lost time incident 08 – the invisible walls of open worlds


lost time incident 08
The view outside the window is a rainy one again. Even though it’s mid-afternoon, I’m the only one awake in the house, so that means it’s time to knuckle down and figure out what’s going to go into this week’s installment. I have pushed the procrastination envelope as far as it’s going to go.

I spent yesterday wandering a digital wasteland, playing Fallout 4, and got back to playing the main story mission… which is just getting exciting. For the entire game, I had a world map that showed me the locations I had visited and the extent of the game world, so all of my meanderings and monster shootings were in context.

And then yesterday, a mission took me right to the edge of the map… and then off it. It’s a brilliant bit of game design. For weeks and weeks, I thought I knew where I was, but as I enter the most desolate areas of the map, the ground burnt black, the skies a sickly yellow with radioactive storm clouds, and suddenly I’m as lost as the protagonist. I have no idea how far out this world goes.

One of the genre labels for this type of game is “open world” because you can wander anywhere and do things in whatever order. It was a name meant to differentiate this new form of game storytelling from earlier games, where the technology wasn’t there yet to let you just pick a direction and walk in it. Games had obvious paths they wanted you to go down, to control your experience.

But even an open world has limits. In GTA V, you could walk for over 2 hours to get from one side of the map to another. (Not that you would. The game has cars.) But at some point, you’re going to hit a wall. This far, and no further. Nobody has built a globe-sized game yet. Unless we’re living in it (see: theories about universe as a hologram, multiverse theory, the fact that building a simulation of a universe is something that can be done multiple times while presumably the really-real world is only created once, thus ensuring that statistically the odds of being in a simulation is greater than the odds of being in the original universe etc. etc.).

Subconsciously, in a game, you feel like you know how far you can go. More or less. Which is why I was so tickled when Fallout 4 yanked out the rug and sent me off the map. Suddenly, the virtual world wasn’t so predictable. It was suddenly closer to real life, where I also don’t know what’s going to happen.

I don’t even know what I’m going to type next.

Let’s see where the invisible walls are.


random number generation
Last week, we announced a drawing for original Detective Yeti artwork. Thanks to an online number generator, the Fates have conspired to bless Shoshanah as our winner. If she’s still on County Road, then we’re all set. If not… let us know a preferred mailing address, please.

We have condolence postcards lined up for all participants, so everyone’s a winner, except those who didn’t take the time to enter.

For those folks: They’ll just have to haunt flea markets and country boutiques for knock-off versions of our intellectual property, like air-brushed t-shirts of Doctor Bigfoot in hip hop gear, hair in dreads, crossing his arms and looking hard, or needle-point pillows with Detective Yeti dressed in a nightgown and cap, shouting “I AM A VERY LOVING GRANNY”


TED whispers
Finally got my TED Whispers speech approved so I’ll be giving a PPT presentation at low volume, under covers, in the dark, adrift at sea.

Lot of good topics at this year’s TED Whispers gathering. Some must-sees:

  • How to Be a Quiet Boy the Girls Won’t Pick On
  • A Survey of the Noises of House Shoes
  • I Know Who Has a Crush On You
  • Let’s All Sleep Right Now


Q: So as the world’s foremost photographer of paranorm–

A: Oh, come on. I specifically said I was only going to come on this program to talk about my landscape photography and recent exhibits.

Q: We’ll get to that, of course, but I think our viewers are most interested in–

A: Do I have to squeeze it in? Really quick, uh, influences: Ansel Adams, obviously. But also the works of Bernd and Hilla Becher. Architecture can be just–

Q: Of course, of course, no, we’ll get to that. But your ghost photos…

A: Uh huh.

Q: You’ve been quoted as saying “Ghosts are a pain in the a–…”– well, we can’t say that at this hour, but you continued, “They’re so desperate for attention. It’s pathetic.”

A: I stand by that quote. I mean, it was said in anger, obviously.

Q: Uh huh.

A: With the benefit of some time passing, my opinion is a bit more nuanced now. That quote was something I posted to social media after the first time I had several rolls of film ruined because supernatural elements forced their way into the foreground… entirely unknown to me at the time I was shooting, or I could have worked around it.

Q: And were you able find out anything about these spirits, or what they were trying to communicate?

A: Oh, no. I never try to find anything out. I think it would just encourage them.

Q: Mm.


badge ‘n gun
The rogue cop storms into the chief’s office, sets down his badge and gun. As he exits, a clown comes in, just as angry, giant shoes flapping with fury, sets down her giant horn and seltzer bottle, storms out.

A vampire hunter comes in and sets down a carved stake and a crucifix, glares at the chief, then storms out, shoulder banging into a knight in armor who’s here to drop off a sword and the one true grail. The chief doesn’t back down. They’ve gone too far.

A tree spirit comes in. Sets down a dream of a mansion in the clouds and a shimmering necklace made of spider’s tears. As it leaves, the ficus in the corner of the chief’s office wilts. And that thing’s plastic. Shouldn’t even be possible.

“This is a nation of laws,” says the chief. “I got the mayor breathing down my neck.”

The mayor is in a playful mood. The mayor is sitting on the back of the chief’s chair, breathing down his neck, ruffling his hair, writing on a Trapper Keeper the words “Mrs. Chief Mayor.”

A yeti barges in. It slams down a hunk of yak fat and a mostly melted snowball. It storms out.

The chief’s desk is piled high. Weapons, plates of food, decorative items, uniforms, badges, three flags, the weight of expectations from a public that fears him and needs him. It cracks in half, everything sliding out into the hall. An amulet ends up under the evidence lockers. An ant farm shatters, the ants scattering, putting on uniforms, answering phones, filling in paperwork, antennae twitching as civilians come in looking for answers.

And still, the chief isn’t happy. It’s chaos out there, beyond the walls of his office. Rules haven’t been followed. Buildings have exploded. Cars have flipped. Cupcakes have had their frosting tops mushed by the very lids that were designed to protect them.

“You’re finished in this town,” mutters the chief, to no one in particular.


ending theme music
Hoo boy. Barely made it. Just have enough time to get this thing formatted and eat some dinner before it’s time to check in with work. Here’s hoping I’ve learned a lesson about procrastination. (I probably haven’t.)

Thanks again to my wife Amanda, who this week supplied a leaning ghost drawing she did last night to see if it would make a good writing prompt. It worked!

A list of things I thought about but didn’t write about:

) having a conversation with an A.I. that thinks so much faster than you that it has to set up a multi-generational project to keep track of the conversation

) biographies of more criminal elements from the city of Pagoda, WI.

) something about the continuity of consciousness

) anti-hippy music

Maybe next time. Thanks for sticking around!

–Michael Van Vleet