You’re a nameless, silent police deputy fleeing from radical doomsday cultists who intend to gun you down. Feet pounding through the woods of rural Montana, you run, bullets whizzing past your head as you barely manage to escape.
As I did this, I noticed something peculiar. While the intensity of the music and the scene’s framing never changed, eventually my character stopped taking damage, and the semicircles on the screen indicating enemy attention faded. I stopped running. Nothing happened. I waited for my health to recharge, and I walked, calmly and serenely, away from a threat that didn’t exist. The danger, it turned out, was just an illusion.
Videogames are rife with trickery. It’s a known truism of game design that if the player doesn’t need to see it, it probably doesn’t exist. Buildings in the background don’t have roofs; the floor only extends to the final reachable hallway; there’s no grass, green or otherwise, on the other side of the fence. What matters is only what’s visible. The rest is a magic trick, all smoke and mirrors.