Secret Spaces, Hidden Places

Liminal Spaces in Storytelling

That title sounds grandiose and academicky. (The word, “academicky” will cure you of that delusion.) This is one of those things I had to look up.

According to Merriam-Webster, a liminal space is “of or relating to, or situated at a sensory threshold

I had a vague impression of the meaning, but apparently, it’s a thing in popular culture, rather, it’s a popular device used in the gamer world. The very nature of a liminal space both lures and cautions against entering. It’s Joseph Campbell’s “crossing the threshold” to adventure, consisting of both promise and danger. Liminal spaces are a time capsule, forgotten, neglected, abandoned places. Why?

My life is driven by story. Story, story, story. It infects everything that I do. I appreciate that oral storytelling is the great-grandmother of story, with written stories coming in second, but I LOVE the myriad venues that take advantage of setting as experienced by all of the senses. Storytelling can be delivered through art, movies… computer games. Games filled with those liminal spaces have become a powerhouse of storytelling.

What is it about those liminal places that draw one in? The game in question, the one my adult, artist/gamer son was watching, flipping back and forth between recorded gameplay and the made-for-TV recreation was THE LAST OF US.

THE LAST OF US – TV series and Game

Set in a post-pandemic (sound familiar?) world tragically overrun with people transformed into zombies as a result of their infection, the premise of the story is that one person, a young girl, has been identified as immune and has to be transported safely through zombie, post-apocalyptic ridden landscape to find an intellectual community who might be able to create a vaccine. Obstacles include, in addition to the zombie hoard, gangs of raiders, pockets of civilized communities that operate under wild-west-style governments, and the constant need to acquire resources to make the trip.

At least, that’s what I thought. My son pointed out that it’s about the relationship between the girl and her guide/father figure. WHAT? He’s right, of course. What I described is the external goal and the obstacles. He described the internal goal of the work. The space, the setting, and the need to get the main character safely through rough terrain – through those liminal spaces – that’s external goal and conflict. The need to learn to trust, and rely on someone else, have it called into question? That’s an internal goal and conflict dependent upon those liminal spaces.

The liminal spaces are important. They are a catalyst for both internal and external goals and conflicts. They’re also pretty cool and creepy.

I overheard my son talking to a friend one time. He was saying, “yeah, I don’t like reading novels. It’s a real heartbreak for my mom.” 😊 That kid cracks me up. I haven’t the heart to tell my son that he just might be a storyteller. He just uses a different medium… fraught with liminal spaces.

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