Jiggling the handle on the trope of the unopened door

Here’s an experiment you can try right now, using nothing but the pair of hot meat hands God blessed you with. Stand up and stride purposefully to the nearest door. Grab the handle with grace, civility and confidence. Give it a twist, wink to an unseen observer and then give it a tug. Observe how this door swings open. Open as a plum. Now walk through it. Enjoy the simple pleasure of moving from one room to another, in a way that you have never permitted yourself before. (This introductory paragraph is presented with apologies to the small percentage of readers currently residing at one of Her Majesty’s fine prisons.)

However, if you want to try this trick in a video game, you’ll be sorely disappointed. You can push on them, pull on them, you can even sing them sweet, sweet lullabies, but video game doors don’t work like real-life doors. Most doors in games exist not to allow safe passage between two adjacent spaces, but simply to decorate what would otherwise be a featureless wall. Like those bowls of fruit you get in people’s living rooms. They look pretty but aren’t edible, and that is one of the worst crimes I can think of.

The Problem

Video game doors are as useful as a Wile E. Coyote painting of a tunnel on a cliff face. They are the level designer’s closest ally and cruellest facade, a trope now so ubiquitous that we have all become numb to its presence. Somewhere along the way, we’ve come to accept that most doors in games don’t actually lead anywhere or do anything. Like the unbreakable window, the bottomless pocket and the invincible tree, the unopening door has managed to weave itself into the gaming lexicon.

Locked doors are so universally recognised that level designers have to think of clever ways to convince us to even attempt to walk through doors in games. Visual cues are the most common. Doors that actually open are signposted by fluorescent green lights and screaming neon arrows, or left slightly ajar in an enticing manner, with dark shadows curling out into the corridor.

On the other hand, doors that don’t open are grey and badly lit, often with a cardboard box, wet floor sign or gaping portal to hell strategically positioned in front of them. That there are so many of this kind of fake door versus the opening kind, curtails any sense of freedom that games could otherwise offer, and makes me resent the rooms I can enter.

The Solution

The reason for all this barring of access is intuitive enough: if you could just stroll through any door in any game you could go anywhere in the entire world, which would mean at least a couple of extra days’ work for the level designers, who are far too busy making DLC. We can’t have that, so let’s move on.

Instead let’s design our games so that, while every single door can technically be opened, they nearly always lead somewhere you don’t want to go. Perhaps one door could lead to a room in which your family are sitting around the dinner table, and the topic of Brexit has just come up. Another might lead to a room with nothing but a ceiling-to-floor screen displaying a live feed of your own slack face as you sit slumped and drooling on the sofa with Dorito shards littered across your chest. A bunch of rooms could simply be screaming pigs. The point is that they’d all be real doors, and that they would open and shut as hinges intended.

Of course, the unintended side effect of my excellent solution is that games would mostly be rooms filled with the mortal shrieks of slaughtered swine, and it would become very difficult to hear any dialogue or navigate the world without incurring some degree of psychological trauma. But I’m afraid that’s the job of some other poor fixer to sort out. It’s my role, nay my great privilege, simply to solve gaming’s numerous problems with my brilliant ideas – not to stick around to oversee their implementation or justify them in any way, to anyone.

This article originally appeared in Xbox: The Official Magazine. For more great Xbox coverage, you can subscribe here.

Steve Hogarty

Steve Hogarty is a London-based freelance journalist covering games and technology. His bylines have appeared in publications including GamesRadar, The Independent, Yahoo, VICE, Eurogamer, and more. He is also the co-host of the pocast, Regular Features.