I am afraid of my body. The accumulation of fat on my stomach. My tiny arms. I've always hated having to focus on it, and I particularly hated querying its internal functions. Doctors scare me because of this. I assume my body is trying to kill me. Looking inwards seems to be an exaggeration. I've been looking for ways to improve my relationship with my body for a long time. Some of them even worked. But that's still my default when I look at my skin, when I think of my organs, my blood. Terror.
In The space between is Martin, the player character, an architect. He imagines his buildings as bodies in which he can live. The game, a short horror title by Christoph Frey, recently nominated for the prestigious Nuovo Award at the Independent Games Festival, is full of unrest about the bodies Martin builds and the one he lives in. In an early scene that is often repeated in the game as a kind of motif, Martin and his friend Daniel play as children. Martin is in a ceiling fortress. He reaches for the blanket and tells Daniel, who is outside the fort, to do the same. "What are you feeling?" Martin asks. Him or the blanket? Daniel says both. It's that strange, disembodied kind of intimacy ̵
Fear of your own body really means fear of death. When I was a child, I got spirals, usually when I tried to fall asleep. I would imagine death and nothing and I would feel the creeping terror seize me. I would run to my mother, but she had no idea how to comfort me. I curled up in her arms and asked her what happened after death and why we had to die, and she wouldn't get an answer. There is no escape. If I concentrate, I can feel the terror coming back. I don't want to die I don't want the emptiness I mostly try not to think about it.
Martin's fear of intimacy, which is a lot like fear of dying. Fear of closeness is almost always about fear of loss. He has another girlfriend in the story, Clara. They meet after a round together. Martin takes her to a theater he is building – his latest creation, a huge deformed piece of concrete and metal. He shows her his room under the stage, where he apparently lived while the structure was being built. He points out that people sometimes call the space under the stage "hell". There Clara and Martin almost touch, they almost share intimacy. But they never quite get there. And then the reality of the game falls apart.
I am indirectly writing about The Space Between because it is an indirect game. It is slow and unstable. Much of this is taken up in elliptical, strongly thematic dialogues about walls and boundaries, bodies and performances. However, the entire dialog is output as incredibly slow text, with no real indication of who is speaking. It tries the player's patience, creates a constant feeling of discomfort. Frey spends the rest of the game moving through environments that are designed in distorted PlayStation 1 style, creating the feeling of moving on a blurry VHS surveillance tape. Everything in this game is distant and uncomfortable. The whole creation is filled with the fear and pain of a body you don't understand and a hand you can't touch.
In one of the game's unpleasant vignettes, Martin visits Daniel's grave as he is cremated. Martin's friend is dead. Martin reaches for the coffin. Nobody can fall back. The horror of The Space Between is that they didn't touch at all.