Saturday, October 5, 2013

"The Sum Total of Every Expressive Medium of All Times"

by Drew Martin
Last night I watched Indie Game: The Movie, which is a really interesting and beautifully made documentary from 2012 about young, indie video game developers, who spend years of their lives designing and programming computer games. They see their characters as extensions of themselves, and their work as a contribution to the ultimate medium. Phil Fish, the guy who developed FEZ says of video games,

"It's the sum total of every expressive medium of all times, made interactive."

Super Meat Boy, developed by Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes, is a cube-of-meat character that navigates a platformed world of spinning buzz saws, which show no mercy and often leave him in a splat of blood. This does not sound very insightful but Meat Boy is actually a very touching character. He is a boy without any skin; always vulnerable and perhaps constantly in pain. He quest is to rescue his girlfriend, Bandage Girl, the only person who can complete him. One of the most uplifting points of the film is when McMillen and Refenes watch YouTube videos of people playing the release of Super Meat Boy. All of their trials, sleepless nights and anxiousness is wiped away with broad smiles when they see how much people enjoy their game.

Consciously or unconsciously, the Canadian filmmakers, Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky, recreated Edward Hopper's iconic Nighthawks (second from top) in a scene that follows Refenes to a Waffle House at 4 am (top). Nighthawks is one of the most recognizable American paintings, and has been parodied by replacing the original 1942 diner customers with characters from Star Trek, Sesame Street, and The Simpsons. The scene from Indie Game, however, is not a cheeky reference but an interesting modern take because we learn so much about Refenes before we find him in this lonely spot, and we see him continue his life afterwards. He explains in this moment that he is broke, and could not go on a date if he wanted to because he does not have a car or money to treat someone to a dinner.

Fish's character FEZ (bottom) is a two-dimensional character with a cube fez hat that lets him navigate a three-dimensional world, one plane at a time. It brings to mind Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions not just because of its concept in relation to the evolution of computer graphics but because its use of the novella when it was written in 1884 is not unlike the young developers pushing the limits of their own computer game medium. Flatland is a critique of Victorian English society but its more relevant now for its exploration of dimensions. The main character is a square who dreams of visiting Lineland, a one-dimensional world inhabited by points, and then is visited by a sphere, which he cannot comprehend until he visits three-dimensional Spaceland.

Click here to watch a trailer for Indie Game: The Movie.