An excerpt from Heterotopias Issue 003, which is out today. This piece is a short excerpt from that issue, where Ed Smith looks back at Suda 51’s magnum opus, and finds a powerful symbol for the fragility of contemporary life.
This article is an excerpt from Heterotopias Issue 003. If you like what you see, you can purchase the PDF of the entire issue on the Heterotopias itch.io page. How do game spaces reflect back on reality? This is the central question of Heterotopias 003, which seeks to make a connection between the issues of our society and their representation in the virtual spaces in which we play. The PDF includes a bunch of really great pieces on a diverse array of subjects related to this question, including a piece on videogame bathrooms, as well as a piece on inequality and absence in urban space as it relates to Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, and the work of several other artists and other writers. It’s definitely worth a look.
“We’re in a tight spot,” says Killer 7‘s sardonic, begimpsuited spirit guide, Iwazaru. Appearing in thin air, hanging from the ceiling, or floating serenely above the ground, he commands the physical space. Capable of walking through walls and floors, for Iwazaru to ever feel trapped there must be something other, something sinister, lurking discretely among his environment. His catchphrase is an ominous hint—in the world of Killer 7, we may not see what’s threatening us with the naked eye, but everywhere we go, as Iwazaru notes, things are closing in.
To explore Killer 7‘s office blocks, restaurants, and desert towns, its houses, schools, and Spanish pueblo, is not to feel claustrophobic. On the contrary, these areas are implausibly large. Each section of Killer 7 takes an hour, maybe two, to completely traverse. They all contain winding corridors and high-ceilinged antechambers. Even a cheap trailer house, dumped in the American Midwest and serving as a kind of mission hub, is comprised of four massive rooms. Confronted by invisible enemies, who self-detonate once they touch us, the threat of Killer 7’s locations becomes their sheer size. Danger may always find a way with so much space available. We are overwhelmed by quantity. We are also forced, by Killer 7’s idiosyncratic, semi-point-and-click navigation system, to walk a linear path, which deviates only at prescribed points. The effect is a contrast between the established vastness of the place around us and our narrow vision. Our peripheral environment, at times, is literally unknown. Like the suicidal, exploding monsters, called Heaven Smile, we often can’t see Killer 7’s world; perhaps it, too, is trying to kill us.
At the same time, backgrounds and interiors are stripped of detail. Broadly drawn, using washed-out colors and sporadic black lines, many of Killer 7’s environments are abstracted. They are not specific or unique places, but generic representatives—the restaurant, school, and fairground might resemble any restaurant, school, or fairground. We travel across the United States. We visit different countries, the past and the distant future. There is an implied comprehension: by moving through various locations and their geographical archetypes, we see, in a general sense, the world. And so Killer 7’s treatment of space becomes twofold. As much as it suggests there is something malevolent hidden among them, it insists the locations are common and should be easily recognized. They’re not only abstract, they’re pedestrian. By extension, the game implies that, even in the most everyday places, there is hidden depth, hidden perniciousness. We can’t always see all of Killer 7, but we know it’s there, and that it passingly resembles what we see in our own, real lives, and that it contains imperceptible monsters.
This is an excerpt from Heterotopias Issue 003 which is available today on itch.io.