… or ‘Can Game Concepts Just Be Plain Old Weird And No One Really Cares As Long As The Gameplay Is Good?‘
Perusing the internet in search of yet more ways to trigger FBI flagging software (one day I’ll meet my beloved Agent Scully … sigh…) I lurked upon this article at Pixels or Death about the dreamlike qualities of divisive oddball survival horror game ‘Deadly Premonition‘ – one of my most favouritest games ever.
For anyone who hasn’t played Deadly Premonition, it’s an unashamed homage to David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, centring around an offbeat FBI agent investigating a young woman’s murder in a scenic town. Due to acknowledged flaws in gameplay but captivating scenarios and character dynamics, the game’s reviews ranged from 2 out of 10 on some sites to being Game of the Year on others.
The game features playable overt dream sequences, combat scenes that may all be all your character’s delirium as well as a general Lynchian dream-like quality throughout that allows for your character’s imaginary friend, receiving telepathic messages from cups of coffee and the general oddball behaviour of the townsfolk.
But while Deadly Premonition might have a vast open world story that incorporates dream logic, many narratively ‘simpler’ games are also share a dreamlike quality. Games like Limbo (pictured above) often get drawn into the ‘games as art’ debate – but, expressionist artwork aside, is there really much difference between the boy searching for his sister and overweight Brooklyn plumber Super Mario travelling from left to right to rescue the Princess? We don’t really care whether any of it makes real sense because finding your sister or rescuing a princess seems like a nice/fun thing to do!
Obviously not everyone likes David Lynch stories, often because his use of dream logic (or random weird stuff) is too disruptive for some tastes. But, on the flipside of that, does narrative ruin the inherent dream logic of games? As game narratives grow more complex, by adding more details and rules not just to the gameplay systems but to the reality of the gameplay world, are we actually making the worlds less realistic and plausible? As the level of realism goes up, does our suspension of disbelief go down?
Just as comic books can use the time and space between panels to let the reader’s mind make leaps of logic, perhaps dreams (and therefore the more ‘surreal’ games) seem all the more vivid, profound and memorable because they don’t even bother to try and make sense.
Or maybe, as this cartoon strip detailing how Pac-Man is as if ‘Kafka wrote a Lovecraft story‘ brilliantly shows, the joy is in letting people interpret things how they want to and leave something to the imagination. Even those of us who think about these things too much