Friday, July 30, 2010

At last, the game that will convince Roger Ebert that games are art

Above: A man who is ready and willing to listen to what I have to say, because -- no, seriously, listen.

A few months ago, Roger Ebert wrote the stupidest thing any Pulitzer Prize winner has written, at least since The Hours. This asshole actually said that video games are not, and can never be, art. (Not going to link him -- don't want to give him the traffic.) Can you believe this idiot?

To his credit, Ebert walked back his argument later, saying that while he, personally, does not give a shit if video games are art or ever could be art, he hasn't played enough to speak knowledgably on the subject.

Like we're going to let him get away with that.

I have just the game that will steer Ebert away from the dark path he walks. The game that will convince him not only that games are art, but that they have always been art, and always will be art, and will never not be art. A downloadable game has just come out that proves, once and for all, the incredible depth and meaning even the smallest games can possess. A work of uncommon subtlety and insight, it will convince even the lowliest, most wheelchair-bound, most unable-to-talk-anymore cretin that video games are art.

You know the game I mean. Roger Ebert needs to play Hydro Thunder Hurricane.

Hydro Thunder Hurricane uses well-worn gameplay tropes as a Trojan horse to deliver an army of metaphors into the walled city of your brain. Consider: Hydro Thunder Hurricane is a racing game. What else is a race? Working life is often called the "rat race." The Amazing Race is an Emmy-winning TV show. Politicians are always talking about the importance of race relations. (I'm not sure what this means??? I think it has to do with Nascar fans not getting along with Formula One fans.) Already you see how Hydro Thunder Hurricane is brimming with allusions to some of the core aspects of our humanity, not unlike other things that jerks like Roger Ebert would say are art, such as movies and books.

As the name implies, Hydro Thunder takes place on the water. ("Hydro" means "water," Roger. See? Games can be educational!) Maybe that's why it's so deep -- pun intended! Most of the courses aren't circular in this game. They have distinct start and end points, which are meant to represent birth and death, respectively. Each track is full of shortcuts, which are fun to find but which all lead to the same place. Isn't this like life itself? We all take our own paths -- maybe I'm a blogger, maybe you're a pompous movie critic who keeps talking shit about stuff he knows NOTHING about -- but in the end we all die. (Some of us hopefully sooner than others!)

Nor is the path to the finish line calm or smooth. Your hovercraft (representing you) is buffeted by wind and waves as you head toward the finish line (which is death, remember). The symbolism of the turbulent racing surface is clear: the waves represent the inherent uncertainty of our daily lives. We try to outrun our problems, but the faster we go, the choppier they get, and the more of their salty spray gets in our eyes, which makes it look like we're crying even though it's just because the saltwater stings. They're not real tears.

You can pick up "boost," which helps you get to the end faster, but is that such a good thing? And is it a coincidence that the boost is depicted in the shape of bottles? The bottle has had ruinous consequences for many people, most of whom were using it just to get through to another finish line (the end of the workday, say, or a long car ride). It was a brave choice of developer Vector Unit to tackle such a debilitating social ill, but I would argue that this is one of the noblest purposes of true art.

Hydro Thunder Hurricane toys with the emotions of the player -- it is at times beautiful and at times terrifying. The player runs the emotional gamut by the time it is over, and is left considering the consequences of what has just occurred. It is a difficult game, but there has never been one quite like it that so effectively communicates this trying world to the person who is experiencing it.

It is the kind of game that changes who we are. It tailors us; puts us in a place that is far away from where we were before we encountered it. And you can't say that about many things.


Louis Filiatrault said...

"Maybe that's why it's so deep -- pun intended!"

: D

Mr Durand Pierre said...

While I've never read The Hours, Cunningham's "White Angel" remains one of my fave short stories ever. Totally worth a read even if you couldn't care less about his more well known works.

Otherwise great article:)

Kent Sutherland said...

The wonderful thing about Hydro Thunder Hurricane is how it communicates with the player in a way that movies or books never could. The metaphors emerge from the seas of our minds as we paddle through the game. They do not come to us; we must go to them to discover them. This is the purpose of art--to be a mirror of the truer self.

And what if the surface of the water represents the line between our conscious and unconscious brain? Perhaps skittering across the sea is symbolic of how games flirt with our subconscious minds, as they exist in a realm that is never available to our deliberate thoughts.

The islands in the game are embodiments of the Hindu belief that our individual egos are like islands afloat in the sea--we imagine ourselves as separate entities, but we are all connected by the ocean--the currents of life. By controlling boats, we are navigating the space between selves, and we are exploring what links us all together as humans.

chevalier said...

You really hate Roger Ebert.

Ian Miles Cheong said...