An excellent article at PopMatters by Elwyn Palmerton details the many similarities of the first four seasons of LOST with adventure games. One of the show’s creators, Damon Lindelof, has noted that the game Myst was a big inspiration, and it makes sense. A remote island filled with unexplained mechanical gadgets, the slow process of gaining access to these areas, and other video game plot devices are scattered throughout the show. Keys and objects are often the focus of the plot, characterization occurs during the static flashbacks, and much of the show is spent moving from different locations. The show’s first four seasons so heavily resemble a classic adventure game narrative that several spoofs have appeared suggesting what a Lucasarts version would be like. There are a few other video game aspects of the show that I thought were worth pointing out, particularly ones that develop after the period of the show that Palmerton’s article covers. At the end of the fourth season, LOST abandoned mimicking the content of video games and instead focused on how they characterize space.
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At the outset, the way in which video games typically use the word “genre” seems at odds with its more conventional literary and cinematic usage. However, arguably, by emphasizing a means of delivery, video game genre becomes the format informing emotion, which is not so far from the word’s more thematic meaning at all.
Just as the tropes of film genres train audiences to anticipate certain modes of behavior (we generally expect the action hero to kill to get what he wants, just as we hope that the romantic comedy lead doesn’t), video game genres emphasize the power dynamic between players and events. Players, in turn, develop distinct emotional ranges and expectations within a given genre, and these are continually modified and projected by a game’s content. You expect to exert a greater level of tactile immersion with the full sensory space in a first person shooter than you would a 2-D platformer, so a game like BioShock brings about its emotional reaction in part by violating that very expectation of (albeit illusory) player-character autonomy. Following on that idea, the comparatively high compression of a 2-D platformer’s player-space interaction means that the player’s main dialogue occurs first and foremost with the space’s physical laws, rather than with its social ones. In this way, platformers’ interests tend to fall thematically within two familiar conflicts: man versus nature and man versus himself.
Thus, in one sense, video game genres are more liberating than many others because they allow any number of thematic elements within the same conversational framework. You can have first-person shooter romantic comedies and political thrillers that are also visual novels, and these are acceptable in either case.
Following up on our podcast from last month on “The World of Max Payne”, our regular podcast contributors take a look at the less successful but critically acclaimed sequel to the 2001 game, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, and consider the evolution of Remedy Entertainment’s approach to world building (culminating in their most recent release, Alan Wake).
We also discuss the evolution of the character Max Payne and the gameplay mechanisms that surround him. We also consider how a playable Mona Sax changes our sense of the series and whether Max (and the player) legitimately falls for her.
The 2008 Prince of Persia was all about momentum. The world was split into multiple linear tracks connected by various hubs. Once you started down a track, it was difficult to turn back. Every obstacle along these tracks corresponded to a specific button: A allowed the Prince to jump (from poles, platforms, or a double jump midair), B allowed him to grab onto hooks, and Y allowed the activation of magical plates. Players had a small window of opportunity to hit the right button at the right obstacle to keep the Prince moving forward. Since every track was placed above a huge chasm if players missed the opportunity or hit the wrong button, the Prince would fall and have to start the track over. Many reviewers compared it to a rhythm game because the platforming relied so heavily on timing and on reading the environment ahead of you.
In the beginning of The Forgotten Sands, the game plays like any other Prince of Persia game from the Sands of Time trilogy. That is to say, it has a strong focus on environmental puzzles; the fun lay in figuring out where to go. But there’s also a subtle focus on momentum and reading the environment that builds throughout the game until the end, in which The Forgotten Sands plays more like a sequel to the 2008 reboot.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Limbo is art. Just look at the thing! It’s all super-artsy and stuff, with its evocative yet minimalist art style and bleak, moody, creepy, disturbing look. From moment one the game stirred emotions in me, and I think that’s what art needs to do to be art. I felt intrigued by the mysterious world and this strange boy I was controlling. The shadow-heavy world lingers just on the edge of being inscrutable, but never leaves you in doubt about the important things. And that horrifying, damnable spider from the early part of the game? Right now it has my vote for villain of the year. At first, second, and third look, Limbo drove right into my brain, eliciting a full spectrum of experiences. This is a model example of an artistic endeavor unique to gaming.
Yes, yes, Rick’s going on about art and games and stuff again. And of course I’m not the only one hurling the “A” word at Limbo. Some might even argue that the game’s trying too hard to be taken as serious art, but I think that’s a pretty ridiculous argument. Its aesthetic and gameplay work in perfect synch with one another, and time and again it produces those moments of pure frisson that only a great game can give.
// Notes from the Road
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