Doors As Passages In Video Games

Sunday 24 February 2019

If we examine video games as a contemporary and unique form of artistic expression - which they actually are - we could classify them as modern fairy tales. While many of them carry a good amount of realism in their plots, their stories are usually based in elements of fantasy, science fiction or post-apocalyptic theories. In the Devil May Cry universe, we may have a modern-day environment as a setting, but there are demons hiding in every corner. Or take, for example, Lara Croft's adventures: although rich with historical facts, the games of the Tomb Raider series feature a good deal of fantastic elements that are in perfect balance with their realistic aspect.

The main characters in Action games are brave heroes who fight their way through hordes of enemies and obstacles, while they must also solve several tricky puzzles. Puzzles and riddles in video games are among the strongest references to fairy tales, especially those which result in opening doors. Just like in fairy tales, doors several times open with magic means or keys - either literal keys or objects used as keys - that need to be obtained by going through generally difficult trials. Similarly, in video games doors are passages: they lead the heroes one step further, to another part of the world, where, usually, a revelation or a fight awaits.

Resident Evil HD Remaster takes place in a huge villa, the Spencer Mansion. The main characters, Chris and Jill, together with their team, seek refuge inside the house at the start of the game and it is impossible for them to get back out, as there are ominous threats awaiting. Early on, they discover an imposing metal gate at the back of the main hall, which seems to be their only way out of there. The gate is locked and requires two key items in order to open. The biggest part of the game consists in exploring the mansion, which is full of zombies, monsters and traps, so as to find said items. The door needs two identical objects made of stone and metal which can be placed on two receptacles on the metal bars, serving as keys. The first object is found in a crypt in the back yard of the mansion, but actually opening the crypt and being able to unlock the coffin that contains the object requires a lot of searching and solving more riddles. Interestingly enough, they are only able to look for the second object once they have found the first, as they have to unlock another door with it, gaining access to another huge area at the back of the mansion, which has to be explored. The second object is made of two separate components: the metal object, which is found in a locked office of the mansion, and the stone ring, which is hidden in the secret cabin of Lisa Trevor, a girl who is now roaming the grounds of the mansion in the form of a hideous monster. Once both stone and metal objects are found, they can be placed on the metal gate and now Chris and Jill are able to proceed to the eerie undergrounds of the mansion.

Opening this gate and stepping out marks the transition to a world where all the horrors that they have already met in the mansion, are now intensified. The fact alone that the keys to open this door are so hard to find is a strong indication that what lies beyond it is extremely dangerous. The powers that dominate those grounds are inconceivable, and Chris and Jill have to use both their physical and mental strength in order to survive.

In Resident Evil 2 Remake, the main characters, Leon and Claire, are trapped in a similar situation. They find themselves in the imposing and mazey Police Department of Raccoon City and, as they cannot get out on the streets that are filled with zombies, they have to look for another way. Following the notes of a deceased police officer, they find out about the existence of a secret passage that is located just beneath the huge goddess statue that decorates the main hall of the station. They need to find three medallions and place them on the pedestal of the statue so as to reveal the passage. The three medallions are locked in their receptacles on three statues that are found in equal areas of the station. The Lion statue, which holds the Lion Medallion, is on the balcony overlooking the main hall, the Unicorn statue, which holds the Unicorn Medallion, is on a lone gallery outside the Library, and the Maiden statue, which holds the Maiden Medallion, is in a secluded section of a storeroom, also next to the Library.

Finding the medallions is not a very hard task per se, but it becomes quite tough due to the several zombies and monsters that wander in the corridors of the station. Every time that a medallion is placed on the pedestal, one part of the secret opening is revealed. Once all three medallions take their place, Leon and Claire discover a small metal gate that leads to a secret round room, just beneath the statue.

What is ironic is that although this passage is supposed to lead to a way out, there are more riddles lying ahead, the danger becomes even bigger and our heroes will have to struggle a lot more before they are able to leave the station. The underground however becomes the place where both Leon ad Claire meet their allies, Ada and Sherry respectively, and from that point and on they will not be completely alone in their quest.

