So, a few weeks ago (actually, five or six weeks ago… the summer is passing by rather quickly), I was at a friend’s house and ended up playing the game Portal all the way through. It’s only an hour, maybe two, long. Quite a fun game, even if it’s not Free Software.
Anyway, the gameplay of Portal is quick fun. I like the first-person-puzzle-game aspect of it – combining FPSs and geometry problems is quite brilliant. And the storyline is quite compelling and well presented. It manages to show the world of Aperture Science, GlaDOS, the portal gun, and the deadly neurotoxin in an extremely believable manner. But what struck me most was how it presents a rather complete world in such a short period of time. Like I said, the game’s only an hour long.
Now, Portal is not really autonomous – it is tied in with Half-Life (also a rather good game; I haven’t played Half-Life 2), and Aperture Science is presented as a rival company to Black Mesa, the location of the experiment-gone-wrong in Half-Life. However, the idea of a stand-alone story containing a stand-alone world that could be presented in a short period of time in a reasonably complete manner intrigued me. Portal comes close – really, if you ignore the references to Black Mesa, it basically succeeds.
This is, of course, a form of mythopoeia, but I’ve never heard a word to refer to this particular subset. There is, however, one that basically fits the bill – “microcosm”. A miniature world. As I’m using it, it basically means a fantasy world that is simple enough that its nature can be conveyed in something about the length of a short story. Fairy tales often fall into this category; Sleeping Beauty (my favorite fairy tale), for example, gives you a world of good and evil fairies who have the power to control the lives of mortals. That’s really all you need. Everything else is assumed to be the same as in the real world – even if Sleeping Beauty isn’t set in the real world.
The short story I recently finished writing (but haven’t finished revising, so I haven’t posted it yet) is this kind of story. It basically wants to get across the idea of – a giant spiral ramp, good guys at the top, bad at the bottom, and they fight battles in the middle. The middle is empty. That’s the microcosm “On The Staircase” takes place in. There’s a story to go with it, of course, about one inhabitant of the staircase – but the world is just as important as the story.