A series of vignettes concerned with those imagined, fictional places to have had a profound effect on me because of their concepts, look and/or atmosphere.
Psychogeography, in my personal understanding which may considerably deviate from the actual, officially acknowledged interpretation of the term and concept, tries to examine and describe the various subjective sentiments (those of wonder, of delight and contentment, even bewilderment and fright and uncanniness, nay Unheimlichkeit) that certain places, the topoi, evoke in the self. I became aware of these impalpable stirrings of my senses - certainly ignorant of the existence of this specific field of research known as psychogeography - during my childhood and early adolescence when I, at times, notably in locations such as car parks or industrial sites, was unsuspectedly overcome by a feeling of discomfort. Often I felt like there was somebody behind me, an entity that at some point I must have started to personify in the form of a wolf.
But, on this page, I shall also speak of and register those locations that, whether real or fictional, from sources such as literature or videogames, had a lasting impression on me. Further on, juxtapositions of real locations that I personally find to be reminiscent of certain fictional places, such as videogame levels that I have meticulously and laboriously explored in the past. An example: the Stadtgottesacker in my hometown Halle an der Saale and Oolacile in the Dark Souls add-on Artorias of the Abyss. In a wintry scene, this peaceful cemetery and park area is also quite reminiscent of the Painted World of Ariamis.
More often than not, the experience and impact of these settings are intrinsically linked to the specific piece of background music implemented in the level, the Atrium in Mirror's Edge being an exemplary display of that. Narratively, the Atrium segment is part of the penultimate chapter of the game; your sister, framed for having murdered a candidate in the city's mayoral election, is being taken to prison by a convoy, and in order to rescue her you have to climb a scaffolding, on top of which an ally of yours has stashed a sniper rifle to cut the convoy short.
The music in this segment, in its tranquility reminding you to remain concentrated and composed, still emphasizes the importance of this act, that the dramatic κλῖμαξ is imminent (incidentally, the Greek word originally means "ladder"). About halfway through, it becomes ever so slightly more urgent, as if to stress the drought of time at your disposal and the difficulty of the task at hand. If you miscalculate one jump, you're going to fall to your death, and your sister will be falsely imprisoned.
The sense of something being not quite right takes on a quite literal and empirically tangible form in the Animatrix segment Beyond. The old and notoriously haunted house and the yard surrounding it represent a glitch in the matrix, a blemish according to the official point of view, and all the consequences it entails. Rain coming from the ceiling despite a clear blue sky outside, glass bottles reassembling after being shattered, broken lightbulbs which flicker briefly, cans and kids floating in mid-air. The excitement the location inspires for the few children who know about it is but shortlived as a team of agents becomes aware of the glitch and immediately takes action to fix it.
DARK SOULS: LIKE CHARCOAL ON WHITE CANVAS (WIP) TOMB OF THE GIANTS & KILN OF THE FIRST FLAME
Similar to the concept of unrequited love, or any attempts to explain a subjectively felt sentiment to somebody else, it's difficult to communicate the fascination with a certain object or idea. And it's the same with these games, it's hard to say just why they have such a profound effect on me.
That's what I haven't yet managed to get a hang of. Deciding when something can be considered true, special art, not just in my subjective perception, but in an objective fashion, by a majority of people. Like, I can't say when something is art, or, why people deem a certain work to be a masterpiece. I can't logically explain it. And how I can be the only person to like a thing and attest to its mastery when everyone else has but words of depreciation for it. I don't know why I'm touched by things and not by others.
It happens that every other æon the Moirai toss a game your way, a precious trinket that, undeserved, you will have to earn in hindsight to understand her motives. Your experiences of it resonate with those of Job. In the past two years, I was fortunate indeed for this to happen twice, though I'm inclined to hold the two games I want to talk about for a bit as a single entity, one being the spiritual successor and, in my subjective perception, extended edition of the first, and more obviously due to the fact that both have been developed by the same company--FromSoftware. At the time of writing this, I haven't yet finished Dark Souls, though it's only a matter of getting back from a visit to my parents and firing up the console, pun intended, to quench the final hazard the game will have the player face--Gwyn, Lord of Cinder, waiting inside the Kiln of the First Flame.
