exit a door only to reenter the previous room. A library will slowly become Crime alley, and Batman will suddenly become a newly-orphaned child again.
While Arkham City and Arkham Knight try and fail to recapture these genius moments, we get another admittedly cool moment at the finale of Arkham Knight where (Spoilers) we become Joker inside Batman’s mind.
Stanley Parable: All of It
The Stanley Parable is a video that mocks video games, especially the concept of “choice”. Every choice you make leads to a different surreal scenario, and you’ll soon find the spaces changing, entering rooms impossibly large as old rooms disappear. I know many people haven’t played this one yet, so I won’t go into great detail, but trust me: try it.
Dishonored 2: The Void
The Void is the source of all magic in the Dishonored universe. While at first glance it may seem to just be platforms in nothingness, you’ll start to see that it actually manifests as a strange mixture of past, present, and future locations, and seems influenced by the minds of those traveling within the Void. Crumbling architecture mirrors those found in the “real world”, oddly distorted by the mind of the person traveling within the dreamscape.
Witcher 3: Cave of Dreams
In the Skellige Isles of Witcher 3, you may come across a quest with Blueboy Lugos who has you taking a hallucinogenic concoction before going on a spirit journey inside the Cave of Dreams. Shortly after, you’re following the spirit of a flying Blue Whale before coming across a banquet in the middle of the cave. Cave walls crumble as you make your way through, finding yourself in a small copse of giant trees and the memory of Blueboy Ludos’ father, mocking Blueboy as lightning strikes him and lights him on fire before an epic battle. More of that.
PT: All of It
The “Playable Trailer” for a cancelled Silent Hill game, this demo took the gaming world by storm. Playstation’s that still have the now-unavailable game in their harddrive are about $100 more valuable. The demo is really just one hallway, but as you reach the end you return the beginning, but each iteration is slightly different than the last. At first the changes between them are subtle enough that you don’t even know what’s changed, yet you’re still aware that something is just off. The radio announcer will sound more threatening. Scribbles on the wall appear. A door is suddenly ajar. Scribbles disappear. Slowly but surely the hallway becomes a thing of nightmares, an inescapable purgatory whose subtle transformation is more alarming than a sudden change.
Bioshock Infinite: Sea of Lighthouses
Spoilers, but near the climax of Bioshock Infinite you’ll not only be explained the “Multiple Universes” theory, you’ll have a full-on tour through the concept. Elizabeth takes you into the Sea of Lighthouses, a physical representation of the multiverse, every lighthouse representing a universe. As you stroll, the dock underneath you will build itself, and you’ll even spot another you and another Elizabeth in the distance, taking the same stroll. I mean, come on! In a medium where the developer is god, why can’t we have more of this?
And that’s the list? What other moments did I miss? I’m genuinely interested. Let me know in the comments or tweet me at @chadmwilson