Tuesday, January 29, 2013

That Moment When it Suddenly Makes Sense

  I recently played through the game Flower. I loved it. Every single second of it. It didn't take long. Maybe two hours, two hours I wished had lasted longer. I have always been a fan of traditional storytelling. I pretend to be a writer, so I would be I suppose. So I was a little surprised at how fully I was engaged in this game. For the two or so hours it took me to complete the main “story” I was utterly and completely in love with what thatgamecompany had done.

I’d been planning on playing the game for a while. I’d read and heard good things, so when I found Flower bundled with Journey and several other games by the same company I bought the bundle immediately. I had some doubts, they were small to be honest, but doubts nonetheless. But despite these doubts I knew I had to play these games. For the past few years I’d started to change as a gamer. I was no longer entertained by the mindless shooter clones that seemed to appear out of nowhere and take over the lives of my friends as they competed online for bragging rights and the best killcam/teabag. I had always enjoyed story in games, but I’d always assumed good story could only be found in RPGs. So I kept playing the mindless games and tossed in  an RPG every once in awhile. I kept enjoying the headshots and the crouch button, but then something happened. I can’t honestly pinpoint when. I think it might have been during the suicide mission in Mass Effect 2.
     As the cut scenes played and I started seeing characters I’d grown attached to die or almost die I stood up. I played the last 30 minutes of the game on my feet. Afterward I sat down and thought about what had just happened. I had never realized that games could do that to me.
     I've since reflected on my career as a gamer and realized I’d had that experience before with other games,(some I may talk about another time) but I don’t think I was mature enough as a gamer to realize what was happening.
     So, because I’m slow at understanding concepts, it was that moment when the argument over whether games are art or not suddenly mattered to me. It was at that moment that I went from thinking, “Well, of course games are art, because all the web comics say so,” to thinking “Holy sh*t, Video games really can be art, I just experienced it firsthand.”
     Now, I’m not saying all games are art. I’ll admit that some of the games I’d consider, others would disregard entirely. I think everyone has their own definition of what art actually is. For me, art is something that connects with the person viewing it on an emotional level. If a game makes me think, or feel something deeper than I would under normal circumstances I’m gonna call it art, disagree all you want, I’m calling this one.
     Now back to what started this nonsensical ramble. Flower is an amazing game. It is also an amazing piece of art.
     At first I was just enjoying the control scheme. I loved the implementation of the sixaxis controller. Then I realized that even a game without a story, in the conventional sense, anyway, can still be as engaging as any 30 hour narrative. Then the game became what I've been claiming it is. Art. Music set the mood. floating petals danced in the wind. The landscape changed. The sky darkened. And this is going to sound ridiculous to some of you, but I came to terms with my own mortality. I know how that sounds. But it's true. There was a point in the game where I began to remember things. Hard memories were pulled to the front of my mind. At first I was mad at myself for recalling these things, but then I allowed myself to dwell on them as the petals danced on the wind. I was able to say goodbye to people I had lost and accept my own place in the grand scheme. In the end I felt good. Better than I had in a long time. I doubt everyone would walk away with that same experience, but I strongly feel that this game can change a person, at least for a little while.
     But then, I suppose almost any game may have the ability to change people. This particular game just feels like it was made with that in mind. Crafted with the singular purpose of reaching out and touching the gamer in a way most games can’t, or won’t.
     As a medium games have the potential to move people in ways books and film can’t. Now I am in no way trying to take away from the effects those have on us, I’m just saying the interactive nature inherent in gaming just makes it easier for the piece to connect with us. We’re given an avatar to control and take on a journey. Most of us see the character on the screen as ourselves. His journey is our journey. And that is why, when a game has the capacity for an emotional impact, that impact feels that much stronger thanks to the connection we have established with the events in the game.
     I guess all I really want to say is this: Play games. Play the games you enjoy. Play the games that make you feel something. And yes, play the games with the option to teabag. If it resonates with you, it’s art. Might not be good art, but I’m still gonna call it art.

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