Unhappy Ending: Art Isn’t Always Fun

During our discussion in class today about Braid, one student made the astute observation that, while the game is sometimes so difficult it isn’t even fun, perhaps that’s the point. As the class delved into Jonathan Blow’s opinions on video games, I thought back to another game in which I had experienced this sort of “harsh art” and thought that perhaps this is yet another sign that video games are truly maturing as an art form.

One of the first games I played on my PS4 was a short, narrative-driven walking simulator (a term which is often used pejoratively, though I’ve taken to reappropriating it for ambient aesthetes of all media) called Firewatch. This gorgeously rendered, slow-paced, and emotionally sapping game is without a doubt a piece of art; indeed, it is so narratively focused that I almost wouldn’t call it a video game at all but rather an immersive movie.

3003451-firewatch

Firewatch places you in the eyes of a lonely man whose wife has begun to suffer from early onset dementia. As she begins to forget who he is, he takes to the woods to escape depression, applying for a summer position as wildfire lookout for the US Forest Service. Throughout the game, the player is forced to choose between suboptimal and morally questionable paradoxes. You are never allowed, in other words, to be completely happy with your decisions, as there is no best option.

I of course won’t spoil Firewatch‘s wonderful story (and if any of my classmates would like to play it, they are free to do so on my console, as it’s only a 2-4 hour game). All I will say is that the ending was, for me, quite disappointing. Indeed, it was an intentional letdown.

So back to Braid‘s at times frustratingly difficult puzzles. If Jonathan Blow was seeking to make some sort of commentary on video games, in their predictably satisfactory endings and linear progression, I believe he succeeded. In the same vein, Firewatch‘s creators gave us an antihero whose climactic ending is but a quiet disappointment.

So why would we play games that are, in some respect, unenjoyable? Because in all seriousness—in terms of giving me pleasure, both Braid and Firewatch would be considered failures. But this is precisely why I feel that video games are coming to a certain level of maturity, that they might have the ability to deliver unto players something other than dopamine. Reading Lolita isn’t fun at all; neither is listening to Schoenberg’s expressionist music or reading Ginsberg’s bleak poetry. What these works do give us is a taste of some real or hyperreal fantasy in which feelings we all recognize but shudder to behold are thrust out, into our faces. And in looking at them in the light, perhaps we gain some consolation in knowing that at least, we are not alone in fearing them.

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The Eye: In Gaming and Other Forms of Media

A. A. BENJAMIN

 

I’ve noticed a trend in the different mediums I’ve come in contact with lately.  

TheEYE
Movie: The Fellowship of the Ring
Game: A Story About My Uncle (PC)
Game: A Story About My Uncle (PC)
Game: Journey (PS3)
Game: Journey (PS3)
Article: some Uber alien game that hasn’t come out yet
Article: some Uber alien game that hasn’t come out yet

What is the cultural significance of this eye and why do we fear it? It drives us instinctively to hide even when it has not been explained—game, movie or otherwise—why we should hide in the first place. Something fictitious puts such a deep anxiety in our hearts that I have to wonder what about this fear is real.
 
 
 
My first instinct is to run to Orwell’s “Big Brother” in 1984. This could possibly be a subconscious cultural and political commentary of modern day lack of trust in structures of authority and power. This unifying symbolism shows a thread of fear that weaves these creative minds together as they form a common enemy.
 
The looming watchful eye always takes a grotesquely large and bulbous shape, anywhere between orange to reddish in tone, sometimes with that cat-like slit that seems to be that much more evil. It is always THE eye. One, not two.
 
 
 
Not only does the singularity suggest the disturbing all-powerful theme explored in 1984, but it also creates this alien-ness that makes it hard for us to fathom what the one eyed creature would do with us if it did catch us. The unknown stirs our deepest fears…
 
Though recurring images across mediums may not be intentional, I think it’d be a bit naïve to assume that they are by accident. What are we trying to tell ourselves, with the continuous return of this monster? Maybe we fear imposing onlookers stripping away our privacy and autonomy. Maybe we fear spectatorship, which is quite interesting considering the mediums in which this monster takes form. If we conflict with a culture of spectatorship, we must be using some strange counter attack that involves becoming the looming spectator ourselves. We can comfortably strip Frodo down with our own eyes, but God-forbid the camera turn on us. Our first instinct is to hide and fear, and it appears that game developers continuously use this easy fix to propel gamers through their desired narrative.
 
I still can’t pinpoint, though, WHY The Eye is such a universally easy fix. How has this organ become a fearsome symbol through time?

The Eye of Providence, or what illuminati conspiracy theorists call, the Eye of Horus  (U.S. Dollar Bill)
The Eye of Providence, or what illuminati conspiracy theorists call, the Eye of Horus (U.S. Dollar Bill)