The Invisible Hand in The Space Between

The barriers we live within

Much can be said about The Space Between. Its take on life, and death, closeness, and distance. Nostalgia being perceived through adult eyes, how in horror, sex and violence tends to be the same. With its Beckett-like absurdist structure and dense prose that puts Ulysses to shame, The Space Between has been under the scalpel of analysis for a while. So, as to not tread over old ground, I’ll be discussing the game’s critique of horror’s narrow scope and what the Invisible Hand has become in our modern era. 

Much has been said about the dialogue. With no coloration of text and no character names to differentiate between lines, it’s left up to the player to decide/interpret who’s speaking. But while dialogue is important, the camera work, and what it focuses on is also much of importance. 

Small-scaled character dramas in video games are nothing new, of course. But in The Space Between, Clara is probably the only living character that you come into contact with and one that isn’t contained in some sort of physical barrier. Daniel, your only friend, is only seen outside of your blanket fort and later on, inside a coffin. There’s another character, whose identity the player doesn’t know, behind a shower curtain. Therefore, Clara is the only character that doesn’t have something physical separating between her and Martin. Furthermore, the camera often frames her in the center, even if she glitches behind a wall. One might think this, plus the almost monologue like back and forth conversations, means that Clara and Martin are the same. But I think it’s less of multiple personalities and more two characters with the same viewpoints trying to find their individualisms within this world. And these viewpoints not only make Clara and Martin unable to see the world as a whole, but also the systems in said world.

The Invisible Hand, as it means within Adam Smith’s book of Capitalism, is national trade. The fear of American imports ruining the British Economy, Adam Smith proposed that the English would know what kind of goods and produce one should buy due to its origin at the homeland and as such, much like an invisible hand, this would boost the economy. I make note of this as many have called out on the flubbery of the Invisible Hand’s true meaning, see any interview with Noam Chomsky, but also as a way to show how much this definition has changed. What The Invisible Hand was when it was etched to the pages of The Theory of Immortal Sentiments and what the term means in the lexicon of pop culture is an entirely different thing. Whether it be God or the force of capitalism itself, the Invisible Hand is almost now a shorthand to physically manifest the machinations of this economic system. Some would say this is how society was going to process this anyhow. Some argue that this is in large part to the University of Chicago’s doing. In the Washington Post’s “How the Chicago School changed the meaning of Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand”, Glory Liu writes, “w\According to Friedman, Smith’s master metaphor represented ‘the way in which voluntary acts of millions of individuals each pursuing his own objectives could be coordinated, without central direction, through a price system.’”

Whatever the case may be, why so much of the text isn’t just about barriers, but also invisible barriers. Of the wall between actors and audience, life and death, as well as one person and another. That barrier is a psychological issue that Martin needs to come over, yes. But it’s also the way in which society has divided the abstract. It’s also how capitalism divides between the person and the work. 

This phenomenon hasn’t been unnoticed by scholars. In the piece “The Savage Adam Smith and the Walls of Capitalism”, the authors, David L. Blaney and Naeem Inayatullah, state: “Despite this confidence in the beneficial effects of history, Smith’s relative quietism is ‘haunted,’ as Richard Teichgraeber describes it, by the ‘moral shortcomings in commercial society.’”

This use of metaphors for capitalism or the iconography isn’t just in barriers but also theater. It’s also in this medium in which we see more of the Invisible Hand as an entity. In their dissertation: “The Modern Stage of Capitalism: The Drama of Markets and Money”, Sniderman wrote, “Isben,, a self-professed capitalist and eager investor, would show in An Enemy of the People (1882) that the financial stability of an entire community depended on it being continually performed and how each member was complicit in this performance.”

The Space Between deceitfully tricks the player and the characters so caught up in their individuality, that they forget the system that they are in

This performance also seems to ring out when it comes to Martin’s work. Earlier in the game, much of the conversations between Martin and Clara usually talk about his job as an architect. Clara will often ask Martin about his buildings and his responses show a break in said barrier: only with him and his buildings. “That’s what I do, what I am.” “It is hard not to identify with your work.” And the most telling: “I can live inside my work.”

This viewpoint of work surpassing walls or how it distracts us with its own walls can be seen in Sniderman’s analysis of “Major Barbara”. Quote, “Furthermore, Undershaft’s “almost smokeless town of  white walls […] beautifully situated and beautiful in itself,” where he has built libraries, schools, nursing homes, and churches and has provided his residents with “the insurance fund, the pension fun, the building society, [and] the various applications of co-operation” (privatized social services) make Barbara come to terms that her Salvation Army cannot match the power of Undershaft’s empire. At the end of the play, Barbara’s disillusionment changes to hope, as she realizes that it is in Undershaft’s empire that “salvation is really wanted” and that her greatest works of conversion are still ahead of her..”

And there we can find the true horror of the game. The Space Between deceitfully tricks the player and the characters so caught up in their individuality, that they forget the system that they are in. Far too often, horror has its eye set upon the personal. Whether it be a ghostly haunting or teenagers being slaughtered one by one, horror often seems to view death as a personal experience. But, as explored in The Space Between death is also one that’s perpetuated by the systems in place within our society. And the further we look away from these systems, the more we are being buried alive in them.

By Tess Everman

Often found of smaller, queer oriented games, Tess Everman writes for Digitized Flamboyancy, a website for queer games and the developers who make them. When they're not picking games to their basic components, they usually spend time learning how to sew. @HunterTSFishing

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