Games as Art – As seen by Trolleydude
May 26, 2008 § 5 Comments
Before you read this article any further, download this small game, and play it at least twice. There’s no install and it’s only 2 megs. Don’t read on to see what I’m playing at, just do it.
I’m serious. There’s no point even reading this bit until you know what I’m talking about.
Okay, until this morning, I was extremely skeptical about the entire “games are art” argument. I reasoned that real art can’t come from the same medium that brought us both Gears of War and Euphoria Physics. It’s tempting to assume, while you’re using a chainsaw to mutilate your fellow gamers, that there’s nothing more to it than gore and camera-splat effects. I hope that Execution changed your mind about that.
Execution was created by a single person, working with a free utility. Independent developers like this don’t have access to the incredible technologies afforded to game companies today. As I touched upon in my World in Conflict rant-review-thing, this can be a great incentive to innovate. With only their imagination to set them apart, indie developers need to come up with new advances in gameplay, rather than mechanics. Take, for example, Cortex Command. Now, as anyone who knows me will testify, I think Cortex Command is awesome. I’m not going to go into detail here, as I’m saving that for when I can do it justice. My point is, the creator of CC had next to no access to new technology when he started, so he had to invent a new way of playing games. He implemented, into a 2d shooter, gameplay that hasn’t been seen since Lemmings. Pixel physics allows the player to deform the terrain in real-time, and adjust strategies to go with it. I know what you’re thinking, it’s been done. Red-Faction style. But this isn’t a simple “Ok shoot at the wall for an hour and encounter nothing but brown rock” idea. Burrowing towards your opponent’s custom-made bunker while angry robots scurry down the shaft you’ve constructed to tear you apart is a delightful and refreshing experience.
All this is a frustratingly roundabout way of saying that Execution has brought forward a new and surprising concept. No doubt the savvier of you have attempted to redownload the game to reverse your mistake, and found out, to your consternation (and hopefully your anxiety), that this time, death is the end. The brilliance of this game is that it toys with human psychology, by upsetting your core understanding of how games work. It provides you with a single piece of general advice, and leaves you to your own devices. The problem, which you immediately notice, if not consciously, is that you have, for the first time in a game, been given a real choice. The choice being; do you do immediately what comes naturally, or do you stop and think? Now there’s a word that hasn’t appeared in.. how long since Deus Ex? ..eight years.
I apologise if the last (and following) paragraph was a bit.. gay .. for you, but this game gives me a big ol’ game-design stiffy. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, you can either kill the man, resulting in a you-lose screen, or – get this – press Escape to get a you-win screen. Of course, most people will kill the man simply because they haven’t been presented with an alternative. In real life, your commanding officer wouldn’t say, “okay, you can kill him or click the tumbleweed to spare him”. You have to find your own way, and, by forcing us to find our own way, Execution scares us. This is because in all other games which offer an illusion of choice (Mass Effect, GTA IV, Bioshock), we are told what we can do, so we are still safe, secure in the corridors set by the designers; which dictate how games are played, and which practically forced you to fire, just because you hadn’t been coddled and pushed towards a certain action.
Before I get up to go lift weights and work the woman out of my system, I just want to say that this game is art. It has a message, it forces us to think, it’s truly innovative (nintendo take note) and it wasn’t created by EA. Which is the most important of all.