In Resident Evil: Code Veronica, there are several doors that need a special key or item in order to open, however it is two of them that are particularly interesting. The first is the elaborately decorated door in the Secretary's room that leads to an isolated area of the Ashford mansion. Its upper section is a huge receptacle where two identical guns, the Gold Lugers, need to be placed for it to unlock. The quest for these guns is rather complicated, and it will be a long time before Claire, the main protagonist, is able to use them on the door after she finds them. Even from their first appearance, the Gold Lugers are connected to trouble. They are found in the back room of the Armory in the mansion, and as soon as Claire takes them down, a trap activates and the room fills with poison. Being forced to place them back, she seems to have no way of retrieving them so as to open that door. A bit later, Steve, her partner for this story, finds himself in the Armory and, being attracted by the shiney pistols, takes them off the wall. The room again fills with poison but Steve panics and does not consider placing them back. Claire arrives just in time to unlock the trap from the outside, and so Steve runs out safely with the guns, which he refuses to give over to Claire. It will not be very long however before Claire offers him a pair of loaded Submachine guns in exchange with his Gold Lugers. Steve gladly makes the trade and so Claire is able to finally place the Lugers on the door and get it to open.

This door stands for a major passage in the story, as it opens to a secret office which, in turn, leads to a hidden palace where Alfred, the game's minor villain, lives a life of paranoia and illusion, playing the roles of both himself and his deceased twin sister, whom he adored. Thus it is not random that Claire needs a pair of twin guns to open the door. The world beyond the Luger door is that of a sadistic madman who impersonates his dead sister and finds extreme pleasure in making innocent people suffer. In connection to this comes the second door that stands out, which is located in the Morgue. Technically not a door, but a secret passage that is revealed beyond a raised wall, it opens by placing a glass eye on a life-size anatomy model. Claire has to kill a doctor who has become a zombie, take his glass eye and place it on the model, thus gaining access to the basement of the Morgue, where she comes across a horrifying room with torture machines.

In Resident Evil: Revelations 2, Claire finds herself before yet one more puzzle that involves a locked door and an eyeball. This time, things are more complex and the door in question has a retinal scanner which needs a specific artificial eye in order to unlock. Claire finds the eye in a trapped room inside a factory but she first needs to replace it with a glass eye so as to be able to take it without activating the trap. She must then use the eye on the retinal scanner outside the locked door so as to gain access to the nearby slaughterhouse.

What is interesting about this puzzle is that it opens the way and is connected to another puzzle that also has to do with a locked door that requires a special kind of key item. The same artificial eye has to be used on another retinal scanner outside an office, where Claire finds a liver replica. Later, in the slaughterhouse, she has to find another liver replica and use them both to open another door. While the first liver replica is in plain sight inside a corpse in the factory, the second is stuck in a bucket of blood in the gory slaughterhouse. Some kind of mincing machine above it has to be operated a few times, so that enough quantity of blood fills the bucket, allowing the liver replica to be released. The two liver replicas have to be placed then on a statue of Prometheus that blocks a door in the yard of the factory and the slaughterhouse. Doing so, causes the statue to explode, thus revealing the door that leads to another part of the factory where a tense timed event takes place.

Apart from being a passage leading closer to Alex, the story's villain, the Prometheus door has yet one more major significance. Alex uses both Prometheus and the livers as symbols, to hint at the fate of a man who turned out to be a traitor, both to her and Claire. Neil, Claire's boss and friend, secretly worked with Alex, aiding her in her evil plans, but at some point attempted to betray her, so she punished him, injecting him with a virus that turned him into a monster. In the myth, Prometheus was punished for stealing divine power, by being bound to a rock while an eagle would come every day and feed on his liver, which would grow back overnight and this torment would go on eternally. Alex identifies herself as a God and Neil as Prometheus; and the liver parts being replicas signify Neil's false faith to both Claire and Alex. Given that, soon after going through that door, Claire finally faces Neil in his monster form and has to fight with him, the passage revealed by it gains a very important symbolism, at the same time serving as a foreshadowing of what is about to happen.

In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, a door opening with a retinal scanner reveals a hidden elevator which leads straight to the lab where Burke, a very dangerous and twisted man, uses prisoners as lab rats. Adam, the protagonist, watches Burke using his augmented artificial eye on the scanner and then, following instructions, he steals a new replacement eye from Burke's office, all the while hiding from the guards who are looking for him. He then visits a technician who fits the eye on him, so that he is then able to use the retinal scanner himself and subsequently open the door.

While the passage that the door reveals brings forward a terrifying truth about the man involved, at the same time it becomes a means of salvation, as Adam then has the option to save the prisoners and the doctor who was forced by Burke to carry out the experiments on his behalf. In that sense, opening that door affects positively the lives of several people, including Adam, as he was himself a prisoner of Burke and possibly one of his potential victims.

