It’s Not Just an Image on a Computer Screen

written by Ida Larsen-Ledet

Welcome to the Submachine
An odd welcome. A cubic wooden room with an art-like construction of undeterminable origin on the wall. In the cubic wooden room next door, a vertical pipe with a hole in it. In the room adjacent to that, a grandfather clock without a clock face. Every room you may enter looks the same and contains seemingly arbitrary objects. The only word of welcome or explanation you got was the title menu.

Oh, and there is no exit. Welcome to the Submachine.

An alluring atmosphere
Silence. You need to stop and step mentally out of the game in order to realise that there is in fact background noise in almost every single level. But with your head deep in the game, the world, that noise simply engulfs you in a sensation of silence. You get the feeling that you are the only one making noise. That you are completely alone. But since you keep finding items scattered around this empty world, you can’t help but wonder if it really is empty. Is someone leading you somewhere? Or have they been trying to stop you?

A compelling world
If you manage to pull your head out of the game, out of the Submachine, once more, you’ll see a tiny cartoonish image in front of you. It doesn’t even take up half your screen. There are no high-level graphics. No fancy animations.

You could go: “Is that really it?”
But you don’t.

You are captivated by the abundance of space. The game might be 2D, but its world is 3D (at the least).

From insignificance to significance
You find things everywhere.
You quickly learn that you must make use of them, even if you have no idea what they are. You are discovering a surreal mix of recognizable objects and Submachine objects. You are forced to adopt a new form of logic. Insignificant objects become significant.

With every puzzle you solve, with every trinket that fits in a strange place, you feel a little more at home. The world makes sense.

The infinite space of simplicity
The enigmatic silence of the Submachine that began with the game’s abrubt “welcoming” is ongoing. All there is, is you and the cartoonish lack of texture and the machine-like noises that make up the Submachine. And yet, for this reason, that is infinitely far from what the Submachine actually is. As you delve into the tiny world on the screen, it grows, the bland walls become textured, the flat landscape develops depth, your presence has meaning.

The confined space of a frame
Along the way, bits and pieces of a story appears to be coming together. But it never truly happens, leaving it up to you and your subconsciousness to fill in what needs to be filled in.

The Submachine makes for a metaphorical frame as well as a physical frame: The Submachine network contains rooms that create a sensation of being enclosed in a box. Four walls and no doors. A purpose and an unknown solution. Your gameplay is framed by the goal of solving puzzles.

A maze of movement generating a maze of the mind
Your gameplay is framed by the goal of solving puzzles – and shaped by the way you fill out the space of simplicity. The way you choose to move in the labyrinthic Submachine.

While you move around in the game world and experience and accept the surrealistic transitions between locations, you form a spatial and creative experience in your own mind.

The spaces of the game become sites of your world
The game moves from the screen to your mind. Turning off your computer is no different from closing your eyes. The world is still here.

You remember the world. You don’t remember images from a screen. You remember being there. You recall fragments, not entireties.

The Submachine is an experience as much as it is a game.

“It’s not just an image on a computer screen”
It is a world that challenges you.

It is a world that you immerse yourself in, as when reading a book.

It is a world that drives you to the outer edge of frustration

It is a work of art that you can make yours and part of you.

Games within a game
Escape games have taken a new definition of puzzles (as appearing everywhere in every form) and utilized it to make a Chinese box of puzzles: The game contains puzzles that have solutions which require that other puzzles are solved, and the game itself is also a puzzle.

Submachine adds an extra box around the set of boxes – The Submachine. There are other games of the escape genre that places puzzle solving in an entire world (as opposed to just a room or a house), but the clearly constructed and confined structure of the Submachine seems to demand that you open up more doors and press onwards up more ladders to reach a solution.

You must solve the puzzle…
The puzzles are what drives you. They drive your curiosity. They drive your progress through the game: You need to solve puzzles in order to move, physically in the game universe as well as closer to the goal.

… But what then?
You’ve escaped the frame of the Submachine. But you’ve been caught in a new frame: The length of the game and the confinement of your computer monitor traps the experience and renders you unable to remain in the universe, in the Submachine.

Enough of the game, enough of the Submachine, is stuck in you, that you can’t let go. You are a fan.

The longer you stay, the less you want to leave
You could discard the game at first glance. Some probably have. You could find that it’s not for you. But once you decide to enter, you truly enter.

You get caught in the mindset. You’ll later find yourself thinking in puzzles and clues – in teleporters, fuses and gems.

Your own world becomes yet another layer of the Chinese box.

I don’t want to escape from the escape
To play the game correctly, you must try to escape. And to escape means to stop playing the game. In your desire to keep playing the game, you will incline towards forgetting about the impending escape. You just want to see what happens next.

There’s a payoff between getting engulfed in the game and having to emerge from it again.
Because I don’t want to escape from the escape.