Monday, August 18, 2014

Problem Attic: Cure for the Common Code

The Title Screen
Title screen image courtesy of Liz Ryerson
(Note: This article was supposed to appear last Friday, but due to technical difficulties with the Blogger backend, did not. It appears today. Thanks for your understanding.)

Brendan Vance, a game developer most famous for his stated mission to advance video games as an artistic medium through analyzing its theoretical underpinnings recently posted about the parts of a game design contributing to the whole, Marshall McLuhan, dissatisfaction with AA gaming, then video games in general... and the game that brought him back: Problem Attic by Liz Ryerson, in an essay titled "Form and Its Usurpers":
I develop video games for a living, but I spent last year really hating video games. I questioned how it was I could consume 60 hours of ‘content’ for Assassin’s Creed 3 yet feel utterly unsatisfied by my act of consumption. I questioned what it was I had consumed, other than my own time. I questioned what it was I sought from the game in the first place. I questioned the nature of the ‘content’ it claimed to offer me; privately I began to suspect it might not even exist. The games I was making and playing seemed more and more to me like empty forms: Puzzle boxes within puzzle boxes, each layer promising ‘content’ underneath it yet in the end yielding an empty centre. I became too tired and bored to care about games anymore. I could no longer see the point in it. I felt as if some enormous detritus had gathered upon my career and favourite hobby; that I could no longer reach through this detritus to claim the enjoyment I had once found underneath. 
I awoke from my yearlong stupor the night I encountered a game called Problem Attic by a person named Liz Ryerson. It was like nothing I’d seen before. Rather than a puzzle box, it was more of a sculpture.
The game Problem Attic itself is a bizarre 2-D platformer about that takes place in a prison, and addresses the idea of both prisons as a physical space and a psychological block. It has a deliberately lo-fi presentation done in a purpose glitch style, and as jarring as it can be visually, I think it feeds into the atmosphere of the game really well. One of the problems with the presentation though, is that it seems to get hung up on the "hellscape" atmosphere and tricking the player and confuses being overtly hostile in the story with being overtly hostile to the player (there is a part of the game where it quite literally tells you to go fuck yourself).

At any rate, Vance's essay covers a multitude of thoughts on being and identity and loss. It's also fairly long. You might want to pack a lunch or something.

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