I instantly fell in love with Jenova Chen’s game FlOw when I first played it last year. It’s such a contemplative experience to play the game – a rare thing in an increasingly accellerated and anxiety ridden world. Tonight I discovered Jenova’s earlier game Cloud which he completed while a student at USC.
I had such a strong emotional response while playing the game although it is clearly unsophisticated graphically and simply structured compared to commercial titles. It’s a bit like watching a low budget film with raw production values but a great story. But Cloud doesn’t really have a story though it manages to evoke the wonder of playful childhood daydreams and experiences. In a recent article in Gamasutra Jenova compares his games to experimental film and I think this may be a useful comparison.
story is a tool, but not the goal of video games. In the past, when you say “entertainment” — I mean, we care about entertainment more than story — so “entertainment” in a sentence, basically, it’s food for feeling. If you are hungry, you go to eat; if you are thirsty, you will drink; and if you feel sad, you want to do something to entertain yourself; or even if you feel too high, you want to do something to calm yourself down…But story is only a vessel. If you want people to feel a certain way, you don’t necessarily start with, for example, music. A lot of people use music for entertainment, but do you see story in music? Maybe in the lyrics, right?
And then, even for visual media, like animation or movies, it’s just right now the most popular genre uses narrative structure, but you’ve seen experimental movies and animations which have nothing to do with story, but are really intriguing to watch, and make you feel a certain way.
So I think story, or narrative, is a very powerful vessel to carry emotions.
I think experimental film has often pushed film grammar and language forward and helped it to evolve to new levels of sophistication. Jenova’s work is achieving a similar function in the games world and it’s going to be interesting to watch what comes next.