During this last year I’ve encountered some supremely emotional and thought provoking games, ones that have made me and others react in ways I’d never thought possible, more than once I’ve sat pondering the ending of a game I’ve just finished in stunned silence. I’d like to take this opportunity to mention a few of my most notable experiences, consider these my recommendations for anyone looking for a game to get them thinking, or offer a unique experience.
I’ve talked about The Beginners Guide in a previous post; it’s a many-layered work examining the creator versus audience and creating for self versus creating for audience. There was a great deal of discussion about the game from all manner of critics and varying levels of analysis, I recall having a strong reaction to the piece myself, I simply sat for several minutes in silence trying to process what I’d just experienced. A concerned house mate had asked what was wrong and I found it difficult to explain exactly what I had just played, if played is even the right word. What I took away from The Beginners Guide was a sense of caution born of fear, it was an unsettling experience but it gave me a new perspective on creators and creating. The Beginners Guide also displayed the great distance that games have come from the likes of virtual tennis game Tennis for Two, or it’s more popular incarnation Pong, now being critiqued from and artistic standpoint rather than just for their gameplay.
“What makes The Beginner’s Guide different than just another exercise in unreliable narration is how it uses artistic intent as a smokescreen, and amidst the confusion sneaks in a much rawer insight into what creative process and output actually entails.
Released in December 2014 I played The Talos Principle during the first half of this year, initially I was attracted to it as a well crafted puzzle game in a similar vein to Portal but it became clear very soon that it was much more than puzzles. I was asked a simple question; “What is a person”. This prompted me to write a short narrative in Twine on asking and then answering this question which I then presented to my intrigued classmates and teacher. The Talos Principle uses Catholic, Greek and various other mythologies as well as ancient and modern philosophical arguments to talk about both this and the benefits and drawbacks of Faith. This was another game that made me sit and think for a while after finishing it, but in this case it was a much more serene experience and spurred a lot of existential curiosity that I later built on playing SOMA.
“Never has a game made me question my own existence.”
I’d heard a lot about SOMA, it permeated the Let’s Play community with popular YouTubers such as Markiplier and Cryaotic (Cry Plays) posting full play throughs of the game on YouTube. I don’t usually like playing horror games, I’m a bit too jumpy for that, but it wasn’t blind pants-wetting terror that made me put this game down, it was a moral decision. The blind pants-wetting terror was later. Soma taught me a lot about what I, as a person am willing to do to ensure my own survival. Soma also helped to develop some of the ideas I had been considering as a result of my time with The Talos Principle on what a the nature of a person is, this conundrum is in fact the central point to the narrative, constantly questioning if a biological body is an integral part of being a person.
“The human bodies in SOMA are all dying. People on the brink of death are scattered throughout the game, and the WAU, tasked with preserving life, forcibly keeps them alive. They’re in terrible pain, barely conscious. Living doesn’t mean anything to them anymore, but the WAU doesn’t know any better.”
Legend of Zelda may not seem like it fits in this list, but bear with me a moment. The remake of Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask was released near the beginning of this year, and being the huge fan that I am of the Zelda franchise I immediately purchased a copy. Majora’s Mask is typical of the Zelda franchise in terms of gameplay, but the tone of the game is worlds apart from the usual. The game begs a much more thoughtful interpretation, each of its 5 main areas representing one of the stages of grief; Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance and many of the stories and side quests in the game are significantly more poignant than the rest of the series. In addition the game could also be considered a commentary on the inevitable demise of society .The game talks to the concepts of loss and the inevitability of it very well and playing it as a young teen and later as an adult has not lessened this, if anything I understand much more about what the game is saying thanks to another decade of experience.
“The message is clear: You were born too late. This cuts to the bone when you remember that we don’t have a Song of Time to help us rethink the last 75 years of relentless progress. Today, Majora’s Mask reads as a wistful “what-if,” a power fantasy not at the level of the individual but of society as a whole.”
This past year has been a long one, full of highs and lows, and I am grateful to the developers out there that are crafting such thoughtful games as those included here, these are by no means all that there is, only what I’ve encountered on my relentless trip forwards through time. I hope to see these kind of creation continue to surface so that we may ever broaden our understanding and experiences.
Happy New Year.
Solbery, D 2015, ‘The Beginner’s Guide to the Art of Video Games’, Kill Screen, < https://killscreen.com/articles/beginners-guide-art-videogames/ >.
Melody 2015, ‘Storyplay: Human Machines’, Haywire Magazine, < http://www.haywiremag.com/columns/storyplay-human-machines/ >.
Roberts, D 2015, ‘Let’s get (meta)physical – The Talos Principle Review’, Gaming Trend, < http://gamingtrend.com/reviews/lets-get-metaphysical-talos-principle-review/ >.
Frender, E 2015, ‘The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask has only Grown More Important with Time’, Kill Screen, < https://killscreen.com/articles/legend-zelda-majoras-mask-has-only-grown-more-important-time/ >.