What We’re Playing: The Void

I’ve been touching The Void… and it’s been touching me back.

This is the first thing you’ll see.

Russian studio Ice-Pick Lodge is a company which is unlikely to register on your radar. They’ve had one release before this, 2005’s Pathologic which went mostly unnoticed by the majority of games media – and gamers in general.

It unceremoniously re-wrote the rule book on almost all accepted standards of videogame design. It was uncompromising, darkly funny, emotive and perverse. It placed you in a dying city, in a number of roles, trying to do *something* before your time ran out.

Pathologic

It didn’t just break the fourth wall occasionally for comic effect, clarity or to feed you a tutorial. No, the appreciation and acknowledgement of the player was intrinsically woven into the fabric of every facet of the game. Characters would reference you and they seemed fully aware of their own place in the world. Not the game world, THE world. Your world. They made you believe that when your back was turned, they’d be talking amongst themselves about YOU!

A ‘Sister’

Skip forward four years, and their second game, The Void, raises this notion to new heights. You find yourself in some kind of limbo between life and death… and that’s as far as I can comfortably go, as far as the premise is concerned!

Whereas the ‘city’ in Pathologic was something of a barrier to the game’s message (in that it forced you to try and link the action to some kind of ‘simulated reality’), the creepy, surrealist landscapes of The Void, with its cast a complicated bunch of angelic ‘Sisters’ and hideously deformed ‘Brothers’; make any attempt to base your thought processes in reality almost impossible.

The inhabitants each have their own agendas, their own ways and a complex, yet clearly unstable ‘truce’.  There are no points of reference in our own world from which you can draw any meaningful comparisons. You are unclear of your ‘goal’ from the outset. Even thinking in terms of ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ is a path to madness. No, the appeal and challenge of The Void is simply to understand it.

A ‘Brother’

A lot of the games media have labelled The Void as an ‘art game’, whereas it is clearly a work of beauty and therefore, in my book, qualifies simply as ‘art’ (no brainer).  I have trouble lumping it in with other ‘art games’ like The Path or Flower, because those games raised a debate as to whether they qualified as ‘games’ or ‘interactive experiences’.

With The Void, there is no such debate to be had. It’s definitely a game, in the same way that ‘Lemarchand’s Configuration’ (The box from Hellraiser) is also technically a game. It’s a game you may find yourself playing while you’re not even at your computer, rather on your way home when something one of the characters said suddenly *clicks*.

Another slightly angrier ‘Brother’

But is that fun? Well, as a lover of Avant-garde work – in any form – I’m undoubtedly going to say yes.

It’s fun in the same way that the disorientating dizziness after watching David Lynch’s Eraserhead is fun – and in the same way that having your mind melted by Shane Carruth’s Primer is fun. Without getting into a debate about the ‘nature of fun’, these things appeal to a lot of people…

and so will The Void

for the same reasons!

I was in two minds about recommending you give this game a whirl, since it is definitely not going to appeal to everyone. However, if you have an ounce of interest in trying a game which rises far off the scale of classifiable genres and then excels in its own right (and who wouldn’t?), then you should definitely give it a go.

Few times, after playing a game, do I find myself so inspired – and Ice Pick Lodge have now managed to get me TWICE.

They’re the only team in the world doing this kind of thing.  They’ve carved out a distinctive style in just two games over four years – and they’re still almost completely unknown in mainstream circles!

It is, sadly, the curse of the videogames medium that they will find it hard to be taken seriously, doing what they do. They will find it hard to place themselves. I just hope they keep doing it for a long time to come.

Stew (@Chicknstu)