If a place can be defined as relational, historical and concerned with identity, then a space which cannot be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity will be a non-place.
-Marc Augé (transl. by John Howe) in Non-Places, Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity.
ISLANDS: Non-Places is a game by Carl Burton and is officially described as: ” A surreal trip through the mundane. Reveal the hidden ecosystems of ten unusual environments. Unlock an atmospheric experience while exploring strange yet familiar scenes.”
Marc Augé first coined the term ‘non-places’ to describe places that are “surrendered to solitary individuality, to the fleeting, the temporary and ephemeral”. These are places which people pass through but form no emotional or social connection to. Examples of these non-places are petrol stations, roads, airports, bus stops, waiting rooms, shopping centres.
Islands is a perfect way to describe these non-places – lonely and detached from the world around them. Burton presents a non-place in each scene of this game, an isolated island of supermodernity, pulled from its context and surroundings.
The hypothesis advanced here is that supermodernity produces non-places, meaning spaces which are not themselves anthropological places and which, unlike Baudelairean modernity, do not integrate the earlier places: instead these are listed, classified, promoted to the status of ‘places of memory’, and assigned to a circumscribed and specific position.
These islands of non-places become something strange in this game. They are reimagined in unnatural colours, the surrounding sounds mimicking waves on a beach. It reminds me of night time in a city, those moments when you are pulled out of normal routine and are left sleepily waiting, alone.
As you explore these scenes they reveal something about these non-places, giving you a new way to see them. Taken out of the rush and stress of real life, slowed down and closely examined, there is something beautiful about them. These places are strange, almost peaceful, with elements of magic woven through them. ISLANDS invites us to closely examine these places we take for granted.
This game, with it’s night time islands, reminded me of an interview with artist Burial on his 2007 album, Untrue. I don’t know if Burial ever read about Augé and his non-places, but he definitely made music about them. Burial described his music as “when you walk down the stairs into a club and you start hearing the music, but there’s people talking around you and the music mixes itself in with real life. I like that sound…it’s like a memory of a tune.” And later as “Like you’re waiting just inside a newsagent in the rain…a little sanctuary, then you walk out in it.”
For all their island beauty, I felt a darker side to these scenes. There is something uncanny, almost unsettling about the distortions each place undergoes. I no longer recognised these things, and I did not know what would happen next. Their strangeness meant I could not fully know them, keeping them firmly as non-places, barring me from pulling them from this status.
These days, surely, it was in these crowded places, where thousands of individual itineraries converged for a moment, unaware of one another, that there survived something of the uncertain charm of the waste lands, the yards and building sites, the station platforms and waiting rooms where travellers break step, of all the chance meeting places where fugitive feelings occur of the possibility of continuing adventure, the feeling that all there is to do is ‘see what happens’.
ISLANDS: Non-Places is a beautiful and layered exploration into its subject matter, which is impressive for a little game. Without words this game evokes feelings and memories that I strongly related to, while being completely unable to fully describe. This game felt like a new exploration through a strange yet familiar world and for under £4 it’s worth the journey.