“Video games can be all kinds of different things, representing all manner of artistic ambitions. Most, however, share a common goal: to conjure a compelling fictional reality, filled with beckoning mysteries, enchanting secrets, and enriching opportunities to compete and collaborate. They aim to provide a liminal space in which a determined player can fix that which is broken, order that which is chaotic. By this definition, at least, Elden Ring is the finest video game yet made. Its final gift is the assurance that, whatever monsters lurk in a broken world, with perseverance and cooperation, they too can be overcome – all without losing the mystery and wonder that makes our existence beguiling, infuriating, and fascinating.”
The funny thing is that the only thing I’d heard about Elden Ring is how they did not include an in-game journal. Some decided to deal with this practically, by creating an analog journal. Others decided to complain, “It’s 2022; why doesn’t your game have a journal?” The game company that makes Elden Ring is known for making difficult games. It’s an aesthetic choice. Same people prefer things with difficulty, like Spinoza’s quote: “Everything excellent is as difficult as it is rare.” Anyway, this five star review will put this in my game queue, and I’ll likely by it several years from now, when it’s below $20.
“[Proxi] is in some sense a game of self-discovery, a game where we actually uncover the hidden you – your subconscious, your inner ID, and bring it to the surface, bring it to life so you can interact with it, you can play with it, you can learn from it and it can learn about you.”
It’s an interesting idea. Create a proxy for yourself that interacts in a digital world, so you can view your behaviors with some perspective. Learn a bit about yourself and use that knowledge for self-transformation.
The problem, of course, is that journeys of self-discovery tend to be painful. What happens when you discover something about yourself that you don’t like?
What most people do is try ignore it or tell themselves that what they learned is not really how they are. There’s levels of deniability. I’m not a self-absorbed asshole. I’m not usually a self-absorbed asshole. The people around me are self-absorbed assholes. My environment is making me into a self-absorbed asshole. And so forth.
The appeal of this game, at least initially, will be the same appeal of psychology. People that want to learn more about themselves. The problem is that a lot of those people are self-absorbed assholes, and since they have put themselves on a pedestal, they’ll be inclined to blame the game or game the game. They’ll change the representation to reflect their views of themselves. So, it will perpetuate the delusions of self they already have and not be an exercise of self-realization.
So, the market for the stated purpose will be very much like the market for painful self-reflection in our everyday lives, almost nil. People use games as a way to escape reality. They rarely use them to gain insight into reality.
“This is why I love Disco Elysium. Why I think it is one of the most shit-stained, beautiful, and hopeful games I have ever played. Throughout its entire length it never fails to give testimony to the pain and splendor of Revachol and of life. I have thought about it every day for the last year and a half because it was the game that helped me learn what to do with my own bullets.
Tell stories and never stop, even when it hurts. Reach into the holes and pull out lead. Plant seeds in the wounds, and then watch them bloom.”
The article above has spoilers. The main thing you need to know is that it is highly recommended. To confirm, I checked in with Steam’s reviews. This is the top recommended review on Steam over the last 30 days by someone with over 80 hours in game:
Best RPG I have played in the past years. It is a very strong title. Like Heavy Rain, Dishonored, SOMA, Dragon Age: Origins, Walking Dead, Last of Us, Witcher.
It is like an interactive book. With decisions. With consequences. With unique skills. Memorable characters. Story that is more deep than you can imagine even in the middle of the playthrough.
It is a comedy. It is a drama. It is a world with grey colors in everything: characters, choices, outcomes.
At one moment you will be laughing at great jokes, idiotic situations, main character, somebody else. At the next moment you will be depressed because of some outcomes.
Beware that gameplay mostly consists of reading and choosing the options, so if you are not into this, you may not like it.
Disco Elysium deserves even more than it’s regular price.
This is truly a gem in modern gaming market. Such a pity it happens so rarely.”
The history of The Residents is shrouded in obscurity and aptly covered elsewhere (we recommend Ian Shirley’s definitive text and Don Hardy’s Theory of Obscurity as starting points). We should also point out that there will be no discussion here speculating on the band’s identities. Who they may be is irrelevant to the sweeping vision of their art and music.
The Residents have continuously operated under what they dubbed “the theory of obscurity.” Under this idea, they could work on their art without worrying about anything getting in the way. Per Shirley:
[the theory of obscurity] laid down the mantra that The Residents would conceal their identities so that people could focus on the music, art, and visual presentation they created.
I was going to add this history of The Residents as another entry about them in this blog. I’m not a huge fan of their music, but I love the idea of The Residents. The theory of obscurity really gets at the idea of how our creativity is hemmed in by the identities we create for ourselves, and it is good to find ways to transcend them. This, in turn, reminded me of a talk that Christopher “moot” Poole, the creator of 4chan gave years ago.
I like Poole’s ideas about identity. The fact it is multifaceted is clearly true. People do need a certain degree of freedom from their identity in order to explore interests and potentially evolve into someone else. It’s easy to imagine the different experiences of say, a Frank Zappa or Tom Waits, compared to The Residents. At one level, even the title “musician” would preclude trying to create a video game, or even be a part of one. David Bowie and Omikron: The Nomad Soul shows how difficult this kind of exploration can be.
But, on another level, it’s also clear that some of the comments haven’t aged well. I don’t pretend to know what is going on in 4chan these days, but the general drift seems to be away from anti-establishment to alt-right. And, it raises the critique of Penny Arcade’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, or the idea that a normal person who is anonymous and in front of an audience will turn into a total fuckwad. What happens when you have a community of fuckwads? Or, a significant subset of a community of fuckwads that are some subset of bots, trolls and so forth that currently call Twitter home?
And what is the relationship between being different and being a fuckwad? I don’t really know the answer to that. I think we need to develop the capability to be different, and in order to be different, it helps to see other people being different. But. we live in a cultural environment of homogeneity and appropriation. There’s a world of difference out there, but most of us are being different, just like everyone else. The easy route to difference is to cast yourself in opposition to the mainstream. It’s looking to the “alt”, whether that is music, politics or something else.
And, I guess what I personally want to embody, or find ways of bringing out in myself, is not by defining myself in opposition, but by trying to reduce the ways I define myself at all, like that Paul Graham essay about keeping your identity small. I think the way to do that is to just follow our interests, for as far as we can. Like the Helsinki Bus Station Theory, so few of us develop a distinct voice or worldview because we are constantly being influenced by new things that are being surfaced to our attention, whether that’s 5G or the latest event in the outrage cycle. The only way we can develop into someone different is to unplug from that world, that way of thinking, and decide to try on a different point of view, and once we find a point of view that works for us, to keep at it.
In the beginning, mountains are mountains. Then, mountains become something else. In the end, mountains are mountains again. But, it’s never about the mountains. It’s about the person experiencing them.
“While visiting his parents’ home in Central New York, Joe Granato discovered a box of forgotten illustrations, designed by he and other eight-year-old neighborhood friends—concepts for a video game for the original 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System. He decided it might be fun to try to realize those ambitions.
But instead of creating it for a mobile device or modern console, he set out to use the same techniques and adhere to the same limitations that would have been employed in 1988 to make a new cartridge-based game actually playable on the now-archaic hardware.
Gathering a small team of modern creatives, what began as an explorative novelty project about building a video game for a system 30 years removed from relevance escalated to a two-year, ten-thousand-mile journey into an esoteric subculture made up of devotees to creating new NES games; artists who thrive on limitation.”