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Over the break, I became hooked on an iPad game called The Room. The premise is simple: using touch controls, open up a series of boxes and puzzles. Similar to Myst in its mystery and aesthetic, The Room engages the user by creating a fully realized world into which he/she enters. A game like The Room provides clear validation for Alexander Galloway’s analysis of the video game as an “action-based medium” (2). In many ways, The Room exposes the inner-workings of the machine. User acts only go so far: when dragging a key into a lock, the user turns the key but the machine provides the following unlocking sequence. Drawers open automatically once unlocked, presenting the next step in the puzzle. In The Room, the operator very literally “is the one who must engage with this machine” (5) (the machine here being the larger box of cogs, gears, and puzzles that the user must unlock).

I found Galloway’s analysis of the gray area between nondiegetic and diegetic machine acts to be particularly compelling. For Galloway, “nondiegetic machine acts can be defined as those elements that create a generative agitation or ambiguity… between the inside of the game and the outside of the game” (34). In The Room, the main nondiegetic machine act is that of the clue. If the user spends a certain amount of time playing the game without making any progress on the puzzle, an icon pops up offering the user a suggestion for which part of the apparatus to fiddle with next. It ensures that the game moves forward, yet makes very little attempt to integrate itself into the gameworld.

These moments link up well with McKenzie Wark’s allegory of gamespace as The Cave. When games expose their own apparatus, break the 4th wall, we can get a glimpse of the all-enveloping world they create and are embedded within. Wark encourages us to start thinking about the “curious gap between the games [we] love and an everyday life which, by the light of the game, seems curiously similar, and yet somehow lacking” (18). And indeed, after playing The Room long enough, I began questioning why none of my drawers had such delightful puzzles hidden inside.