Skies of Arcadia — there’s little I did in that game that didn’t result in something rather wondrous.Â And little that didn’t feel important in some way.Â Everything about Arcadia, it’s set up to build anticipation and wonder. Even just the dungeon and town design.
Take that ruin near the beginning; the tower where the moonstone lands, just after the intro events.Â There’s this long walkway, above water. The camera follows behind Vyse’s shoulders. There’s a fish-eye effect, which seems to make the path stretch on forever. And way on the other end is the dungeon.Â As Vyse runs toward it, his feet and elbows flail back toward the camera. He seems eager to get where he’s going. And we’re following him, seeing what he sees.Â It’s not really that far, but there’s this buildup of tension as you approach.Â And — inside, it’s one of the first real 3D dungeon environments I’d encountered in a console RPG.
That is to say: it takes its third dimension into account.Â As it it’s a real space, with is own logic.Â As you progress, you begin to understand the importance of features that you didn’t more than notice before; elements of the dungeon’s structure.Â And eventually, you solve it like a Rubick’s cube of sorts.Â You’ve unlocked its secrets, and mastered some skills, and begun to own some space.
It leads you on, but it does so by trusting you to follow your intuition.Â And when you do that, you’re rewarded.Â That is what is glorious about the game.Â It is built to reward curiosity, and gut instinct.Â And it does a great job at creating that curiosity to begin with. That is its genius.Â Then there’s the fact that most of the elements that are required to understand are in plain view through most of the game — it’s just that you need to play the game, to understand the significance of everything in the world well enough to put it all together.Â It’s a real place, and you get to know it by living there.
By the end of the game, there’s this sense of great enlightenment. So that’s why the world is the way it is. And — there’s still more left to discover.Â It leaves one with the feeling of possibility.Â Like anything could be out there, if one just were to work hard enough to find it.Â It’s incredibly inspirational. And this is all… intentional. Maybe not fully conscious, but it’s part of the game’s design.
Part of this comes from the protagonist, Vyse. There aren’t a lot of positive models in modern videogames. Not a lot of hope.Â After all of this cynical angsty Squareish teenage punk nonsense, it’s refreshing to see a lead who is actually a hero. Who has some spirit.Â It makes me feel like… I can do things.Â It’s all about attitude.Â That is to say, what you make of your situation.Â I feel that he’s the condensed center of Kodama’s message to her audience:Â Never give up. Never look down. Be proud. There’s always a way.
It’s not just the actual events within the game — it’s the strength of the conceptual significance behind them.Â I mean. It’s fiction.Â But fiction illustrates a lot about normal life.Â One of the best traits of fiction is the capacity to illustrate possibiliy. Whether this is tangible possibility, or just the emotional sense for where it comes from and what it means.
This isn’t something that you honestly get from most videogames.Â I’ve only gotten it from a handful.Â The original Zelda. Phantasy Star II. Riven. Skies of Arcadia. They all have made me look at the world differently.Â They’ve strengthened me, personally, in one way or another.Â That’s a sign of pretty good literature, I’d say.
I find it really interesting that Kodama is responsible for two of the games on that list.Â She… well. There’s a reason why I cite her as my favourite game creator.Â Shenmue has a bit of that, although its clunky (if endearing) AM2-ish edges keep it at a bit of an emotional distance.
The reason why I cite these games as amongst the best I’ve played is because they aren’t content with just being videogames, as such.Â They carry a deeper meaning.Â And not a contrived one, just for the purpose of being “deep”.Â They… stretch outside the boundaries of their medium and do something, emotionally. They actually speak some pretty inspiring messages to their audience, if the audience is willing to listen.
Most games are too calculated.Â Most games are designed by programmers.Â Or worse, by people who want to make videogames.Â Kodama and Miyamoto are both artists, foremost.Â Miyamoto has become… entrenched in Miyamoto in recent years, unfortunately.Â Still, he started as a slacker art school kid who didn’t even know that the company he was joining made videogames.Â Kodama didn’t exactly know what Sega did either, from what she says.
Rand and Robyn Miller, behind Myst — well. They certainly didn’t set out to be game designers.Â And by the time they’d gone through their first rough draft (that being Myst itself), they had amassed a pretty huge trove of mythology. They just… wanted to make their own world, with its own history and logic.Â And all of that work came to fruition in their second game.
