Monday, April 13, 2009

A Gentle Breeze

As I have mentioned already, Flower came at just the right time for me. I was feeling fatigued after playing through many games with darker, supposedly 'mature' themes and my motivation to simply play a game was disappearing, fast. My anticipation for Flower was built by reading what other people thought about it, reading about why Flower is so enthralling, exhilarating and exciting to play; how it was artistic yet was just like any other game we're already familiar with; and how it was a symbol of our medium's growing maturity. The end result, for me, was an expectation that Flower would be a relaxing experience. An expectation it met without even trying, and a game that was such a breath of fresh air at the time I needed it most.

"If words like 'stunning' can describe most of the good looking games out there, then the word beautiful is how I would describe Flower. It is beautiful -- not just visually but the whole package. The minimal soundtrack, the implied narrative, the sense of discovery and the simplicity. All of it, every single element, combines to make what is just simply a beautiful game."

I also used the above quote to suggest how it made me feel. Seeing it in motion was a sight to behold; playing it using the motion controls of the Playstation 3 controller felt exhilarating; hearing the game's minimal yet effective music made me smile, something that grew wider as I uncovered the sensations of simple discovery. Every time I turned the game off, I was impressed by how enjoyable it was, how it made me feel and the thoughts it inspired. The game is simple after all -- short, sweet, accessible and doesn't pose a challenge nor punish the player at any time. The combination of these elements makes a beautiful game as far as I am concerned, and yet, wonderfully, it also provokes thoughts of a different kind.

One of the main things that Flower's experience indirectly showed me was that we, as gamers, take things for granted.

Throughout any given year we gradually buy games to get us through the months, then once the holiday season comes around we overwhelm ourselves with purchases on impulse, all because of the desire to be playing the latest and greatest thing. Of course that is not just our fault as consumers; developers and publishers alike save their bigger titles for this particular period spoiling us with choice and in recent years, quality. Some of us out there crave for these games to be spread out slowly across the year allowing us to dedicate more time to them; while some don't care about completion or seeing a story through to its conclusion, instead focused on ensuring they are seen as cool because they are playing whatever game happens to be popular that week. Some aren't as fortunate and don't have the privilege of being able to afford every single game they want, using the following year to catch up on titles while everyone else continues to play the next big thing.

If you ask me, we also expect too much. We expect certain features like a multiplayer component to be in most games. We expect games to release on the date that was announced, getting frustrated if that date isn't met and the game is delayed. We expect complex games -- from their systems and mechanics, to their visuals and sound -- to work absolutely perfectly, with no bugs, glitches or signs of a broken element. We expect to get what we paid for, no, more than what we paid for giving nary a thought to the fact that people made the game, people who need to make a living and people who are human. We are all human, we all make mistakes and yet we are all too happy to jump on our virtual soapboxes criticising in an inconsiderate manner as soon as we don't get what we wanted or expected. Some of this expectation is justified, perhaps even all of it (we are paying a lot for our games after all), but the approach with how people complain is at times, horrific. No one seems to stop and think about their fellow gamers, the developers behind their favourite games or how long, expensive and hard it is to create a unique game that stands out from the rest of the pack. We may be spoiled for choice and quality these days, but with that also comes a lack of consideration for any possible situation that may, or may not, factor into the equation. We just take it for granted and now that I have noticed it, I can't help but be disappointed in that fact or even myself for participating in it all.

You could even take this further and beyond the medium. Taking things for granted is not exclusive to video games, it's something that we do in our everyday lives as well. Common household objects like a fridge, kettle or TV are used daily, and it's quite easy to also assume that we all have cars, able to transport us to where we need to go. We have a roof over our head, devices to help us keep in contact with our friends (phones, computers, etc), beds to sleep in and food on the table. Every day we use, consume and/or enjoy these things and every day, we don't give them a second thought. It doesn't matter whether we earned the right to have these things because of employment or our hard work, and it doesn't matter how much or how little we enjoy using them -- my simple point in mentioning them is that we use them and don't ever think about why. They're convenient, aid us in accomplishing various tasks and that is good enough for us. Using them daily also makes us grow accustomed to the convenience they provide and because of that, we take them for granted. Just like we do with games, the people playing them and the people who make them, we don't stop to consider those who are less fortunate and don't enjoy these luxuries.

