Monthly Archives: September 2012

Half-Life 2 (2004)

There was a moment well into playing Half-Life 2 where I fell in deep, transcendent love. It was the only moment thus far in my video game excursions where I wasn’t playing a game so much as inhabiting it, invested in the world and experience so viscerally that for one too-brief heartbeat, all hints of artifice and the fourth wall dissipated from my mind. It was after returning to City 17, when Gordon Freeman and his makeshift gang of rebels commandeer a crumbling cement building in a desperate attempt to take down the last few Striders, vicious daddy long legs-like aliens that seem unstoppable on first glance. As the last Strider exploded and toppled, I turned to see the rebels’ expressions change from grim resolve to hope; I stopped in my tracks, absorbed the scene, then ushered Gordon on to the next set of teeth-gritting horrors.

Don’t get me wrong, I greatly enjoyed¬†Half-Life 2 up until this moment, but it was enjoyment born more of appreciation than passion, and I sorely missed the first game’s dark humor and trickier artificial intelligence. The Strider battle was something else entirely, though; not only was it the most challenging section of the game for me, but when seeing my squad cautiously start to celebrate as the music (so sparingly used in Half-Life 2¬†that its entrance is an instant jolt to attention) swelled victoriously, I felt like an actual soot-and-sweat-covered hero. Continue reading

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Braid (2008)

A major, usually entirely subconscious reason people disdain criticism with which they disagree is, simply put, that no one likes feeling stupid. The ugly, reactionary, lizard-brained response to a contrary opinion (and I am speaking almost exclusively about genuine, well-reasoned criticism, not the infuriating, troll-infested ping-pong table that passes for discourse on the majority of the internet), is to deny, dismiss, save face by any means necessary. If this is a reply born from our lower instincts, it is not always one born from our most devious ones; if anything, our desire to shoot down those who disagree with us speaks to the sort of ardent, inexpressible emotional attachment that subtly informs nearly all our relationships with art and with each other.

This is especially true of video games, a medium whose appeal is primarily built upon joy and frustration, those mighty pillars of visceral reaction. Say what you want about the gamer community, but it is a passionate lot, and perhaps too used to playing on the defensive end when its hobby is criticized.

If you love or hate a work for an inarticulate reason, one you have no desire to pontificate upon beyond what is intuitive, then that is more than fair; not everyone is born a Pauline Kael or a Robert Christgau. Art is a personal journey, one in which we develop our own values and taste, and video games – where entertainment is still often seen as key as artistry – especially must make room for the thrill-seekers and literalists alongside the chin-scratchers and conceptualists. What concerns me is the difficulty these different schools of thought have coexisting when discussing games, and the deep vein of anti-intellectualism that outcasts and derides unpopular opinions, even when they are well-articulated and kindly phrased. Nowhere is this attitude more prominent than in the baffling, often venomous response to whenever Braid designer Jonathan Blow strings more than two words together. Continue reading

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