Being Saved in Actual Sunlight

Actual Sunlight 02One of last year’s remarkable critical success stories, Actual Sunlight, is being currently remade into 3D by developer Will O’Neill. The game is testing waters on Steam Greenlight, and a demonstrative beta build of the new 3D version can be downloaded on the developer’s website.

The game is a “short interactive story about love, depression and the corporation”:

The game puts you in the role of Evan Winter, a young professional in Toronto, as he moves through three distinct periods of his life. The story is linear, unavoidable and (hopefully) thought-provoking. You experience his perceptions, fall under the consequences of his decisions, and meet everyone who didn’t change him.1

Inspired by the game’s resurgence in 3D, I would very much like to go back in time (it’s not like we get second chances very often!), to point out just one interesting feature in the original game – a feature that’s completely transparent, and ordinary, and yet crucially shaped my experience with the game.

The game engenders feelings, responses, and thoughts on so many different levels that there already exists a wealth of criticism (see, for instance, Chris Priestman’s and John Walker’s). So. I shall try to be to the point.


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Video Game Criticism and the Question of S#%t

The Binding of Isaac

I had (erroneously) assumed that I would never, ever be writing about s#$t in video games, but after recently posting my conceptual/generic analysis of The Binding of Isaac, questions of merit, value/quality and meaning, as well as the overall relevance of video game criticism, emerged – chiefly at Rock, Paper Shotgun, as usual, the Mecca of Video Games that it so happens to be (props to the poster Hexagonalbolts for the tip).

A swift return to the wonderful, wonderful world of Isaac is thusly in order. Obviously, being the hotbed for argument that it inherently is thanks to its religious leanings, The Binding of Isaac has been more or less at the centre of critical attention ever since its release.

Still, the mere idea of taking Isaac, well, seriously, seemed to produce in some commenters a more intensified response yet, and indeed, many questions were asked, more arguments had, with many an opinion ranging from the honest to the ironic. The question seemed to be, isn’t it simply too much to write about Isaac like this? Here are a series of strawmen of some of the aforementioned:

  • Are video games worthy of or suitable for analysis?
  • Is The Binding of Isaac worthy of such a critique?
  • Shouldn’t video game criticism be just about play and/or quality?
  • Are any of these meanings intended? Why look for them if they aren’t?
  • Why bother?

I’m not so sure that I can come even close to answering these questions in just one article, but on the whole, the question of “Why bother?” seems to encompass the rest of them. We’ll stick to that, for the most part. The reason I’m quick to jump into the fray with an in-depth response is that I find this particular discussion, of meaning, to be relevant for video game criticism on the one hand, and separate from the “games as art(?)” discourse on the other, even if this doesn’t appear to be the case first-hand.

The one chief aim of this article, then, is to answer the question of “Why bother?” especially as it pertains to the semantic/narrative functions of video games, as well as to discuss our understanding of video game criticism (its aims, objects, uses). As mentioned, I will rather try work my way around the question of “art”, only ever dipping my toes in its waters with the intention of otherwise staying firmly ashore. (more…)

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