Action-adventure

Why are we playing computer games, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? Can the interactive artist isolate and vivify all in experience that most deeply engages our intellects and our hearts? Can the programmer-creator renew our hope for the interactive medium? Why are we playing computer games if not in hope that the creator will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so we may feel again their majesty and power?

What do we ever know that is higher than that power which, from time to time, seizes our lives, and reveals us startlingly to ourselves as creatures set down here bewildered? Why does death so catch us by surprise, and why love? We still and always want waking.

(Adapted from Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life

Beyond Korea: Kickstart me on a new journey screenshot
Jordan Magnuson's picture

It looks like my time in Korea will be coming to a close soon. I’ve had an amazing time here, teaching English, meeting people, having experiences, writing about and making computer games… and I’ll be sad to leave. I’m also excited, though, for what the future might hold. My current plan, for when I leave Korea is to do some extended traveling throughout Southeast Asia and beyond. 

That’s exciting in and of itself, but what really has me stoked is the idea of attempting to communicate my experiences while traveling through computer games: of using computer games as a form of travel writing, if you will. You may have noticed that I’ve already been pursuing this idea to some extent with Freedom Bridge, Being There, and Loneliness: my recent notgames about Korea.

To my surprise these creations have gotten a fairly warm welcome (especially Freedom Bridge, which made its way around Twitter and the blogosphere), and now I’m looking at pursuing “travel games” in a more extensive fashion.

This is where you come in. I know that I’m going to travel when I leave Korea, because I know that I can fund the travel by doing web design while on the road. But that won’t give me much time for making games. So I’ve started a Kickstarter project to see if I can’t raise enough funding to allow me to focus on game creation while traveling, instead of web design. 

So I’m asking you to watch my intro video, check out my project website, GameTrekking.com, and consider making a contribution if you think it’s worth it. I don’t know that I’ll make anything great, or memorable, but I’m going to give it my sweat and blood—I’m excited to try and use the interactive medium in a way that it hasn’t been used before, and see what happens. 

Thank you always for taking an interest in this website, and my work.

Jordan Magnuson's picture

Just a quick announcement to let you know that I’ve implemented a new comment system on the site. Avatars are here, and you can now optionally log in to leave comments using your OpenID, Facebook, or Twitter accounts. Also, when you get email notifications to threads, you can now reply to the thread directly through email without even visiting the site! Pretty cool huh? All courtesy of Disqus. The old comments will remain up for now, and as soon as the functionality is available (currently in development) I will import them into the new system.

Secondly, I’ve set up a guestbook, for all you people nostalgic for the 1990’s . I know that some people like to read but don’t leave comments, so here’s your chance to let me know who you are, so we can start to develop a little sense of community. No more reviews until you sign. Cheers.

Academic Paper Revisited, Episode 1: Attack of That Darned Question! screenshot
Jordan Magnuson's picture

A paper I wrote in 2005 for an undergraduate Aesthetics class, in which I examine that clichéd question: can video games be art? The question is addressed here specifically in the context of art history and art theory. To that end I briefly analyze video games from the perspectives of mimetic theory, formalism, art as play, deconstructionism, art as political platform, the Artworld theory, and the theory of aesthetic experience. The style is necessarily academic, and I hope that my reader will not hold that against me.

It is perhaps obvious, but should be noted that my views have changed somewhat in the four years that have passed since I wrote this. I still think it serves as a decent launching point from which to think about games and art, however, especially in the broader context of art theory. And that is why I have bothered to transpose it.

The paper begins thusly:

It’s 2:00 A.M. Saturday morning, January 29th, 2005. Artist/Entrepreneur/Game Designer Derek Yu sits on the floor of his San Francisco apartment with a paintbrush in one hand and a joystick in the other; I’m halfway across the country conducting an interview via Microsoft Messenger. “Why make games?” echoes Derek, “Because to make a game is to create a world. More so than a book, a painting, or a movie, a game is something where the creator has complete control over the rules. And for a creative person, you can’t ask for a better opportunity.”

It’s 2:00 A.M. and my senses are starting to fade—did someone just compare making video games to painting and writing? I have to go to bed.

Ten hours of blissful sleep later and the interview feels like a dream: video games are video games, art is art, and that is that—all is right with the world. For two weeks. At which time an innocent friend tells me about Sanitarium, a “serious” computer adventure game that I just have to play. The game engages me, frightens me, and leaves me in emotional tatters—at which point I recall Derek’s words. Could this game be art? Surely not, but perhaps I should look into the possibility—just in case.

And now my world comes crashing down. Upon “looking into it” I find that far from being alone, Derek is only one of many people who seem to be on a veritable crusade to validate video games as art objects. I find websites dedicated to game art, museums featuring “art games,” and academic papers discussing video game aesthetics… what in the world is going on? Read more »

Shadow of the Colossus: It's a Poem  screenshot

Shadow of the Colossus

Game released: 2005

Developer: Team Ico

Production: Commercial

Platforms: PlayStation 2

Price: $19.00

Get it from: Amazon
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My life is flashing before me, and I wonder if I will get down from here alive. “Here” being the back of this behemoth of all ancient beasts, this blue whale monster of the air. Like an elephant senses a fly it has become aware of my presence, and it is writhing to shake me lose: I am an inconvenience, a tickle, an insect that it would rather be free of. And so I cling to my life by the hairs of its back, and pray for the strength to hold on. The world spins around me, and I wonder at my power, and my weakness: the fact that I have in my hands the means to end this creature for all time—though it does not know—and the fact that, if it does not stop spinning, my body will be crushed against a desert rock within the space of three seconds. I wonder what has become of Agro. Dear friend; she will miss me.

Such moments as these are not uncommon while playing Shadow of the Colossus, a game released in 2005 by the same people who made Ico. And what I mean when I say this is not that such moments in their factuality are not uncommon—not that you often die, or often fight large creatures—but that such moments of epic poetry are not uncommon. Shadow of the Colossus, more than any game I’ve ever played, brought me close to Tolkien and Beowulf and Sagas of Icelanders: the game is a setting, a feeling, a long waterfall of tumbling verse. Read more »

Ico: What Will I do for an NPC? screenshot

Ico

Game released: 2001

Developer: Team Ico

Production: Commercial

Platforms: PlayStation 2

Price: Out of print

Get it from: Ebay
Jordan Magnuson's picture

I’m always looking back to find good games that I missed playing at their time of release. In this case I recently got access to a Playstation 2 for the first time, and decided to take advantage. Ico, a minimalistic, puzzle-based, action-adventure game created in Japan in 2001, is an astonishingly fresh experience, and a contender for the single best computer game I have played to date.

In the game, you play the title character, a young boy born with horns who is imprisoned in an ancient castle as a sacrifice. It is granted that you must escape, but what really makes this game a beautiful work is the interaction you have with a captive girl you find locked in a cage at the start of the game. Yorda speaks an unknown language, and is in the castle for unknown reasons; she shines, and as soon as you release her shadowy creatures are after her. The relationship you build with Yorda as the game’s story unfolds, developed entirely through body language and character action, is an astonishing achievement, and unprecedented in my computer gaming experience. There are so many good things about this game, that I will have to back up. Read more »

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