Sunday, 24 February 2013

On Antichamber's Nature Music

I want to talk about Antichamber's nature soundscapes, which play in various forms and styles that correspond to certain places in its universe. I think Antichamber's nature music is important; I'd almost argue that the Antichamber's nature soundscapes make Antichamber. They're a crucial part of its narrative framing. Let me explain!

During the first few moments of the game (essentially before you get the staff), Antichamber sort of acts as horror. It plays with your senses, predicting your movements and manipulating your actions though distorting your sense of space and time, and there's nothing you can really do about it. You start to feel helpless, incapable of escaping this abstract, invisible force that seems to be omnipresent. If we isolate the projection that receives my input from the existence of myself as a player, we can say Antichamber is a true depiction of one's madness as a living hell, where one is moving and acting without purpose or context in an endless fervor and confusion. It's creepy and disturbing. 

The nature music plays an important part in this. We can modify the structuralist method a little(1) so we can fit it into games, and find a key contrast between its music and the nature of my input. See, playing through Antichamber's early moments is an exercise in helplessness, confusion, and distortion, which can all imply stress and franticness; but it's nature music implies the opposite: calmness, patience, and thoughtfulness. But that doesn't mean it's ludonarratively dissonant! Antichamber isn't contradicting diagetic elements with mimetic ones, but rather mimetic elements with aesthetic framing (the music). So what we get instead, is something that feels very disingenuous. The nature sounds tell me to be calm while I run around the same circular path for the 15th time. It's contradictory and confusing, another way that the environment fucks with me. All this adds to the idea of Antichamber as horror.

But then, of course, you get a staff, and everything changes. It's amazing how much a little more control can turn things around. Now, Antichamber's nature music plays a much simpler role. Because I have the staff, I feel much less helpless. I'm now more of an actor onto the world, which means that the nature music no longer feels like a contradiction, but rather a simple device used to frame the nature of my actions in its intended fashion. Now, Antichamber truly feels like a calming and tranquil experience. 

But regardless of the little control I have, the nature of this environment hasn't really changed. It still has the tendency to manipulate and confuse, yet the game's mood has totally flipped over because of the nature soundscapes. This is why the nature music is so important. It takes an Avant-Garde nightmare and turns it into a lax puzzler, thereby setting a very large part of the game's mood. 

Something else that I find remarkable, is the disconnection between what the nature soundscapes suggest of the environment, and what it actually is. Antichamber is composed of white doors and hallways, rectangular rooms and maps, but the nature music, obviously, depicts forests and jungles. Yet the game relatively brings across the same feeling! This is another kind of disconnection, and seems to strike right in the face of those who believe that deep immersion and engagement relies on consistent aesthetic portrayals that properly correspond to a sense of reality. Antichamber shows us that all that's necessary is a proper assortment of ideas, moods, and rules to create an meaningful experience.

(1) Structuralist criticism finds parallels, contrasts  and patterns within text to find meaning. This is me clumsily trying to apply it to games. I hope it worked a little. 

Monday, 4 February 2013

On Pippin Barr's "Art Game"

So Pippin Barr released "Art Game" today, a game you should probably play since it's actually really fun.

I like "Art Game" because it exists in a sphere where the idea of games as art is very charged and heavy and sort of tired out in a lot of areas. If you read this blog, chances are you tend to engage in the indie sphere where the idea that video games are an art form is pretty much a given, where everyone just assumes it as true, but it's still debated in many mainstream publications. Yet,"Art Game" feels like an inhibitor, a sort of reduction of the intensity around the idea of art, into something that feels ordinary and typical.

Art Game is so simple. You make art. A curator looks at your art, she likes it or doesn't and eventually puts it in a show, where observers share their opinion on what they think. Some of them don't really like it. Others think it's okay. You look around and see other paintings and eventually leave and go about your life. The point is that Art Game doesn't really try to throw these intense, strong opinions on what it thinks about art, or games, or criticism or mediums and such, rather it simply presents a situation where I make some art and show it to a bunch of people. None of these elements are exaggerated, or glorified, or demeaned or opposed, at least not explicitly or implicit enough to be clearly visible. They seem to just exist as they are, under the game's gray-scale palate and its non-existent soundtrack.

I don't think the game wants to say that art is *boring*,  and I especially don't think that it's not saying anything at all. Rather it seems to demystify any sort of romanticism regarding art, without plunging us into brutal realism. Creating and presenting art, sort of just exists a thing. There's a neutrality to how the game is depicted, and  by doing this, it actually ends up saying quite a bit about art. That the idea of art isn't too much of a huge deal; it's a thing that people make, that some people like or don't like, that we all just sort of enjoy and talk about it and then go on with our lives.

I kind of like that.