The Threshold Object and the Feelie

And yet another follow up, this time with Bethsoft fallout 3 forum user Corinth asking:

Can someone here give me a rational, sensible reason why anyone in their right mind would buy one of these?

He is referring to the PipBoy3000 from the Fallout 3 Survival edition, and he got a curious answer from Bethsoft’s Jay “RadHamster” Woodward:

I can answer your question in two words: threshold object.

Or in one word: feelie.

Those of us who fondly remember the Infocom era will know exactly what I’m talking about: the term “feelie” was originated by Infocom to describe an object — often made simply of paper or plastic, yet a solid, tangible thing you could hold in your hand — that they included in the packaging for a game, but which was also meant to be an artifact from the universe of the game, and which often existed as a virtual object inside the game itself.

There is something uniquely magical about such things. In a weird, cool, metaphysical way, they help to bridge the gap between reality and fantasy. Hence the term “threshold object.”

You might say that’s absurd, or childish. If you do, don’t miss the irony: those are the same accusations that those who just don’t get it have tended to level at the entire enterprise of playing videogames. Why would you want an artifact from a fictional world? For all the same reasons you’d want to spend time experiencing that fictional world in the first place: because it’s fun. Because it’s interesting. Because it’s a window onto another reality. Because it’s mentally stimulating. Because in some way, it actually matters.

If you’ve never put on your peril-sensitive sunglasses before checking your score, or unfolded a cloth map of Britannia, or searched for clues in Henry Jones’ Grail journal, you might not understand. You might roll your eyes at the idea of Infocom developing an entire introductory game around “Wishbringer, the Magick Stone of Dreams” — originally meant to be an actual rock, eventually reconceived as a glow-in-the-dark plastic rock.
But, ask anyone who’s played Wishbringer about that plastic rock and see if, by gosh, they don’t get a little wistful about it. Oh, I doubt they would’ve tried actually making a wish on it — that’s not the idea. But ask them if they ever took it into a windowless room and shut all the doors to watch it glow. Ask them if they might even still have it tucked away in a drawer somewhere. I bet they did. I bet they might.

For further reference:
* An Escapist article on feelies.
* The Wikipedia article on feelies
* An interview with Brian Moriarty in which he mentions the idea of including rocks in the game box as part of the origin of Wishbringer.

Lots of follow-ups today.


5 thoughts on “The Threshold Object and the Feelie

  1. Same here, and especially when they look so cheap, gimmicky and flimsy.

    I’d rather have a good manual, like in original Fallouts or map of somesort. or something similar, little smaller, but more feelie -like to me.

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