Tag Archives: playdead

Limbo: A Little Physics Platformer of the Gothic Tradition

Reposted from PopMatters Multimedia Reviews.

There are a few games we can look to as strong aesthetic experiences– games which strike us visually and tonally on the level of a good film or painting. Independent Danish studio PlayDead’s Limbo can definitely be counted among these. Everything about this title, from its stark, nostalgic opening title card to its Gaussian glowing lights, shallow focus and rich shadows, brings to mind some lost F.W. Murnau film. There’s something about Limbo, in tone as well as texture, that just screams its German expressionist roots: the anxiety, the ambivalence, and grim atmosphere are all palpable from the first screen, and follow the player through every puzzle and its harrowing descent into the dark.

‘Limbo,’ like ‘purgatory,’ arrives in our shared mythological lexicon via Catholicism, as a place where dead technicalities go. Although sometimes treated as the edge of Hell, it’s often viewed as a sort of neutral place, often lifeless, and far from comfortable. People who wind up in Limbo aren’t generally evil, but they aren’t godly in the conventional Catholic sense, either. It’s this role, as a morally-ambivalent inbetween space, that makes Limbo a fond subject in storytelling in both the literal and metaphorical sense– it’s a place for uncertainty and negotiation of the self, the rationalization of the unpleasant. And there are plenty of unpleasant things in Limbo, just as much as it is beautiful.

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Worlds without Words: What German Expressionism Can Teach Us About Game Design

Reposted from PopMatters Moving Pixels.

At the outset, the way in which video games typically use the word “genre” seems at odds with its more conventional literary and cinematic usage. But arguably, by emphasizing means of delivery, video game genre becomes the format informing emotion, which is not so far from the word’s more thematic meaning at all.

Just as the tropes of film genres train audiences to anticipate certain modes of behavior –we generally expect the action hero to kill to get what he wants, just as we hope the romantic comedy lead doesn’t— video game genres emphasize the power dynamic between players and events. Players, in turn, develop distinct emotional ranges and expectations with a given genre, and these are continually modified and projected onto by a game’s content. You expect to exert a greater level of tactile immersion with the full sensory space in a first-person shooter than you would a two-dimensional platformer, so a game like BioShock brings about its emotional reaction in part by violating that very expectation of (albeit illusory) player-character autonomy. Following on that, the comparatively high compression of a 2D platformer’s player-space interaction means the player’s main dialogue is always, first and foremost, with the space’s physical laws, rather than its social ones. In this way, platformers tend to fall along two major premises: man versus nature and man versus himself.

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