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What's better: bioluminescence, or dark darkness?

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Undersea exploration in a Subnautica screenshot.
Image credit: Unknown Worlds Entertainment

Last time, you decided that time loops are better than resuming interrupted reloads. We thankfully won't need to re-run that result, but we cannot fully leave the past behind us. One eagle-eyed reader observed that time loops and staged reloads "aren't really comparable", and I cannot overstate my embarrassment at having made such an obvious mistake. My deepest apologies to everyone who has trusted me to conduct this research with great rigour. I must do better. So reader dearest, I now ask you to pick between two things we can all agree are two of a kind. What's better: dark darkness, or bioluminescence?


Even in the most wizardly of video games, the most magical-feeling thing is often something quite real: bioluminescence. Through simple chemical processes (and a few million years of evolution), all manner of flora, fauna, and fungi have the ability to emit a glow. Deep-sea horrors with light-up lures. Fireflies flitting about with bright bottoms to attract mates. Ocean plankton pulsing blue in crashing waves. Jack-O'-Lantern mushrooms glowing from the gills, found even in the UK. And with genetic modification, even cats can glow. It's magical in reality, and it's magical in video games.

Video games offer me bioluminescence not just at will, but on grander scales. Games tap into that real-world magic and escalate it. Subnautica's seas throb with bioluminescent life both harmless and horrible. Skyrim's vast ruined underground city of Blackreach is lit by tendrilous glowing mushrooms. Forests glow in games from Trine to Ori. Glowing grubs lurk in the depths of Half-Life 2: Episode 2. Ah, go on, tell me more of your favourites.

I am always a fan of pretty glowy things, but it's so special that bioluminescence feels completely magical and unreal when it is, in fact, wholly real. It's always nice when fiction make reality even more wondrous.

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Dark darkness

Many games would like you to believe an area is dark, but it's not. Oh sure it's darker, maybe a bit murky, but it's not dark, is it? Here we are, exploring a stygian abyss, or the darkest depths of hell, a building with the lights out, or a forest at night, and ah it's fine, there's plenty magical ambient light to comfortably see. You're not even at risk of eyestrain. How thrilling to play a game where darkness is actually dark.

Night in Dragon's Dogma can turn even weak monsters into alarming adversaries, and god help you if you bumble into something truly unpleasant out there in the darkness. This is actually the threat that other, brighter, less brave games like to pretend their baby nights are. It is unpleasant, disorientating, and quite exciting. Best you hurry home or reach somewhere safe before nightfall. And don't forget to bring light when venturing into dungeons—one of the few games where you really will want that.

Most recently, I've enjoyed/hated the pitch-black nights of Sons Of The Forest. When the sun goes down, even my completely peaceful and unthreatening walks take a dark turn. Very good. I hate it, thank you for making it.

I'm still sorry that Dark Souls 2 came out so much brighter than it seemed in early marketing.

But which is better?

You know what would make your dark darkness really pop, mate? Something bioluminescent. Has to be. But what do you think, reader dear?

Pick your winner, vote in the poll below, and make your case in the comments to convince others. We'll reconvene next week to see which thing stands triumphant—and continue the great contest.

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