Games

Navigating the Sell Out: Jason Rohrer's "Idealism"

Jason Rohrer's at it again, with a fascinating little game that has a lot more to say than its primitive layout would imply.

What can we learn from Idealism? For one, there's more to Jason Rohrer than Passage, and there's more to The Escapist than Zero Punctuation.

Of course, a lot of folks already know this; The Escapist has quickly become a hotspot for intelligent commentary on the gaming medium, and this is actually Rohrer's second project for the magazine after the mindbuster that was Perfectionism. Rohrer has taken up residence at The Escapist, it seems, and both Perfectionism and Idealism can be found there.

Idealism is a fascinating little game, especially when put next to Perfectionism. For one, both were created in Game Maker, a framework and scripting language for game creation (to seriously oversimplify its capabilities), which may partially account for the similarities in presentation. Both games are presented on a solid black background, using simple shapes and sprites evoking the graphics of the Atari 2600, and both games start out as incredibly simple exercises in button-pushing and turn into head-scratching mindbenders as they progress. They are both decidedly brief experiences, but both can be returned to and approached in a variety of ways.

What Rohrer likes to do, however, is infuse his games with some sort of symbolic value, and this is where the contrast between Perfectionism and Idealism starts to take shape. Where Perfectionism was largely motivated by introspection -- namely, Rohrer's need to go over and over and over his work until it's exactly the way he wants it -- Idealism seems motivated by an observation on the industry. As Rohrer himself puts it in his own explanation of the game, "What happens when your ideals, be they socially-induced or true, stand in the way of one of your goals?" It's the classic design conundrum, and it happens in games, in music, in art, and in literature, popularly known as the sell out. How far can an idealistic worldview take you in your outlet of choice, and what would it take for you to compromise those ideals?

The way that Rohrer goes about exploring these ideals is fascinating. The primitive means used to force the player into making these decisions is perfect, as the presentation never distracts from the issues at hand. Without wanting to give too much away, Rohrer has encapsulated his moral quandary in a shooter that can move as quickly or as slowly as the user wants. The decision to "sell out" can be a quick, split-second decision, or it can be a calculated, strategic move.

What I wonder, however, is what point Rohrer is trying to make when he ramps up the difficulty so far at one point as to make the game nearly unplayable. Perhaps he's making the point of how meaningless the choice ultimately is; perhaps he just likes the number 23. If anyone out there in game land can get through the point I'm talking about here (and you will know it when you see it), I hope you leave a comment and tell me what happens.

So? What are you waiting for? It's free! And it'll probably run on your old 486 (don't quote me on that). Go and give it a look.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.

Music

Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.

Music

Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."

Music

David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.

Music

On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.

Music

Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.

Music

Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.

Music

Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."

Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.