Your Game Needs Some Thematic Weight
Here’s where Blow gets his.
Braid, as a game, is great. Braid, as a story, is self-involved, condescending, and smug. The basic crux of the game is that you’re the “monster” the princess you’ve been going after was running from, something that Blow is happy to gloat about how brilliant it is for the entire length of the game’s ending level. Seriously, the entire level is essentially a blatant plot spoiler. But we’re supposed to act like it’s a big surprise because we’re used to Mario saving the Princess, because you are not Jonathan Blow and therefore not capable of making earth-shaking decisions like flipping one aspect of a stock plot.
It would be bad enough if that was all Blow did. Even worse is his attempt to give the game a serious message. If you find a bunch of hidden stars the game never tells you about, you find out that Braid is a game about nuclear conflict.
You know what? No. It isn’t. Sticking a bunch of quotes from nuclear scientists in a few title screens doesn’t automatically make your game “about” something. It just marks you as desperate, pretentious, and bluntly, intellectually lazy. Blow realized he couldn’t just insist he was “subverting expectations”, so he tossed in a bunch of collectibles that he didn’t tell you about so you could find the “true” ending, which conveniently avoided any sort of actual writing or changes to a game that was likely mostly complete. Handy!
At least he’s doing better than Quantic Dream, which has yet to figure out how to give its game any weight whatsoever. Heavy Rain never earns any of its endings; it never explains why it feels that the world is such a crappy place. It just is, because… uh… we needed multiple endings, OK?!
Stop Defining Yourself Against Hollywood and The Rest Of The Games Industry
The key problem with “arty” games is that they either want to act like the rest of culture doesn’t exist and they only have to compete against other games in the storytelling department, or that they very, very much want to be Hollywood movies.
Why? The great thing about games is their ability to create a new world for us to explore and even define. I’m not going to argue that Grand Theft Auto IV, for example, is a work of art, but it definitely has a specific point of view about where we are as a culture and how we view being a criminal, something it both glories in and subverts every time you have to take your annoying cousin out bowling.
In short, games will become art when they embrace what makes them a unique medium: the ability to give us a set of rules and then ask us why we chose to abide by those rules or broke them. No other medium has this capability.
Or I guess you could ram in some pretentious garbage about nukes. People seem to like that.
I want more like this!
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