At first glance, Jonathan Blow’s time manipulation puzzle-platformer Braid (2008) and Suda51’s experimental action-adventure Killer 7 (2005) appear to have almost nothing in common, although both lead players down paths of reflection. Braid’s impressionist scenes are full of light, pastel colours and flowing detail, whereas Killer 7’s noir tales rely on shadows, bold colours and sharp minimalism. Yet both games are often named as supporting examples in the ‘games as art’ debate. According to Henry Jenkins (2005), it is the emotional impressions created by games that qualify them as art, in turn allowing them to be stylistically categorized. Thus, in order to decipher the intended message or purpose of games, both the aesthetics and mechanics of games must be taken into consideration. This is highlighted by Chris Crawford’s comment that cosmetic aspects of games are necessary but supporting elements, secondary to the dimension of interactivity (King, 2006, p. 125).
The first element of Braid which captures players is the text passages at the beginning of each world. They premeditate the quest ahead, and set the mood for contemplation. The art style complements this, as the tiny protagonist wanders towards a door amongst illuminated clouds, giving a sense of purgatory. Each world focuses on a different element of human interaction with time: forgiveness, mystery, place, decision, hesitance and regret. Each world introduces a game mechanic that represents the theme and the art style changes from world to world accordingly.
For example, in ‘Time and Forgiveness’, the rewind function is introduced, which allows the player character Tim to undo mistakes instantly, rather than the traditional use of waiting for time to heal wounds. According to Braid’s artist David Hellman (2008), the level was drawn to create a feel of exploration and forgiveness, using earthy tones and bright colours for positivity.
Conversely, the grindhouse opening of Killer 7 forces players into the only action available – shooting a silhouette that causes the screen to flood with red – a motif throughout the game, signifying anger, revenge and violence.
As agent Garcian Smith strides through the cell shaded city at night, the player anticipates an apocalyptic battle ahead.
Once the player gains control, the on-rails system (which restricts movement), dark corridors and dissonant synthesiser combine for a general sense of unease, heightening the tension for when enemies appear. This causes sensations of paranoia and claustrophobia, reflecting the wider theme of distrusting corrupt governments and despair in the face of pandemics.
The incomprehensible dialogue of Iwazaru and Travis, along with a lack of explicit directions (signs etc.) creates confusion, reflecting the psychological uncertainty of many of the main characters. Both Jonathan Blow and Suda51 intended their creations as statements against the mainstream games of the industry. For Blow, the thought of games that are unlike anything that came before them drives him to create games with meaning (Totilo, 2011). For Suda51, experimenting with story, game design and the structure of gameplay in Killer 7 was aimed at creating a new experience for players (Low, 2007). Ultimately, the critical success of Braid and Killer 7 brings Blow and Suda51 closer to their goal in legitimizing games as an art form.
Braid (2008) Number None, Inc., Number None, Inc.
Killer 7 (2005) Grasshopper Manufacture, Capcom.
Hellman, D. (2008) The Art of Braid: Creating a Visual Identity for an Unusual Game, GamaSutra.
Retrieved from: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/132147/the_art_of_braid_ creating_a_.php?page=3 on 7/8/2012.
Jenkins, H. (2005) Games, The New Lively Art, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Retrieved from: http://web.mit.edu/cms/People/henry3/GamesNewLively.html on 7/8/2012.
King, G. (2006) Tomb Raiders and Space Invaders: Videogame Forms and Contexts, London, GBR.
Totilo, S. (2011) Jonathan Blow, Opinionated Creator of Two Video Games, is ‘Attempting to be Profound’, Kotaku. Retrieved from: http://kotaku.com/5829591/jonathan-blow-opinionated-creator-of-two-video-games-is-attempting-to-be-profound on 7/8/2012.
Low, D. (2007) Suda51 Talks Emotion in Games, ‘Breaking Stuff’, GamaSutra, Retrieved from: http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=13578 on 7/8/2012.