This discussion of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West contains major plot spoilers.
Quite a number of games in recent years have dealt with the curious exchange that occurs in gaming between player freedom and the submission to authority required by following a game’s rules. The most obvious example, of course, is Bioshock with its evident concern with considering how a player blindly submits to the will of the game in order to advance in it. The infamous “Would you kindly?” twist suggests that player freedom is frequently an illusion in a game, as submission to and trust in the direction given by the game is taken for granted by the player who all too quickly assumes that the game’s “direction” exists to merely help the player learn the ropes, but it doesn’t decide for us along the way what is the right and wrong path.
A similarly unsettling revelation of just how authoritarian “the computer” is in directing the player can be found in Portal, in which that voice that we essentially take for granted, the voice of the tutorial, eventually morphs into the antagonist of the game. While initially GlaDOS is that familiar teacher who explains how to play the game to the player, the series of test chambers that seem to serve as a tutorial for learning how to solve puzzles through the use of a portal gun soon become deadly traps set by a sadistic AI. The irony of Portal is that this intimate antagonism between the player and the programming of the game is really not unfamiliar at all. Portal, both figuratively and literally, exposes what is behind the scenes in most video game experiences, a voice that first wants to support us by teaching us the ropes but then just as quickly wants to stymie our efforts to succeed in completing the game by attempting to “kill” us.
I have written before about the strange intimacy that the player has with GlaDOS, an intimacy that is promoted through the authoritarian and submissive relationship that they share (”An Intimate Moment With the Computer”, PopMatters, 31 March 2010). However, Alexander Ocias’s Loved takes the metaphor a few steps further by creating a game solely predicated on submitting to or defying the authority of a bodiless “tutor” and allowing this exchange to become a metaphor for being “loved.” In the universe of Loved, love becomes a concept that is based on power relationships. The more that the player submits, the more that the game grows easier to deal with. However, the exchange for this form of “care” is to give up one’s own will to that of the AI.