In Resident Evil 4, Leon, the main protagonist, uses the false eye of Bitores Mendez, a minor villain, to open the gate that leads to Salazar's castle. He first must fight with Mendez in a barn and defeat him, so as to be able to take his eye and unlock the door with it. Although there are several doors in the game that open with impressive puzzles, this specific one is of a very high importance because it marks a passage from on world to another. Up to that point, Leon was wandering in the country, and the enemies he had to face were ignorant victims that had been turned into puppets in the hands of the evil Lord Saddler. By opening the castle gate and getting inside, he finds himself in a place where time seems to have stopped and from where there seems to be no obvious way out. Everything inside the castle looks like it belongs to past times, and even Salazar himself is dressed in a style that goes quite a few centuries back. Additionally the enemies, although of the same kind as the villagers, seem to have a certain level of intelligence and they are much more dangerous and bloodthirsty. The castle is full of traps and monsters and the trials become tougher in every new area.

In Resident Evil 7, Ethan, the protagonist, finds himself trapped in the house of Jack Baker's family whose members became deranged, following their infection by a degenerative virus. The exit door, which will temporarily offer him some freedom, is of course locked and needs three special items in order to open: three dog heads that are hidden in certain areas of the house. The blue head is hidden inside a book and it is the easiest to find. The white head is hidden in a grandfather clock and requires another brief puzzle to get it. The red head involves a long and dangerous exploration of several areas of the house, resulting in a terrifying boss fight with Jack Baker himself. Once all three dog heads are placed on the door, it is unlocked and Ethan can get out, although he has a long way to go before he is finally free.

The creature with the three dog heads that is depicted on the door is Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guarded the gate of Hades in ancient Greek mythology. While the Baker house is no less than Hades itself, the real nightmare begins once Ethan steps outside. Cerberus in this case is not guarding the entrance, but the exit; and in that sense, the passage that is offered to Ethan after he unlocks the exit door is one that is set up in such a way so as to lead him to his death.

In The Evil Within, Sebastian, the lead character, gets trapped inside the mind of Ruvik, a genious madman with a painful past, and finds himself wandering in places connected to his memories. The most prominent one is Ruvik's family home, where the dark secrets of his past are gradually revealed. There is a huge door in the main hall, that Sebastian has to open so as to proceed deeper inside Ruvik's mind, and to do so he has to carry out three simple Phrenology tasks. There are three Phrenology tables in the house and on each one there is a human head with the brain exposed. Sebastian has to hit a specific part of the brain with each probe, and if done correctly, blood flows away from a tube above each table, filling a similar tube on the locked gate. Once all three tubes fill with blood, the door opens.

As the story of the game has to do with mind games, it is not random that this specific gate is like a simulation of the brain: during the Phrenology tasks, Sebastian hits the sections of fear, hope and consent, which send the blood flowing in the tubes on the door. The gears on the door then start moving all together, unlocking it, just like the human emotions keep the brain's gears working. It is a concept that is as complicated as it is ingenious. The passage that is revealed beyond the door is literal: it is a long passage, a hallway, where Ruvik awaits to lure Sebastian even deeper in his memories, leading him to the root of his life's tragedy.

In The Evil Within 2, the gate that dominates as a major point of transition is not an actual door but more like an artificial barrier, made up of barbed wire and two framed photos depicting two girls in a macabre setting, that seem to be surrounded by an aura of black magic: they have flaming blood around them and they are impossible to touch. This peculiar installation is the morbid work of Stefano, a twisted photographer who is able to control Union, a virtual environment made especially for the people taking part in STEM, a nightmarish experiment aiming at controlling minds. Sebastian has to find a way to destroy the gate, in order to enter the Theater, where Stefano is hiding, and fight with him.

Stefano is like a magician; and as such, he creates illusions. Sebastian has to apply reverse magic in order to make the illusions disappear. In reality, or at least in the twisted reality of STEM, there is no tangible barrier in front of the theater. The two framed photos that block the way forming a makeshift gate are not really there. The first one is in the back room of a bar and the second is at the end of the upper corridor of a hotel. Sebastian has to locate them, literally get in their interior and destroy them from the inside. By doing this, their illusions in front of the theater shatter and disappear. The "magic" that Sebastian performs so as to fight Stefano's evil tricks is basically the opposite of what Stefano did. Simply put, Stefano made the photo artworks and Sebastian destroys them. What Sebastian does is like a voodoo process: he "kills" the essence of the photos, stabbing the frozen corpses that form them, just like a voodoo magician sticks pins on his dolls, resulting in hurting the person that those represent.

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