Small, But Perfectly Formed

We just watched La Jetée this evening – not the first time I’ve seen it, but the first time in a few years. Man, what a terrific film it is – so nicely put together, so beautiful, and so pleasingly bewildering and moving. It really packs quite a punch for a narrated slideshow.

I’m connecting this with games because for a few weeks I’ve been pondering that old chestnut of “where’s the Citizen Kane of video games”. Now, on one level of course the question and all the discourse is ridiculous and unhelpful. On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder if it would help at least a little to think in these sorts of parallels as we try to consider what games might do. Not so much direct inspiration, but perhaps reaching toward concepts of innovation, particularly great movies’ use of aesthetics, metaphor, and and so on. These things seem at least somewhat transferrable.

Now, having watched Citizen Kane again recently, it seems like we’re a long way off in terms of a game “equivalent”, but that’s okay. It’s just it’d be really nice if the current range of aesthetic and affective achievement in games didn’t run a spectrum of something like Rambo to Inception. Yes these are great experiences, and they evenly have the odd tentatively interesting idea, but they’re ultimately block-busters not intended to challenge or worry us particularly, not intended, really, to have us think to much beyond what is comfortable.

But perhaps we could see some movement toward something like La Jetée. A smaller project that pushes toward creating a kind if ineffable, interesting, trouble experience. That plays with conventions and expectations in order to pack a punch (I swear my heart beat faster during that brief sequence of “real” movie in La Jetée). These games could conceivably be out there and I’ve not played them, and it’s also true that there are other games creating deeply interesting (and perhaps more “game appropriate”) experiences, like, say, Minecraft.

All the same, I’d very much like to play a game that pulls together an aesthetic and philosophical/emotional impact. It doesn’t have to be 40 hours long. It doesn’t have to have the world’s most sophisticated graphics or world simulation. It should just do something, instead of just “being there”, like so many games (and other blockbusters) do. There are hints of it around in games like Dungeoneer and maybe One Chance, but they’re only glimmerings. I want more.

Give me more.

16 March 2011
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