Sometimes I half-jokingly tell my friends I think gaming is a degenerate medium. Obviously I cannot claim to truly believe this as I spend so much of my time playing games. But really I think the lived experience of most games is that, played in excess, they are an affront to the human spirit and mind. That is because many games require you to repeat a certain enjoyable task over and over, training you to be dumber and less expectant of creativity and originality in the fictional world.
Many games hijack the limbic system of the human mind and trap the player in a mousewheel of low-effort behaviours that give a neurochemical payoff.
My reasoning is the same as some critics of pornography: pornography trains the limbic system to associate sexuality with pornography which is itself a low-effort behaviour.
Imagine a novelization of the actual experience of playing your average AAA FPS, RTS or RPG. It would be unimaginably repetitive and dull. Obviously these games are finely crafted experiences which do not aim to be novel all the way through. But are these games crafted with love? This is a serious question. Sure, each individual game-smith might inject a little bit of love into their corner of the game, but can you love a hive-mind? Some people are polyamorous and can love several people. Some people are in group marriages and love all their spouses. But can anyone seriously claim to love hundreds of people? I say no. With a smaller team, the building blocks of the game become larger as each individual’s contribution tesselates with the other more roughly. So the game is more idiosyncratic and imperfect. Half Life 2 was made with a relatively small team and it is one of my favourite games. Undertale and Cave Story were each made by pretty much one guy. The majority of the gaming community love these games. See what I mean? Love.
If you have time for a 9 minute, 35 second video of Žižek talking about how love is impossible without perceived imperfections and technology threatens the presence of imperfection, please proceed to the link above because I think it supports my broader point.
Okay I think my post-coffee, pre-breakfast morning mania is starting to die down so I can probably start talking about Quadrilateral Cowboy now but I’ll just finish off my point about imperfection and love. If anyone asks me what my favourite novel is, I can say without a doubt it’s Ulysses. I told this fact to a friend once (his major was literature) and he told me it’s a pretentious answer. Yeah it probably is. But I do really love Ulysses. It’s like reading several novels, by several authors, at once. And it tesselates, which is why I love it. The wikipedia article for Ulysses states that chapter 17 is ‘rife with errors, many or most of which are volitional by Joyce’. I’ll just leave that there.
Anyway. If anyone were to ask me what my absolute favourite game is, I would say Gravity Bone. Gravity Bone is a game in the Citizen Abel series, by Blendo Games. It’s about ten minutes long and I can say for sure I love it in its entirety. Its got a lovingly imagined world, a subtle but full story, a killer plot twist and a beautifully tragicomic ending. Have you ever listened to the same song on repeat, and fell in love with it completely? A single song can have more of an impact on you than an entire album. So it is with Gravity Bone. I love showing it to friends because it is so entertaining to play and watch.
Note: if you are going to play it, make sure you look up the quicksave key and use it before doing the jumping puzzle. I think it’s F6.
The Citizen Abel series is the spiritual father of Quadrilateral Cowboy, also by Blendo Games. It’s a first-person puzzle / hacking / action game in a comic and whimsical universe. Imagine if Wong Kar Wai adapted a William Gibson novel with Terry Gilliam as producer. You can probably get a feel for whether you’ll like the game from the opening moments:
- Start the game
- You are riding through a tunnel on a floating motorbike
- You have 2 companions, also on bikes, all the character are rendered as low-polygon block figures
- Your character lifts up a portable record player, inserts a record and equips headphones. ‘Claire de Lune’ starts to play.
- Your bike catches up to a train which has a banner flapping from the back carriage, which reads: ‘Happy New Year 1980’.
Personally I was immediately hooked to the whimsy, joyfulness and love with which this game was thrown together. It might sound like a hipster’s wet dream: classical music, floating motorbikes, retro-futurism. But damn it, do hipsters even exist any more? Did they ever? This stuff is just cool. And the game adamantly steers clear of any laborious gameplay sections, obscurantism or melodrama which one might associate with a pretentious hipster game. The actual gameplay consists of sneaking into secure environments using improvised hacking equipment
working out some challenging and zany puzzles.
and just generally checking out the environment and having fun in a world that was obviously put together with love, damn you – LOVE.
The game is never precious about its own material. Environments are quickly introduced, played through then discarded. Storyline is told through objects and a few very short cutscenes. The game introduces a ‘zoom’ feature early on to check out all the details. There’s lots to see.
I was reading a comment from a steam review about it and he complained about the storyline. He felt there wasn’t enough at stake. “I didn’t get the storyline: it’s about friendship, so what?” Fair enough mate, it’s lower stakes than most games. Personally I found the low stakes of the game incredibly refreshing and real. How many of us are trying to save the world on a daily basis? Not me. But how many of us are resorting to creative and difficult means trying to make ends meet in a tough environment, all while building on our friendships? I do that every day. I’ll hold off revealing any more about the story as I feel it’s better to go into it blind, but I felt more attachment to these characters, who never say a word, than my party members in games like Banner Saga and Kentucky Route Zero, who cannot shut up.
I feel like I should stop writing now but I just want to conclude that I love this game so much. If you like the look of the graphics and like the sound of what the game is about please give it a buy. If you have a spotify account you can also check out a playlist I put together of the soundtrack which I just put together to listen to because I enjoyed it so much.
Many games are gaming experiences that happen to contain a story. I think the best games are stories being told through a gaming medium. Quadrilateral Cowboy fits in that category.
A guest review by Philazkill.