Braid made it look easy: Take one part platformer, one part puzzler, sprinkle in some “deep thoughts” between the levels, and presto—instant critical and commercial acclaim. But Braid only made it look easy. The puzzle-platformer may have become the indie go-to genre of choice in the wake of Braid‘s success, but that doesn’t mean that those kinds of games are easy to make, especially if they, also like Braid, aspire to be about something greater than their puzzles and platforming.
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As video games continue to soak into all aspects of modern society, often eyes are on how some form of gaming is become a sort of high culture: interesting, sometimes bizarre, often provocative interactions that delve into things like post-traumatic stress disorder, amputation and food as intelligent beings.
But the continued metamorphosis of gaming has a much more mundane side as well.
I remember my own childhood vividly… I knew terrible things. But I knew I mustn’t let adults know I knew. It would scare them.
Last week on PopMatters, Scott Juster described Earthbound as “bizarre and melancholy,” an element that he came to appreciate with new eyes playing the game now as an adult. I am playing the game for the first time myself. I have no sense of childhood nostalgia for the game, no memories of understanding its world any differently than I do today. Scott is right. Earthbound is at times sad, surreal, and deeply unsettling. I had no idea before I started playing that Earthbound would be quite so weird or would tackle some very adult themes. My perspective is, of course, that of an adult, but I think Earthbound might be the best children’s game ever made.
I’m not especially bothered by violence in media. I’m a huge fan of the films of Quentin Tarantino. I play a lot of video games. Hell, I teach a course every few years called “Violence in Literature & Film.”
However, I find watching the movie American Psycho uncomfortable. There’s something I find upsetting about Christian Bale’s performance of the psychotic yuppie killer Patrick Bateman .I think it has to do with the posing and preening that he does when in contact with his victims. The way that he fawns over himself while taking advantage of his underprivileged victims makes the violence that he perpetrates against them seem all the more detestable.
Visuals tend to get a bad rap in video games. It’s the “visuals don’t matter, gameplay matters” mantra that downplays the importance of visuals. Of course, such a mantra is only necessary in the face of decades of tech fetishism that promoted the fidelity of pixels and polygons over clarity, style, and artistic design. There are plenty of games in which the visuals are in part the point of the game.
Here’s three of them.