The Aesthetic of Emptiness

One of my earliest memories is of the game series Myst.

emptiness-exile

Myst III: Exile

For those of you who don’t know, Myst is a series of puzzle adventure games in which you explore these vast fantastic worlds full of puzzles, mysteries, and history. You spend most of your time in the games alone, often with haunting music playing in the background. Much of the Myst games is lonely. And I love it.

I love it because the contrasting emptiness emphasizes the player’s presence and agency in the world. I love it because the stark vacancy drives a player’s curiosity to discover what happened in these worlds and how they work. I love it because there is something about the aesthetic of emptiness that dissatisfies a person, makes them uncomfortable, and drives them to act.

It reminds me of auditoriums, sheets of paper, or canvases – things specifically designed to be empty for the purpose of being filled with music, words, or images. Things built to be incomplete. The feeling I get in an empty auditorium is the same I get standing at the top of a hill or cliff. It demands that I speak or sing into the emptiness.

It’s the same feeling I get when I look at a newly rendered Minecraft world, an empty field, or the night sky. Our species has an apparently insatiable desire to fill and create from what we find. And it makes me wonder about the inherent meaning of the universe. Some say life is inherently meaningless and some say life is decidedly meaningful. I believe it to be meaningful but I look at emptiness and I think “There’s a manner in which we’re supposed to create more meaning. Fill in the blanks. Fill in the parts of the story that have not yet been written.”

For this reason, I love works of art that are minimalist or simple. Songs that use silence as if it were another note. Paintings that use the empty canvas as if it were another colour. Games where the player is in an empty world. I love these because the feeling of incompletion emphasizes the grandeur and impulse of creativity, that first dramatic step from nothing to something. From ignorance to understanding. In Myst, from absence to agency. The aesthetic of emptiness is the one that best conveys the power of the inspiration to create.

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