Letting Go of Reality

Curator's Note

Growing up with video games there have been countless moments when an onlooker has remarked over my shoulder “this doesn’t make any sense.” They have of course, always been right. From the earliest incarnations video games have explored the surreal and the fantastic. It may have been due to technical constraints but the first games deconstructed reality, built it anew, and rarely made any sense. The American mainstream’s introduction to video games wasn’t through a baseball simulator or digital poker, but rather an Italian plumber’s strange journey through a mushroom kingdom, impeded by koopas, goombas and a looming countdown to his death.

As more people play games these dreamscapes have become a shared experience, and the wild fantasy world of gaming has bled over into other forms of entertainment. Take for example Scott Pilgrim vs. The World which spews gamer “in” jokes and employs a bit-art style for gags. The summer blockbuster Inception, structured itself around a quest through increasingly difficult levels complete with a timer and bottomless pits. Both films are based on self-contained versions of reality and follow classic game themes.

The trailer for Sucker Punch embodies this meshing of video games with other forms of entertainment. There is a quest to collect items, a series of violent confrontations and a whole gaggle of princesses that need saving. It seems impossible that the variety of settings shown in the trailer could be logically tied together in the span of a single movie and there’s no promise that they will be. Films like this take an important step in tossing aside a grounded setting for pure visual entertainment, something video games have been doing for decades.

When a gamer’s mentality bleeds over into other mediums it can result in visual chaos, thematic nonsense, and some frustratingly convoluted plot lines. But games have also shown us that digital art can free us from the traditional boundaries of expression. Sometimes, eschewing a bland and ordered reality is the best way to resonate with an audience.


 I find it intriguing that you use the term "video game" but discuss console games. Which seems like a silly hair to parse on some level. However, I find it helpful to thing of the games through their platforms: computer games, console games, arcade games, mobile games, ect. Maybe that's less important these days because everything is networked (or MORE networked than it was before), but there seems to be characteristics that are more prevalent in certain platform games.

Computer games, because of the network, have evolved in ways that seem far more in line with Shigeru Miyamoto's exploration themes than his native system, Nintendo. The MUDs, text adventures and Ultima -- all the children of Dungeons + Dragons -- were, as you say, dreamscapes. They were literal representations of worlds we made up.

All that aside (because I now feel like The Comic Book Guy), I have to say the blending of game/graphic novel/film worlds is fascinating me. As a writer, I sometimes feel a bit left out of this world in a way I didn't imagine I would -- but as a fan of these types of blended worlds, I'm giddy to see the stories spilling out across different media.

When I see people like Roger Ebert decrying games as having no artistic merit, I get annoyed because -- as you have pointed out -- we're still early in this process, feeling out the rules and exploring the boundaries of what we can and what we should do.

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