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Kill Screen – Issue #1

I had a lively discussion with my family at a recent get-together about the art of video games.  My mom inspired the conversation, because she was baffled by the popularity of graphic novels.  She was assuming they were all comic books, and that they had no meaningful content.  My mom is a public librarian, and will generally read just about any book on any subject matter, including a current book about vertical farming.  However, she’s got certain ideas about certain things, like comic books and video games.  I did too, until recently.

I read an article in  Kill Screen about the games of Stephen Lavelle.  A portion of the article compared the philosophy behind Lavelle’s game Home with that of The Sims —  his point being that when it comes to most games, if you keep playing, you will triumph eventually.   That’s not true in Home.  In Lavelle’s game, you are an old man in a nursing home at the end of your life, and no matter what you do or how long you play it, the drab circumstances and the choices you have as such a character don’t change.  My mom exclaimed, “Well, that’s depressing.  Who would want to play that?”

In all honesty, I haven’t played it, but I’m inspired by the idea of it.  If a game is really going to “simulate” life, then actually there are certain ugly circumstances you just can’t get around. You grow old, you fall apart, you die…that’s if you’re lucky and don’t die young.  Yes, this is a “depressing” notion, but it’s also profound, and not something I would have expected to think about because of a video game, a form of entertainment which I primarily associate with escapism.

Most people, when they go to the movies, want to be entertained, or when they look at a painting, want it to be pretty.  Musicals are the only form of live theatre that actually makes a profit.  While we ask entertainment to numb us, put us to sleep, make us forget, art is shaking us awake.  Art doesn’t pacify or satisfy, it provokes.  Both are fine, and in fact, both are great, because without those mediums created and intended for escape, there would be no art, and what’s more, art would not be necessary.

The fact that video games can intelligently comment on the world and on human existence is exciting to me.  I’m also impressed that video games can critique themselves using their own medium.  I always knew a play could communicate such a thing, or piece of physical art, but now I see that games can do it too.  I’m inspired that there is a segment of the gaming population who like to think, and who are open to games as a vehicle for societal and individual reflection.  I tried to say this to my skeptical family, but I’m not sure they were convinced.

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