There's nothing for you here
There are all kinds of places in video games that you never get to see. The bit beyond the level boundaries. That side-street with the inconveniently placed crates in front of it. Just what's down there? The easy, boring answer is 'Nothing'. The mundanely-thinking, no-fun response is that those bits are just background window-dressing, used to disguise the bits where the level design runs out. But screw that, I say.
I want to think about what, within the existential integrity of these game worlds, would plausibly be over there. Assuming that these places exist, and that the playable area is just one part, what's going on in the unexplored places, and just how the hell does it relate to what's going on around your character? So I had a think about it. And it turns out that the answers are mostly horrible.
The bit to the left of a 2D platformer level
What's probably there: Hell. Or something very close to it. Think about this: During his lengthy quests to rescue Peach/Daisy/Whoever, Mario--since Super Mario Bros. 3--has had an entire, open-world map through which to navigate his way to his end goal. The game levels are the paths he chooses to take.
The lava-filled, pit-pocked, enemy-strewn strips of land that he jumps, dies, and jumps through again are the nice bits. They're he routes he actively takes rather than going around them. In order for them to be such a significant respite from the rest of the world, everything else must be unformed void-space, possibly filled with eldritch abominations, and where the only sound is that of a baby crying, slowed down 1000%. And played backwards. Underwater.
The bit just outside a fighting game arena
What's probably there: Armed police, ready to quell the transpiring ultra-violence with extreme prejudice. It wasn't too bad when these guys were just punching each other in the face, but when the pyrotechnics, grenades and arm-blades started coming into play? Can't be letting that stuff fly. Not in a public place.
Yeah, that dancing chubby kid seems to love it, but what does he know? He spends all of his days dancing, endlessly, under a motorway bridge. Poor, simple bastard. And as for those guys throwing down on the high rafters of a skyscraper building site? The only silver lining there is that 'rooftop' settings make for a very easy sniper shot.
The bottom of the cliffs in Halo multiplayer
What's probably there: A whole load of confused, red and blue Spartans, wondering how to get back up. Because falling off the map in Halo does not kill you. It cannot kill you. Because at the beginning of Halo 3, we establish that the Mjolnir armour can allow a man to fall from space and hit the ground suffering only the briefest period of unconsciousness. And not, say, the expected symptom of being poured out of the neck-hole as a warm, gristly jam.
Fall damage = Categorically not an issue for Spartans. That arm-flailing scream they do on the way down is just a brief moment of panic, before they slap their foreheads, roll their eyes, and let out a big sigh at themselves for being such a giddy goat and forgetting. But seriously, those guys and gals have been down there for ages. Someone needs to get a Pelican down there ASAP. They've got to be eating each other by now.
Beyond the multiplayer map boundaries in Call of Duty
What's probably there: Nothing. Just empty buildings. If anyone lives there at all, it's just a few hobos rattling around the top floors of empty towerblocks, toilet-roll crowns wrapped around their heads as 'New Kings of the Citadel'. Because everyone else has left. A long time ago.
Because having a bunch of swearing, racist, homophobic bullet-mongers locked in a cycle of perpetual killing in the suburb next door really tends to affects the desirability of a neighbourhood.
Inside half the buildings in Fallout 3
What's probably there: Awesome parties. Booze, cake, music, delicious food, rampant fornication. All of it occuring in the kind of plush, velvet and chrome-clad surroundings that the rest of the world can only dream of. And everyone is really, really clean.
Invisible wall camouflage? Mere architectural set-dressing? Nah, those locked buildings are debauched dens of decadent delight. They just keep it quiet, because they don't want you coming in. Because look at you. You're a mess.
The cities below F-Zero tracks
What's probably there: A silent, smoking necropolis of wrecked houses and twisted metal, stretching endlessly to the horizon. We're talking about cities built below high velocity race tracks. High velocity race tracks from which racers are virtually expected to hurl their speeding, barely-in-control craft on a regular basis.
It's doubtful any insurance company would even talk to you if you lived within five miles of a race. You move there, you accept the consequences.
Under the water in the first Assassin's Creed
What's probably there: Loads of Apples of Eden, the search for which is your main driving force. But you can't swim in the first game, so you can't get them. The developers of the early Assassin simulations were probably too concerned with visuals, and hadn't fully mastered the next-gen Animus tech at the time, and so had to cut corners with game design.
Probably still got 10/10 though.
The world below Super Monkey Ball's levels
What's probably there: A whole society of monkey-hating curs. Perhaps it's a sugar-coated, nightmare follow-up to Planet of the Apes, where the humans have risen again and hurled the simians into an endless cycle of life-threatening torment. Either way, the fact remains that for some ungodly reason, winsome chimps are now regularly stuffed into plastic balls (which are probably red-hot in all that sun), and forced to roll around lethal, sky-high rat-mazes in a desperate search for sustenance.
Why are they there? Who put them there? What is this all about? The answers are down below, and they cannot be less than utterly sinister.
Back up, there's nothing more to see here
So that's what I think's really going on in the bits of games you don't get to see. But have you ever wondered about any others? Are there any other shady, enigmatic areas you reckon are worth investigating? Tell you your theories in the comments.
And then check out some of our other, tangentially related features. Because you might as well, if you've liked this one enough to click right through it. Have a go of Gaming's most secret secrets, and then How to be a video game guard: A professional guide.