Robert Macfarlane does not write about video games. Not despite, but because of this, I didn’t truly understand why Eric Chahi’s puzzley exploration of nature, Paper Beast, initially launched as a VR exclusive until I read Macfarlane’s book Underland: A Deep Time Journey. In order to explain how and why this happened, I’ll need to begin by introducing you to this man and his truly remarkable, unforgettable work.
Not satisfied with being a fellow in English at Emmanuel College, Macfarlane is also an author, scriptwriter, and – in the true sense of the word – adventurer. His books are primarily concerned with the planet on which we live, and the complicated relationship that we have with it. Underland, as the title suggests, zeroes in on the world below ground that the majority of us will never see; although after reading this book, I feel as though I’m one of the lucky few who gets to experience it a little at least.
Underland is a remarkable thing. Macfarlane’s writing has a luxurious texture which melts in the imagination, and coats the mind’s eye with vivid imagery. This man has sat me at the bank of a river deep underground; he has held my hand as we navigated alien dunes of jet-black sand hundreds of feet below the human world; we have panicked together as we squeeze through tiny Underland gaps that were never meant to admit a human body; he has given me tours of man-made structures far below sea level designed to contain the most lethal side-effects of our species.