Video Games: The Beauty Beyond the Bullets

In an industry often dominated by violence and gritty content, we can still find beauty...and we don't have to look very hard, either.

I'm strolling along a bustling street. The sun is shining, enthusiastic vendors are hawking their wares, a town crier is attracting a small, mildly interesting group. I continually scan the skyline; not to catch the occasional flitting bird, but to marvel at the wondrous architecture of a time long past.

It's Rome and the year is 1503. It's not real but as I'm playing Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, I choose to focus on the beauty and meticulously designed environment. I'm tempted to simply stand and watch. I watch the forbidding movements of the patrolling guards, the limping of an old man, the swaying of the courtesans; I watch with relative awe.

"It isn't real," my brain says.

No, it isn't. But it's an example of the beauty of interactive entertainment that often disappears beneath a maelstrom of bullets and blood.

I switch games.

Here, I'm a little boy. One night, he wakes to find his world has changed. A quiet yet atmospheric rain continually dampens the Parisian sidewalks along which I scamper. When the rain hits my body, I'm at least partially visible. When I am sheltered from the ceaseless drops, I am entirely invisible, although I do leave telltale tracks in the water.

The mysterious beasts that roam the night hunt another prey. There's a little girl who always seems to be just beyond my grasp. She's being pursued and I must reach her in time. I have no weapons; I have no super skills; I'm just a little boy, living a compelling nightmare that arose from the broad pastel strokes of a talented artist.

When I've had my fill, I leave the artistically infused world of rain behind.

Now I stand in the midst of a seemingly barren landscape. I'm holding a sword and I'm riding a valiant steed. I hold the sword up to the slanting sunlight; the blade catches it and magically focuses on a point on the horizon. I head off at a dead sprint, intent on reaching my quarry. The subtlety and mystery of my situation is somewhat disconcerting, as is the knowledge that whatever I find could crush me into a fine powder in a matter of seconds.

As I approach my destination, my pulse quickens and my mind begins to whirl: What will I have to do to conquer the mammoth beast? Will it require an attentive, strategic examination of the environment first? Or should I find a safe place and observe my gargantuan foe for a while? Or, what if I can't see it initially? How do I bring it close enough without losing my fragile life? And could my courageous horse be of any assistance?

When the latest mammoth enemy comes into view, a thrilled, fearful emotion rips through me. After working and thinking hard, I finally bring down the immense beast with an equally immense satisfaction. I take out Shadow of the Colossus disc and try something else.

I'm nothing but a little stick figure. Or rather, I'm a godlike being that can tell this figure when (and how quickly) to walk. He has only one goal: Reach the exit - marked by a simple black circle - without falling. It seems relatively simple at first and indeed, the first puzzle is simple. However, I immediately grasp the future complexity of the game.

"Perception is truth," they say. Here, we find that exemplified in one of the more challenging interactive experiences in existence. I twist the puzzle one way, I twist it another. I try to find the exact right position, which will allow a path to open that wasn't there before. As I think, the soothing strains of a violin concerto allow me to concentrate and further appreciate the art form before me.

It's a little frustrating but an appreciation for what has been created overrides the irritation. Hence, I switch from echochrome (with the full knowledge I will return), and sample another.

I am but a bit of paper. I can assembly myself almost as I see fit; the more paper accoutrements I unlock, the more customization options I have. I run on spindly paper legs and interact with a world made up entirely of paper. The enemies, the trees, and indeed, every last bit of the environment is comprised of paper. It's an immensely creative, wonderfully engaging world that constantly surprises me with its innovation and singular sense of style.

It distinctly reminds me of another set of games, where I play as a cute little sack puppet of sorts, who interacts with endlessly imaginative environments, the likes of which I'm allowed to create (if I've got the requisite motivation and imaginative skill). Between Tearaway and LittleBigPlanet, there are mountains of unique possibilities. I need only open my mind and discover them.

Time for something completely different? All right.

Should it be the brilliantly presented desert in Journey? Or the brilliantly presented desert in Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception? Two desert environments; two worlds created entirely differently and with entirely different purposes. Should I play through Alan Wake again? I recall the tortured writer's frightening travels and the otherworldly experience he has; I recall feeling simultaneously edgy and intrigued. Perhaps I'd rather pick up the 3DS and relive the glorious days of yesteryear, when my friends, Mario, Metroid and Zelda, proved year in and year out that beauty - if in a more family-friendly form - is forever part of Nintendo's milieu.

From floating on a breeze as a bunch of flower petals, to catching a picturesque sunset in an amazingly appointed fantasy landscape, my options appear limitless. Do they go beyond bullets and blood?

Oh, absolutely.

Featured Columnist

A gaming journalism veteran of 14 years, a confirmed gamer for over 30 years, and a lover of fine literature and ridiculously sweet desserts.

Published Jun. 22nd 2014
  • Cassie Gotto White
    Contributor
    I loved this. It's sad that some people will never see the beauty in games.

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