The Finite Canvas

Most of my gaming took place in the late nineties and early naugties.  However, despite some pretty convincing arguments, I was never allowed a console.  This meant that I was a computer gamer, and so got to experience all of the joys of windows gaming.  Given that gaming was heavily discouraged in our house, I had to be clever.  Clever like installing a demo when my parents were away from the computer, playing through it as quickly as possible, and then uninstalling all evidence.  This, as you might imagine, was not ideal.  Eventually I needed more, and it was around this time that my best friend Joe’s family purchased a brand new desktop PC.

Joe’s parents were somewhat more relaxed than mine.  I could go over to his for five hours, and spend four hours and forty-five minutes playing games.  We installed everything we could get our hands on; bundled games, demos CD-Roms magazines, rentals from the library, old discs from garage sales -anything.  It wasn’t long before we arrived at our favourites, and given our severe lack of pocket money to purchase anything new, we played the shit out of them.  Clocking these games was only the beginning.  Quickly our favorite activity became testing their limits.  This meant undertaking tasks like driving to the highest point possible on a racing map, frequently taking wrong directions, jumping nearly impossible distances, and so on.  Sometimes our persistence would be rewarded by an easter egg, or maybe a cheat code.  Other times there would be nothing.  Just grey nothing.

There was something truly satisfying about this, something about finding the line where the programmers stopped programming -the line between the top of a blurry-skinned skyscraper and the grey abyss.  Cross this line and you would fall for infinity. In games like Monster Truck Madness it was easy -just drive off road, keep going, and eventually fall off the map.  Powerslide was a little more challenging.  Finding the abyss in Powerslide required skill, carefully timing jumps, and making sure to investigate seemingly innocent dead ends.  Sometimes all it took was a little luck, like a glitch that let you walk through walls, or climb far above the heights that the designers had intended.

Looking back on this activity of ours, I think that there must have been something more to it than just facile entertainment.  It was about understanding.  It was about fully exploring the work that these programmers had done.  It was about the comfort of seeing the limitations of a virtual world, in a reality that is so incomprehensibly vast and unknowable. Well, I mean, it was either that or just the fact that it was hilarious seeing a badly rendered avatar flailing in space forever.




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