Interior Worlds Uses Nothingness & Ordinariness to Prey on Your Deep Fears
Interior Worlds is a game about the threat of something frightening. There’s this perpetual sense that something monstrous is lurking in these empty parking lots. You think something is just behind you on the snowy streets. Somebody else has to be in this abandoned mall. But there isn’t. However, that knowledge somehow doesn’t dull the sense that you’re in danger throughout this incredible horror experience. Although that ‘horror’ part seems to only exist in my head.
In this game, you’ll work your way through ten different empty spaces. While you’re here, you have to take some pictures of ‘environmental anomalies’ with an old SLR camera. You’ll hear your heart beating whenever you’re close to one. You can also see a little camera symbol through the viewfinder if you’re pointing in the right direction. Take enough of these pictures and you’re allowed to leave the area and move on to the next one.
The odd part is that most of these pictures seem fairly innocent. You’ll photograph a stretch of open street. A concrete pillar in the parking garage. A barren storefront. Even so, you’ll hear your heart beating each time you get near one of these places. Interior Worlds seems to be hinting that there’s some secret meaning to the pictures you take. But I never knew what that meaning was. Something about not knowing filled me with terror, though.
This was a compelling part of the game. I initially suspected there had to be something supernatural about it. There was nothing in any of the pictures, though. I checked my album every time I snapped one of these environmental anomalies. When that turned up nothing, I fiddled with the focus and zoom to see if I’d missed something. I tried various angles. Flicked lights on and off. No ghosts. Nothing spooky. Just simple, seemingly-ordinary places. But places that held some importance to the game.
There was nothing to be afraid of that I could see in Interior Worlds. I think that’s what began to worry me more. I was expecting creepy spirits or hints of some otherworldly monstrosity, but it was just…nothing. It was that kind of nothing you feel behind you when you walk up the stairs at night, though. The emptiness as the floorboards creak when you go to the bathroom in the dark. It’s the hint of something sharing the space with you. It’s an emptiness filled with unknowable promises of harm.
You feel that in the pictures you take throughout the game. The game is telling you that these places are important, but you never understand why. It never says why you needed to take the pictures. Doesn’t even say what you’re taking pictures of. It always feels like you’re photographing unimportant, unremarkable things. So, what’s so remarkable about them that they need to be photographed? Why does the game need me to do this? What is there that I’m not seeing?
This sensation continued to prod at me the whole time I played Interior Worlds. It’s clearly by design, too, as the developer has chosen these spots for a reason. You keep asking yourself what that reason could be, though. You keep feeling that there’s something there. I continued to pore over my pictures and re-examine the places I was walking through. I was so afraid that, this time, I would actually find something when I looked. After a while, it made me hesitant to dig deep into what the pictures and locations meant. My fear kept growing even though nothing was happening.
That last part was what really started to get to me. I grew more and more frightened even though I wasn’t finding anything. I kept feeling that I was growing closer to some horrid discovery even through the game wasn’t giving me any indication that anything was different. The lack of feedback was causing me to feel something beyond the game. Finding nothing seemed to be feeding some part of my mind that insisted something was creeping closer. I stopped wanting to look for it. Started to move faster through the game. And this feeling kept getting worse.
Interior Worlds subtly feeds this sensation, though. The audio draws from reality. You’ll be hearing your footsteps. The buzz of fluorescent lights. The hum and rumble of unseen machinery. Distant music. It all feels so real to these places, but something about it doesn’t feel right. It’s like there’s this hidden sound to these places when there’s no people around. It’s like you can hear the general ‘life’ sounds of a space when there’s no people filling it with noise. A sense that you’re creeping about some sleeping giant. Like the world around you is alive.
There’s nothing out-of-the-ordinary about these sounds. Even so, the audio made me even more uncomfortable. It’s that feeling that the space is a living thing, its heartbeat echoing in the stray sounds and tones of everyday machinery, errant wind, and a kind of audible emptiness. The lack of human hustle and bustle is a sound in this space, somehow. The lack of noise feels like it booms in your ears. It sharpens all other noise to razor points until they’re all you can hear.
All of these audio quirks and sounds made me painfully frightened to keep playing through Interior Worlds. In some primal part of my mind, I was already convinced that there were things I couldn’t see. The game couldn’t be making me take pictures of nothing. I KNEW there was something lurking here with me. The noises only further confirmed it, making me feel like I was moving ever-deeper into some living thing that meant me harm. But other than errant, ordinary noises and a whole lot of actual nothing, there wasn’t any reason to feel afraid.
Despite this, I was terrified throughout Interior Worlds. Yes, the developer is making some careful decisions to make me feel that fear. Unknowable goals, eerie locations, and the creepy sounds of empty spaces all make you feel fear. Just the same, I was just taking pictures in empty locations. Pictures of NOTHING. I’d just hear my own footsteps and the buzz of some lights. There’s nothing to be afraid of, here. Even so, that void seemed to call up every unknowable terror in my imagination. Something horrible seemed to live in that emptiness, drawing upon that ancient fear of unknown monstrosities and the cruelties they whisper in your ear when you’re all alone.