Tag Archives: Braid

Playing the Canon’s First Birthday: Five Favorite Games (So Far)

Mario-64-Cake

As I looked back over the past year’s worth of entries, I realized I didn’t play nearly as many games as I thought. This illusion comes from a mix stopping and starting a handful of titles, devoting time to games I put down due to their sheer time commitment (someday, Baldur’s Gate!), and my rediscovery of the medium making every new game feel like an epic undertaking.

So, picking my five favorite games covered on this blog was not nearly the Sophie’s Choice I thought it might be. Sure, there were a handful of darlings I regret not including: The Saturday morning whizzbang joy of Psychonauts. The moody and punishing Another World. Braid’s deeply felt and fully realized puzzle box. But at the end of the day, these five games below are the ones that kept me going as I slogged through lesser titles. These are the games that still prove to me despite the industry’s deeply embedded problems and presiding adolescence, video games are so unique and powerful when the alchemy’s right that they are worth defending and talking about.

I’m still early in my quest. I have so many more games to experience — and there are more by the day, being created by an ever-diversifying community now that technology and distribution has dissipated — that a second anniversary top-five might look entirely different. I am presenting these in alphabetical order, because pitting five things I hold so dearly against each other in some misguided battle of worth seems like a fool’s errand.

Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Side Quest: Celine and Julie Go Gaming

Celine_and_Julie_Go_Boating_poster

CouldĀ Celine and Julie Go Boating — a semi-obscure masterpiece of French cinema — contain the secrets of proper video game storytelling?

Video games need to stop trying to be movies. You’ve heard it here and elsewhere; the tight, thematically coherent structure that reins in your typical two hour film will just never fit the wily, interactive nature of a game that can be fifty times that long. Games are typically better at moment-to-moment plotting and visceral release, waves of emotional catharsis cresting on the backs of set pieces and trial-and-error player accomplishments. These scenarios can move us; at best, they can insert us into an entire world ripe with someone else’s personality. But for any number of reasons — the audience as an active participant; the variations of player experience; the sheer time investment; the, um, general awfulness of most video game narratives — the common consensus is that games can’t do what movies do, and we are hurting our medium and ourselves by still imploring them to. It’s gotten to the point that cutscenes and nakedly cinematic opening credits sequences are greeted with cringes and eyerolls by most discerning gamers. It’s like we want to tell developers, “Stop trying to invite yourselves to the movies’ Grown-Ups’ Table. Just relax. There’s nothing wrong with the Kids’ Table; we can start food fights here!”

For the most part, I agree with this sentiment. Didn’t Wreck-It Ralph just heartwarmingly teach all of us gamers that fostering community is easier when you actually like yourself? (Um, spoilers?) But as someone with no great love of big-budget genre films — from which video games borrow approximately 99.8% of their cinematic idealsĀ  — I sometimes wonder if gaming’s supposed inferiority to movie storytelling is more about misguided inspiration than the true differences between the mediums. Why would games — rambling and easily distracted by nature, or at least since the leap to inhabitable, three-dimensional worlds — try to emulate action and adventure films, easily one of the most tightly scripted and traditionally “plot-driven” movie genres? (The answer, unfortunately, is because man-children like guns and aliens, and usually can’t draw a line between “form” and “content.”) What if there were films out there that could teach us how to deepen and strengthen video game narratives without violating the tenets of the medium? What if we’ve just been watching the wrong movies? Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

Tagged , , , , , ,