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Hang that game on the wall. Next to the Picasso, dear.

February 20th, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

I have long held that games are a new art form, but only very slowly gaining the acclaim that they are due. For too long, people have derided games as mere toys or diversions, unworthy of the status of being art. After all, since kids play these things, they can’t be legitimate works of art. They’re just things to keep us entertained for a little bit, and then they go away. But Psychonauts, if you’ll pardon the pun, has stuck itself in my brain, and will undoubtedly influence the tabletop games I run from here on out.

It’s been 7 years since the game was released, and I had always heard it was revolutionary, but no one could tell me why exactly. It was simply, “You have to play this,” from all corners of the internet. Then, Yahtzee came along with his review, and I was suddenly more intrigued. With all the attention on Double Fine because of their Kickstarter drive giving me the last push, I went on Steam and picked it up.

And I could not put it down. This is a game whose story is genuinely original and funny, a call to the days of old when humor meant more to a game than body count. It’s also profoundly moving. All of the characters are well detailed, because you have to help almost all of them with their psychological problems. There has to be literal depth there, as you go spelunking through their unconsciousnesses. If the characters don’t have story, then they don’t have problems for you to solve. Additionally, it ties in beautifully to the exploring element championed by Psychonauts; if you want to get more powerful, you have to achieve objectives within the “mindscapes” of the characters that involve uncovering their secrets and helping them with their (literal) mental baggage. As people hide their shame deep within their consciousness until it becomes a part of them, so too do the characters who you have to help. Secrets become things to search out and fight, or organize. Baggage becomes things to pick up and reunite. Every character has some secret, some shame, some hidden pain that you have to work out, or else you don’t progress. It is this depth that is truly refreshing in a game; I grew fond of every character, even the antagonist, though I have to say that the turning point for me was getting the achievement “I’m Sure She’s Over It”. I won’t spoil it for you, but she’s not. She’s just covering.

That’s what makes the game amazing. Its platforming blends into its story and back again. Because I took the time to explore, I found out a whole new level of depth to a major character. It changed my understanding of her interactions with everyone else in the story, and it is this level of seriousness and complexity which defines art.

When you can make a game go (ahem) levels deeper, and to change the way its players think, you cannot simply dismiss it as meaningless entertainment, devoid of any value other than wasting time. You have to give it more credit than that.

Buy Psychonauts. Play it, as it’s relatively short at 8-10 hours. Enjoy it.

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  1. Bret Hewes
    February 20th, 2012 at 23:20 | #1

    The Smithsonian opens its video games as art exhibit next month. Just sayin’

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