Can’t upload photos at home so I thought I’d just write a short piece on p0nd.
Spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t played the game yet you can play it here @ http://peanutgallerygames.com/blog/games/pond/
When I first finished the game, my first impression was dissapointing. Why is there a kraken at the end? It so totally threw off the aesthetic of the game. And I thought the authors were resorting to cheap violence when they had spend so much effort on building a cohesive/coherent world. But then on further hindsight I realise that that kraken is important and this is my take on it.
p0nd is at its simplest, a game. What constitutes a game?
1) There is some form of gameplay where you are tasked to do something, an action. If a game asks you to sit back and simply watch something, its not a game.
2) There is some form of interim reward or progress for doing said action.
3) Eventually that action will lead you towards a final goal (and in many cases, a boss battle.)
4) There is some sort of ending, usually happy and cutscene-driven.
Besides the conventions that all games share, within games there are also genre conventions. In the role playing game, you kill things, and there is an epic story. In the fighting game you kill things, there is a story but you don’t care about it anyway. In the first person shooter – you shoot things to kill yada yada yada. In indie games, you do almost the same stuff, but you do it beautifully.
Having take some film mods, i have learnt that genre conventions are some of the most powerful tools available to film-makers and to game makers. For one they are a set of rules which have been shown to reliably elicit certain emotions powerfully. Secondly, genre conventions once violated, forces people to think more carefully about what they have seen and not just be passive observers. Without genre conventions to violate, who will the rebels rebel against?
I have also learnt that the most preserved and beloved films belong to two camps. One camp of films conform so strictly to the genre conventions as to elevate them to archetypes. The other camp is iconoclastic, subverting genre conventions so as to reveal something through the subversion. The best films somehow manage to straddle the two.
p0nd belongs to this category. As a game it fulfils everything that is expected from a game. You do stuff, defeat the end boss, go home happily ever after. Yet people find it subversive why? Because as part of an emerging genre of indie games with unique gameplay, they never expected it to toe the line by including an epic boss battle with health bars and an epic finishing move. It is both subversive and conformist.
The quote at the end of the game, “I could be wrong…” by Roger Ebert was taken from a follow up piece he wrote to an article in which he said “Games can never be art”. The authors want to put this game across as art. I think that is a little pompous. But I believe it may be true. This piece holds up as art, not by itself, but because it illuminates the fact that the stage has been reached where games are mature enough, to have their audience expect something out of the experience, and to have that expectation exploited. It left me outraged. It left me disappointed to have my beautiful indie landscape torn apart by some hideous monster. But most importantly it also left me to think more deeply about what I had played and how that kraken tore apart my expectations.
What about the message? Is it a parody of the indie game movement? Is it a dialogue on the value of going out to play versus staying home to watch television/play video games? Is it a comment on violence in video games? Is it a critique or response to Ebert? The message doesn’t really matter as long as you understand it has something to say and that the answer will be different for everyone.
I realise my thoughts are really incoherent and they aren’t coming out in the right order so ah please forgive me for the lousy writing. I realise what has stopped me from blogging regularly is the fear that I can never write well. Actually it applies to everything. Reading the works of others, looking at the pictures taken by others, hearing the songs sung by others, it all seems so polished and skilled and wonderful. So, because of that I stop trying, but i won’t ever reach the 10, 000 hour rule like that. So I just got to keep trying I guess.