It’s an interesting time for videogames.
For people of a certain age, videogames required maybe an afternoon to master completely and involved watching pokey, crudely rendered protagonists leaping over barrels thrown at them by a monkey while climbing layers of scaffolding. It would be more than difficult to explain Pac-Man Fever to the youth of today.
As games have become more immersive and movie-like through the first decade of the 21st century, the main knock against them is that they have provided thrills by placing the average person in the position of shooting increasingly lifelike people in the comfort of their homes. Even the videogame ratings system flips the meaning of the word “mature” to indicate that this is, in fact, its most juvenile content. The more advanced games became, the more their players were encouraged to exist in a state of arrested development.
Meanwhile, many women transitioned from critiquing the boy-man developers that videogame culture glorifies to making and playing games themselves. Likewise, the remit of videogame subject matter has expanded to encompass real-world issues that addresses other forms of violence in a more nuanced way.
The more advanced games became, the more their players were encouraged to exist in a state of arrested development.
“Papa & Yo”, for example, is a deep, phantasmagorical game authored by Vander Caballero that details his troubled upbringing in Columbia at the hands of an alcoholic father. Produced by Montreal’s Minority Media, it’s nominated in six categories for the upcoming Canadian Videogame Awards. With the success of other “mature” games like Flow, created by Jenova Chen and Nicholas Clark, and Glitch, produced by Vancouver’s Tiny Speck Inc., it seems like videogames are growing up. Glitch, in particular, was too wildly ambitious and well-designed to last for long, and is much missed by its fans who were unable to support it. Tiny Speck announced the end of Glitch last December, which has triggered an outburst of online love from fans of the game.
Into this new atmosphere of maturity walks Actual Sunlight, a game which places the gamer in the skin of a depressed office worker living in Toronto. The subject of the game is depression. Game author Will O’Neill has written a beautiful, powerful narrative, and has just concluded a successful Indiegogo campaign to raise a little money to improve the game’s design.
Gamespot Editor Carolyn Petit says the game is strangely affecting.
“As I played through Actual Sunlight, I couldn’t help but be affected by Evan’s mental and emotional state; O’Neill’s use of language is strong and unflinching (this is most definitely not a game for children), and over time, I began to feel beaten down by these interludes. Yes, I mean that as a compliment. You may not have much control over Actual Sunlight’s narrative, but I still feel like it benefits from being a story that is told in the form of a game rather than a book or a film.”
Gamification has become a buzzword, with services like Empire Avenue gamifying its users social media savvy, and social media itself being gamification of life itself, complete with scores (thanks, Klout). And as gamification increasingly stands in for experience, or creates a different kind of experience in which the purpose of games has been to provide an escape from reality, the culture could use more games that bring us back to life.
Below: the trailer for Actual Sunlight