Art games and going with the Fl0w.

I recently realized that many things that I love, such as comic books, card magic, and video games, are things that border on art, but more often than not don’t fall into the category of truly respectable art. They seem to be constantly trying to justify themselves to the “artistic community”, or perhaps to their own communities. It makes sense that science fiction writers and video game designers would want to justify themselves as artists because it’s what they do for a living. 

I’m of the persuasion that these things all are capable of being art, not just holding artistic qualities. This post isn’t about that though. This post is about video games as art and “indie games”.

It seems that recently there has been a movement in video game design and fanship that is trying to decipher where exactly the “art” in a video game lies, if there is any. In this movement we have seen many interesting games of various levels of complexity and ambition. If I had to recommend one, it would be Jason Rohrer’s “passage”. It kicks ass, and I think it proves in one five minute session that a video game could be art.

I don’t want to get too deep into the discussion of video games as art just yet though. I figure that will be for a future post, which will be much more well thought out. I do think at the very least that this new movement in video games is a good thing, because it generates discussion and calls attention the style over substance that we see in so many new games today. 

The exploration of the concept of digital games as art does bring one thing negative to the gaming world though. All of a sudden, video games can be PRETENTIOUS. 

I don’t use that word lightly. I’m thinking about Fl0w. Yeah, it actually has a number in the name of the game. It’s a playstation 3 downloadable that is based on a flash game released in 2006. So you’re paying 10-15 bucks for a flash game… okay, fair enough. It’s a game where you play as various little aquatic creatures that are all shimmery and squiggly, and you swim around eating other creatures, getting bigger and bigger until eventually you start again as a different tiny creature. 

This sounds like an innocent enough time waster to me. In fact… it sounds like newgrounds classic “fishy”, except with a top down view and a scrolling camera. The problem I have with this game isn’t the pathetically short length, or even the constant insistence that challenge is a bad thing (I bet you thought that would be my complaint huh?). My problem is the fact that everyone seems to think this game is deep and as mentally challenging as a Kubrick film.

Passage is extremely touching. It’s a well thought out and expertly designed metaphor. It isn’t exactly mentally challenging to figure out. Braid is a ton of fun, with a story that is just cryptic enough to give you some food for thought. Fl0w is FISHY with some trippy music behind it. I get that you’re supposed to lean back and let all your worries disappear and kind of space out playing it. That’s fine, but I don’t think it qualifies as art, nor is anywhere near as original or fun as the other two games just mentioned. 

I suppose Fl0w is less of a game and more of a hypnotist’s routine. It’s more about putting you in a place that it wants you to be than about interesting you, or challenging you. It didn’t work at all for me, and that concept really does go right out the window when they start doing traditional video game things to it, such as adding expansion packs. There’s even a multiplayer function in the PS3 version, which COMPLETELY defeats the purpose of the game as a “space out and enjoy” type experience. 

The idea of “indie games” and “art games” is definitely a fun one to explore. I’m excited to see where creative designers can take this concept. You can expect me to write a couple (hopefully) well informed posts on this in the future, but until then…

Fuck Fl0w.


1 Response to “Art games and going with the Fl0w.”

  1. November 25, 2008 at 4:08 am

    Fl0w and FISHY all sound a lot like the PopCap game Feeding Frenzy, which gets pretty hectic. I guess since it’s PopCap, though, it’s supposed to be short and with bright colours. As Some Dude I Used To Know (capitalized because I wish I could remember his name) once said, “Video Games have the potential to be highest and most accomplished art form.”

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