Now, initially I meant to reflect upon some design elements in the landscape of Dark Souls, but I might as well widen the subject of interest to the narrative aspects of the game. The story is actually a fair bit richer than a pair of purblind eyes may attest to, but only if you bother to invest time into attending to and interpreting the various item descriptions and conversations with the curiously voiced NPCs you'll meet on your meanderings through Lordran. Admittedly, there's a break of immersion to be complained about at this point, as you don't really find any documents but merely objects such as rings, weapons and armor sets which I highly doubt have a sort of tag attached to them, shedding light on their origin and qualities. For you as the player, though, they can become an immeasurable spring of subtle revelations on the lore, nay the history and fate of Lordran and its inhabitants.
When Minos reached Cretan soil he paid his dues to Jove, with the sacrifice of a hundred bulls, and hung up his war trophies to adorn the palace. The scandal concerning his family grew, and the queen’s unnatural adultery was evident from the birth of a strange hybrid monster. Minos resolved to remove this shame, the Minotaur, from his house, and hide it away in a labyrinth with blind passageways. Daedalus, celebrated for his skill in architecture, laid out the design, and confused the clues to direction, and led the eye into a tortuous maze, by the windings of alternating paths. No differently from the way in which the watery Maeander deludes the sight, flowing backwards and forwards in its changeable course, through the meadows of Phrygia, facing the running waves advancing to meet it, now directing its uncertain waters towards its source, now towards the open sea: so Daedalus made the endless pathways of the maze, and was scarcely able to recover the entrance himself: the building was as deceptive as that. [...]
Meanwhile Daedalus, hating Crete, and his long exile, and filled with a desire to stand on his native soil, was imprisoned by the waves. ‘He may thwart our escape by land or sea’ he said ‘but the sky is surely open to us: we will go that way: Minos rules everything but he does not rule the heavens’. So saying he applied his thought to new invention and altered the natural order of things. He laid down lines of feathers, beginning with the smallest, following the shorter with longer ones, so that you might think they had grown like that, on a slant. In that way, long ago, the rustic pan-pipes were graduated, with lengthening reeds. Then he fastened them together with thread at the middle, and bees’-wax at the base, and, when he had arranged them, he flexed each one into a gentle curve, so that they imitated real bird’s wings. His son, Icarus, stood next to him, and, not realising that he was handling things that would endanger him, caught laughingly at the down that blew in the passing breeze, and softened the yellow bees’-wax with his thumb, and, in his play, hindered his father’s marvellous work.
When he had put the last touches to what he had begun, the artificer balanced his own body between the two wings and hovered in the moving air. He instructed the boy as well, saying ‘Let me warn you, Icarus, to take the middle way, in case the moisture weighs down your wings, if you fly too low, or if you go too high, the sun scorches them. Travel between the extremes. And I order you not to aim towards Bootes, the Herdsman, or Helice, the Great Bear, or towards the drawn sword of Orion: take the course I show you!’ At the same time as he laid down the rules of flight, he fitted the newly created wings on the boy’s shoulders. While he worked and issued his warnings the ageing man’s cheeks were wet with tears: the father’s hands trembled.
He gave a never to be repeated kiss to his son, and lifting upwards on his wings, flew ahead, anxious for his companion, like a bird, leading her fledglings out of a nest above, into the empty air. He urged the boy to follow, and showed him the dangerous art of flying, moving his own wings, and then looking back at his son. Some angler catching fish with a quivering rod, or a shepherd leaning on his crook, or a ploughman resting on the handles of his plough, saw them, perhaps, and stood there amazed, believing them to be gods able to travel the sky.
And now Samos, sacred to Juno, lay ahead to the left (Delos and Paros were behind them), Lebinthos, and Calymne, rich in honey, to the right, when the boy began to delight in his daring flight, and abandoning his guide, drawn by desire for the heavens, soared higher. His nearness to the devouring sun softened the fragrant wax that held the wings: and the wax melted: he flailed with bare arms, but losing his oar-like wings, could not ride the air. Even as his mouth was crying his father’s name, it vanished into the dark blue sea, the Icarian Sea, called after him. The unhappy father, now no longer a father, shouted ‘Icarus, Icarus where are you? Which way should I be looking, to see you?’ ‘Icarus’ he called again. Then he caught sight of the feathers on the waves, and cursed his inventions. He laid the body to rest, in a tomb, and the island was named Icaria after his buried child.
Ovid: Metamorphoses, Bk. VIII 183-235 (tr. A. S. Kline)