This post isn't meant to be a rant on how I feel about that nor is it expressing my overall opinion on the matter. Flower's elegance and simplicity showed me just how complicated all the other games we play are and as I thought about it more, I began to realise just how good we have it, and how lucky we are. Forget the luxuries of life. Just being a gamer today, in a time where the medium is progressing in wonderful and unexpected ways and a time where there is literally a game for everyone's tastes, is one hell of a luxurious position we find ourselves in. Continue to take it for granted by all means, but don't forget that it wasn't always like this either, and for that we should be thankful.


I love Flower, so of course I also love reading about it. Below are some links to other posts on Flower that I thought were fascinating.

- Flower's Precious Play
- I'd Rather Let The Flowers Keep Doing What They Do Best
- Flower Song
- The Odd Couple: Flower And God Of War
- Flower And WiiWare's Woeful Wilting

Hopefully you enjoy them as much as I did.

1 comment:

Joseph Rositano said...

A very interesting read.

While I haven’t played Flower (lack of PS3), I have played Endless Ocean on the Wii and loved its simplistic nature. All you did was explore the depths of the ocean and interact with different creatures. The developers did include a few traditional elements such as a story and various side-quests like taking a photo of a specific fish or going on a treasure hunt, but as a whole it was a pretty laid back experience. Like Flower, it was also beautiful in so many ways – from the relaxing soundtrack to the gorgeous reefs and rock formations – it’s probably one of the most over-looked Wii games published by Nintendo.

I feel it’s getting to the point in this industry where we’re seeing a lot of quality games being released, but at the same time they’re not offering a unique experience. Taking a look at Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, for example, it was an impressive game that I thoroughly enjoyed. However, thinking back it had more in common with the Jedi Knight series. Okay, you had force powers and could go ape on Stormtroopers and Rebels, but really you could do a lot of that in Jedi Knight as well. It felt more of a visual update with a few perks here and there rather than a completely original Star Wars game. As for other favourites like Halo and Gears of War, well, all these first person shooters are starting to look a like. I guess that’s why I enjoyed Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts so much. It offered a fresh take on one of my favourite franchises and was unique from everything else I’ve played in a long time.

As for your comments about us being spoilt for choice, I couldn’t agree more. As you know I purchased an Xbox 360 in December last year and have been frantically catching up on all the titles I’ve missed. One advantage to this is that I’ve been able to get a majority of the games in my collection at a cheap price, but a disadvantage is that I don’t really have anyone to discuss the games with. Most people have moved on from, for instance, Mass Effect. When I was playing the game it was interesting to note how people would always say “Yep, I loved that game. Was very good” but they’d never go into great detail like they were with Killzone 2 (it was just released at the time I was playing through Mass Effect). Of course I’d get the occasional fanatic who’d talk about it in-depth with me, but otherwise most people didn’t really care.

Another thing I realise is that there’s no way I’m going to be able to get through all the Xbox 360 games I want to play and/or purchase. Many of the titles I’d like to play are out of print and are quite hard to find. You’ve also got the expansive Arcade library to think about. Combined with the time it takes you to play through the game properly and the cost of purchase, it’s very easy to become overwhelmed by it all. That’s why I like the “chew your food” expression you brought to my attention a few months ago. I was rushing through a lot of the games I bought simply so I could move on to the next thing. I’ve slowed down now, I take the time to enjoy things. A recent example is Perfect Dark Zero. The game is relatively short, but I’ve been playing it on and off for the past few weeks. I think I’m enjoying it more that way. I get a feeling for the story and gameplay, but at the same time don’t get bored with it. Developers put a lot of time and effort into their work, so we should be thankful for it and take the time to enjoy it.

I realise I side-tracked there a bit, but I understand what you’re trying to say in the post. There are so many great games out there with all these features that a lot of us never experience to their fullest. We constantly rush through them to follow the hype-train, and yet occasionally something like Flower or Endless Ocean comes along that makes us sit back and appreciate their simplicity. I guess that’s a reason why I’m also fond of the occasional puzzle game. Many of them have a basic concept that works so well they just click. You appreciate their level design, addictive gameplay and quirky nature. Perhaps it’s because you’re not focused on your health meter, how much ammo you have left, and the dozens of enemies from all sides shooting down on you. Either way, it’s just nice to sit back and relax when we have all these complicated games being released on a weekly basis.