If it wasn’t for my having an appointment here and now, there’d be little wonder in the downtown Manhattan spaghetti joint being perfectly deserted at that time of night. Way past the graveyard shift, uncanny twilight, floor covered by classical black and white checker tile, rows of lavishly upholstered benches, matching diner-style tables squeezed between them, an enormous mahogani bar in the back, and nobody to be seen. A cliché setting. But the cliché doesn’t miss its target and brings home the menacing ambience quite nicely. Just if I’d not be nervous and frightened enough yet. Alas, there’s no choice, I have to fathom the darkness. Maybe they are in another room, well separated from the main area. Some chamber of conspiracy. Those mobsters are equally fond of cozy backrooms as they are of laying traps. And something’s definitely wrong in here. Things indeed start to go awfully wrong when I do my first tentative steps towards the unknown depths of the dimly lit Italian restaurant. A row of until now well hidden incendiary bombs detonates and sets the whole place on fire. There’s no way back for me, out on the street, into the shelter of the blizzard. The main entrance door tightly locked itself shut, when it fell back into place once I had entered. Or so I imagine. Matter of factedly neither me nor my avatar ever went through that door. Both of us spawned right inside the restaurant, just beyond the doorstep, when I started to play chapter four (“Put out my flames with gasoline”) of part two (“A cold day in hell”) of the third-person shooter “Max Payne” (Remedy Entertainment, 2001). Nevertheless I intensely sense myself to have entered the restaurant the usual way, and now being there. “Suspension of disbelief” they call it when talking about movies, theatre, or novels, “immersion” when talking about computergames. The aggressively licking flames eat away my health, I’m running past the bar, through the doorway into another hall, much more luxurious than the streetfront eating room, but fire everywhere here as well. More rooms, corridors, the kitchen, more flames and explosions. The building is a labyrinth ablaze. Frantically I hit the save button after every room I succesfully cross, then the inevitable happens. My avatar sears to death in agony. Reload of the last quicksaved gamestate, respawn, and another hot run through the burning maze. To no avail. Further attempts lead to my being quite familiar with the location, but not to escape. Again and again I try, but in the end I’m always trapped in the inferno and die a lonely death in the Mafia restaurant, the snowstorm howling outside in the noir streets of a crime-novel New York City. Meanwhile meatspace time has caught up with ingame time, it’s three o’clock in the morning. My frayed nerves give way and I leave gamespace.
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