This stuff, you can’t teach it.Â Being taught means being told “this is how to do things”.Â Generally speaking.Â Learning, on the other hand, means coming to recognize the organic patterns behind things and how to relate with them. It’s about communication.Â This isn’t something that can ever be pressed into you.Â It’s something you have to have the will to seek out on your own.Â The most someone can do is to set all of the right pieces before you, and to illustrate what they might mean.Â But it’s up to you to approach, and to add those pieces to what you’ve already collected. And to pick up the hints as to what else they might imply about you and your world.
It’s just like how you can’t tell a person how to write a novel. Or else you’ll get… a bunch of form-feed novels.Â The best way to learn is to simply have the right environment. To have the right materials around. To be given enough context and enough carrots to inspire you to look for meaning on your own — to care about the world, and about life. And to have someone or something you can use to reorient you, whenever you’re lost.Â And this is why art is so very important. That’s part of what it does — it provides some of that context. It helps to hint you in the right direction to finding your own meaning in life.
Art is actually a strange term. It’s rarely used correctly. Even I misuse it.Â Art is a process, more than a thing.Â A thing cannot Be art, in and of itself. Art comes in the process of interpretation of that thing, by the individual.Â It’s a way of looking at the world, really. As is science.Â Hamlet is not art, unto itself. It is art To Me, because I appreciate it as such. Because its meanings are strong enough, and I’m able to find something within them that has relevancy to my life.Â There is no objective Art.Â By its very nature, art is subjective.Â It’s when people try to put art on a pedestal that it gets… well, pretentious.
Something to think about: the only way you know the world is through your own senses, and your own understanding of the world.Â Whether the world really exists, you can’t know. The only basis for verification that you have is your own self.Â Objectivity — removal of one’s self from the picture at hand — is useful for understanding the inner workings of a system within the world that you perceive.Â However — whether or not thost things really exist, that you choose to be objective about, really comes down to a subjective decision.Â Therefore: in order to gain understanding of the world, the first step should be to search for what the world means to you. Through that, you can do anything else.Â You can play with your subsets of objectivity all you like.Â Of course — once objective understanding is established, that automatically gets kneaded back into your overall subjective understanding of life, your world, and what sense it all makes.
Science can, in a very real sense, be considered an art — inasmuch as it is a subset of the same methodology of understanding, with its own unique behaviors — just as philosophy differs from painting, differs from film direction, yet all are the same thing in the end.Â It’s all life, really.Â It’s all about understanding, and communication.
Videogames, too often, are held as objects; as important for their own sake.Â It’s easy to be fetishistic about them.Â I certainly am, at times.Â This is a problem of interpretation, all across the board — on the part of the “consumer” (read: the audience), as well as the critics as well as those who actually produce the games.Â The average videogame is no more important, artistically, than the average Hollywood explode-a-thon.Â Or romantic comedy, or whatever other tired formula you like.Â All the same.
Now. There’s something to learn from that as it is!Â You know what they say: there’s more to learn from bad art, than from good; from carelessness, compared to compassion.Â Provided that you’re willing to put in the effort to find it.Â However: something needs to change.
If this medium is ever going to become respectable, and to come unto its own as a form of expression — we need more people communicating through it.Â And using it as a medium to inspire understaning.Â We need to change our expectations, and stop considering videogames as important for their own sake, rather than for the the sake of the meaning they contain for us personally. And for the sake of the life which goes into them as an outlet for their creators.
Comfort is a dead end. Life is change.Â The moment you stop, you die.Â Either inside or outside.Â The body itself is ever changing; it’s different from one day to the next.Â All of the matter in your body now will be gone in seven years.Â You’ll technically be a completely different person.Â The moment that’s no longer true –Â it’s the same thing.Â It’s just the nature of life.Â Stasis doesn’t fit into that.
Gradually, I’m allowing more and more change into my life.Â And the more I let in (within my tolerance levels), the more I indeed feel that life.Â The more I learn to appreciate it, simply for what it is.
Videogames have the potential to convey so much meaning.Â And it’s not really a medium that’s been tapped well, on either end of the divide.Â Maybe I can help bridge the gap a bit. I don’t know.Â Help to give people one more outlet, to gain and express meaning for their lives.Â I guess… I’m pretty much doing the same thing.