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Liminal Spaces: Why do they make us feel weird?


Joke_Master_Mandy
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Lately around the internet, the psychological phenomenon of liminal spaces has taken the spotlight. And for good reason, it's a fascinating rabbit hole to traverse. So, what IS a liminal space? 

A liminal space is defined as: A location which is a transition between two other locations, or states of being. Typically, these locations are empty or altogether abandoned. For example - A mall at 3am or a school hallway during summer. This causes a strange reaction in our minds as we take in a location that simultaneously feels unsettlingly frozen, yet familiar. Think of it as the uncanny valley, but with places instead of faces. 

The psychological effects of liminality aren't limited just to real life places, the phenomenon is also prevalent in video games, specifically late 90s era early 3D games. Many video essays have been made about the prevalence of liminal spaces of Mario 64 - most notably "Wet-Dry World" - which players have reported emanates "a negative emotional aura", causing a feeling of general uneasiness, anxiety, and depression. Another very liminal game is Zelda: Ocarina of Time - I've always personally found the Forest Temple to give me the weirdest vibes, and until I knew what liminal spaces were I could never pinpoint why.

Some of the best horror games and films of all time owe their success to making artful use of liminal spaces - two famous examples being the game franchise Silent Hill, and Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining".

Below I've added pictures of the liminal spaces I've mentioned and some naturally occurring ones (sorry but it's gonna have to be a double or triple post because of the dumb file size limitations). So, next time you get that weird 'altered reality' feeling in an empty movie theater corridor or a rest stop at 2 in the morning - you're not imagining it! And there's an actual term for it! 

So, what are your thoughts on this strange psychological quirk among humans? How do you think we came to evolve it? Why does it occur? 

Also, feel free to share your own photos of liminal spaces!

 

SpaceMountain.jpg

movie hall.jpg

wedding day.jpg

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Examples of liminality in video games: Wet Dry World, Forest Temple, Silent Hill 3

mario2.png

forest temple 2.png

silent hill 2 red hall.jpg

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Liminality in film: The Shining, Twin Peaks.

 

 

the shining 2.jpg

The Shining.png

Twin Peaks.jpg

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Doesn't bother me.

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Personally none of this applies to me.

I never noticed any weird feelings associated with liminal spaces.

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1 hour ago, onlookerofmayhem said:

Personally none of this applies to me.

I never noticed any weird feelings associated with liminal spaces.

Have ever run down a ramp with your hangglider into an abyss more than a mile deep?

I have. And I can tell you: it's a great remedy against constipation when you do it for the first time, lol!

Edited to add:

That ramp is of course that 'liminal space'.

 

Edited by Abramelin
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1 hour ago, XenoFish said:

Doesn't bother me.

Me neither, don't get the sudden interested in this subject.

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1 hour ago, onlookerofmayhem said:

Personally none of this applies to me.

I never noticed any weird feelings associated with liminal spaces.

I agree with you. This seems like inventing something new that doesn't really have any real basis.

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28 minutes ago, Abramelin said:

Have ever run down a ramp with your hangglider into an abyss more than a mile deep?

Isn't it just a fear?

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6 minutes ago, jethrofloyd said:

Isn't it just a fear?

Of course it is.

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36 minutes ago, Abramelin said:

That ramp is of course that 'liminal space'.

Yep... so is the open door of a plane you're about to jump out of at 10,000 feet  :yes:

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11 minutes ago, jethrofloyd said:

I agree with you. This seems like inventing something new that doesn't really have any real basis.

I think of it more as crafting a new term to explain the boundaries of new experiences.  Everyone who is alive is constantly moving between one reality to another.  The greatest difference is the speed with which it happens for each person. 

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I think this liminal space is nothing more than a tresshold.

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1 hour ago, XenoFish said:

Doesn't bother me.

In my case, I don't get the bothered or anxious feeling when I see liminal spaces - I'm one of the folks who finds them cozy looking and oddly comforting. I want to live in all those liminal spaces lol. 

Also, the sudden resurgence in interest came from the Mario 64 'iceberg' memes, which drew a lot of attention to just how weird feeling that game is, so liminality in Mario 64 became a subject in and of itself. 

Liminality did creep me out when I was a kid though. If I was playing Zelda 64 or Gex as a kid late at night I would start having a lot of anxiety after a while and I could never pinpoint why, until I found folks who had the same experiences.

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25 minutes ago, godnodog said:

Me neither, don't get the sudden interested in this subject.

I have no need. It isn't interesting enough to warrant further pursuit.

4 minutes ago, Abramelin said:

I think this liminal space is nothing more than a tresshold.

In the mouth of madness
Down in the darkness
No more tomorrow
Down in the hollow

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@Joke_Master_Mandy Ocarina of Time?

Finding the skulltulas gave me anxiety when you could hear them but hadn’t progressed enough to be able to get to them.

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4 hours ago, Joke_Master_Mandy said:

In my case, I don't get the bothered or anxious feeling when I see liminal spaces - I'm one of the folks who finds them cozy looking and oddly comforting.

I used to work in hospitals as an MRI/X-Ray tech and the third shift wasn't one I liked at ALL.  The same area that is bustling with noise and employees and patients on the move, suddenly is as quiet as a morgue.  The worst I was ever freaked out in that situation was at 2AM, alone and happened to see the wall clocks all start reversing time by themselves.  :yes:

It was very disorienting and it took a moment to grasp that it was just an automated system to adjust for DST in our area.  :) 

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Liminal spaces are fascinating and beautiful to me. It's hard to describe the exact emotions they stir for me - sometimes discomfort, but also familiarity and nostalgia. They spark the imagination, too. Personally I think of liminal spaces as places that bring out the feeling of being in a dream, capturing that sort of fuzzy surreal feeling. The uncanny valley is a good comparison, as well.

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I find them eerily welcoming and nostalgic, very dreamlike.

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19 hours ago, Timothy said:

@Joke_Master_Mandy Ocarina of Time?

Finding the skulltulas gave me anxiety when you could hear them but hadn’t progressed enough to be able to get to them.

Yes! Majora's Mask had some great liminality as well. I remember the skulltula hunts well. Shows how much masterful sound design can elevate a game experience. 

Also - I'm totally in the comfort and nostalgia camp with liminal spaces. Half of them I see I want to just crawl into and live in. I can easily get lost for an hour in r/LiminalSpace, soooo relaxing. It's like therapy for me. It's also why I love touring dead malls so much. 

dead mall 1.jpg

dead mall 2.jpg

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