Beauty in Games

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This screen-cap from Journey is a prime example of how incredible the worlds of games can be

In the wake of the Coin Opera 2 Kickstarter project, I wanted to try to articulate, maybe through a couple of posts, what it is I find so wonderful about games in general.

It’s difficult to tell people who see games as a frivolous waste of time exactly what it is about games that have the capacity to be so enthrallingly beautiful. I suppose if it could be surmised in a sentence, it wouldn’t be so special; the best things in life seem to inhabit spaces whose periphery words can only seem to settle on like little moths, but never penetrate. Hence, why a whole book of poetry about the subject is such a good idea.

In my mind, a really well-crafted game is a kind of modern ancient artefact, a self-contained pocket world. It’s like spying through a keyhole and finding a forest on the other side of the door. It’s a dream that you can interact with and inhabit at your leisure and make sense of. It’s the beauty of ice caverns and palaces in the snow and spooky woods and mysterious monoliths and everlasting sunsets. It’s the ability to visit a favourite moment and re-live it over and over.

I’m not talking about the types of games that gain all the publicity. Games in which you are a soldier trudging through some war-torn village hurling grenades into houses and shooting everything in sight, to me, are not the true spirit of gaming. They are devoid of imagination. They have no tools to set your heart on fire or make your insides leap with the exhilaration of wonder, as they are simply grim renditions of the already grim world they replicate. The kind of games I have in mind can make you cry with their atmosphere, soundtracks and stories.

Take for instance the fairly recent indie game, Journey. You play a cloaked figure that awakes in a sprawling desert. The game does not tell you anything. You simply wake up, the camera tilts in the direction of a distant mountain on the horizon emitting a brilliant light from its summit, and you assume, without words, that this is where you’re supposed to go. And so you ski and leap and twirl through the sparkling dunes, occasionally meeting other cloaked figures along the way.

These figures are controlled by other people currently playing the game online. You have no way to communicate in any known language with each other, but you can each emit a series of musical bleeps and trumpet calls and gibbers. The two of you may set off together, side by side, frolicking as you journey like a pair of love-struck budgies.

The final segment sees your character caught in the flow of a constant up-draught, your scarf and cloak billowing as you soar higher and higher up the mountain, all about you a confetti of similar cloaked figures being buffeted up through the azure sky, as the orchestral music sweeps you along in its majestic arms. It’s as if you’re ascending toward heaven.

With cinema increasingly churning out the same stories and ideas re-packaged, with little choice between superhero movies and uninspired horror, it really is in computer games that the beauty of dream and vision is starting to find its wings.

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