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Traversing the Anxious, Dreamlike Architecture of Within

My dreams often consist of unpopulated, vaguely familiar spaces half-remembered and fading quickly from memory.

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Within

My dreams often consist of unpopulated, vaguely familiar spaces half-remembered and fading quickly from memory. 

More often than not, they dwell in indoor spaces and void-like hallways with endless nooks and crannies left wanting of detail and movement.

Curiosity motivates exploration; I plunge deeper into the expanses of the subconscious. The harsh pale glare of unsourced light uncovers the winding architectural terrors that breed the unshakable feeling of disorientation and paranoia, yet I progress further into these labyrinthine avenues.

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RageKit’s avant-garde title Within closely resembles the kind of oneiric flights of nightmarish fantasy that lulls me closer towards deeper, enigmatic unknowns. Not straightforwardly a horror title but definitely not boasting the pleasant autumnal outings of a game like Proteus, Within is a first person walker described on RageKit’s website (where it can also be downloaded) as “an experimental video game questioning the notion of space in a virtual world… centered around the feeling of anxiety.” Like a wandering somnambulist, the player traverses endless hallways without direction, encountering figures without purpose. Within’s sparse, amorphous setting suggests an existential nightmare of philosophical peril, toying with the player’s sense of purpose in an otherwise indifferent locale.

Within’s barren environment silently shifts and reforms, revealing fresh apertures or subtle dips in topography with which to lose oneself in again. The introduction of the game locates the player in a small chamber without exit, awaiting change and a chance to escape. No objective marker directs the player. Rather, as in a dream, one simply scours the area for answers in nonsensical spaces that do not physically make sense. Circling back to familiar rooms is to be expected, and substantial progression feels non-existent. Even the art style offers no encouragement, claiming only oppressive, staunchly undecorated colorless blocks that tower above or crisscross in horizontal beams.

Within somehow extracts true anguish and apprehension despite the lack of considerable stimuli, forcing the player to experience the isolating trepidation and unsettling ambiance inherent within the game. The lack of stimuli and activity steadily produces a mounting potential energy that renders even the smallest movement or sudden presence of an uninvited other absolutely terrifying. I imagine the false comfort generated in a single player game like Minecraft is analogous to the experience here. There are no others to interact with, which only renders the feeling of being watched or followed all the more tangible. Similar in artistic composition yet divergent in its structure, Antichamber exists as the easiest point of comparison. Both games feature confined, austere atmospheres full of hidden paradox, but Within ultimately feels more directionless, more alarming, and less playful. Instead, Within echoes the haunting simplicity of Feign or the maddening anomaly of NaissancE, games that reveal branching paths but withdraw the comforts of forthright truths.

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Within

Maybe the minimalist soundscape proposes the solution to greater comprehension, keying players into Within’s unsettling climate and impenetrable menace. RageKit orchestrates the game with an unholy, uniform drone portending latent anxieties on the cusp of resurfacing, only to interject blotches of spectral, digitalized corruptions of sound atop this monochromatic ambiance. This horrific cacophony prefigures the company of a dangerous geometrical mass that serves as the sole Minotaur that stalks the player throughout the game. A successful playthrough can be achieved without encountering it whatsoever, but its terrifying manifestation through that digitalized wall of noise proves nightmarishly unable to shake off.

The disconcerting magnetism of Within lies in its deft ability to isolate players, and this lonesome exile coupled with the game’s listless pacing renders the player small, powerless, and despairingly lost. Witness the player hugging the walls of a narrow precipice or maneuvering through the game’s tight, twisting hallways: these passages anticipate the end game, where things unravel and the dream slowly disintegrates.

When I dream of uninhabited worlds, answers never fully arrive nor does the promise of leaving ever truly present itself. Oftentimes, I wake before seeing through the final motions of a dream, vanishing from the pallid vestibules of a hazy subconscious. Within approximates the indistinctness of these dazed states and the frustrations of achieving a semblance of order. Rather than unfold as plainly and openly as day, Within reaches for the ephemeral and surreal.

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Miguel Penabella is a freelancer and comparative literature academic who worships at the temple of cinema but occasionally bears libations to videogames.

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