There is no time in my functional memory that does not include at least a passing knowledge of the existence of the ninja, so I can’t say for sure when I became aware of them. (Most likely it occurred during a way-too-young viewing of the 1980s Michael Dudikoff classic American Ninja series.) As with more or less every preadolescent with such inclinations, I became enamored with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the latter part of the decade, and as previously noted, one of my first games was Ninja Gaiden.
Innocence has been explored as a concept in video games since storytelling methods became advanced enough to utilize themes. This is not just limited to the ability of youth overcoming evil (Ristar, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, etc.), but the destructive force created by the loss of innocence. Secret of Mana, Panzer Dragoon, Astal, and dozens of other titles have shown that capable hands can use the medium to express the power and sadness inherent in the transition from childhood to adolescence.
Ico takes this to another level entirely. Not simply content to utilize age-old motifs and themes (burgeoning sexuality as seen in the character of Yorda, the dark magic inherent in child sacrifice), it plays on the themes of simplicity with regards to gaming itself. This is a game simple enough for a child to play, to understand, to interact with… but one that does not reveal its darkness in full until the gamer has already become enmeshed in the story and mechanics.
Ico is something else. Ico is about remembering what it’s like to figure things out for yourself.
The first time I fell in love, I remember having a lot of dreams. Some were the tame fantasies of boyhood, but for the most part, they were fairy tale inspired epics, a twist on the narratives of classic fairy tales, with us standing in for the leading players. Disney had done a good job on me, I guess. But falling in love is very much like a fantasy quest. There is a call to adventure, when you first meet your beloved, there is a pursuit, and complications, and then victory and jubilation (or defeat and self-improvement and reflection).
Warning: This essay contains a few spoilers.
What is the nature of power? Is it the ability to destroy? The ability to create? The ability to choose? The ability to protect? The ability to lead? Is it ultimate freedom, or is it by its very nature a contract with society?
Jade Empire, Bioware’s 2003 Action-RPG for the Xbox, asks these questions as the player fights his/her way through a 50-hour odyssey of magic, martial arts, and mystery. Utilizing an East Asian aesthetic (principally derived from Chinese mythology and Wuxia) in an action-packed, modern tale of fantasy (from a Western perspective), it forges a modern synthesis that meditates on the nature of achievement in life.
Bill Watterson is akin to a cartooning god for many people of my generation. His comic strip, Calvin & Hobbes, is justifiably considered one of the greatest achievements in his medium. It had wit, a deft touch of whimsy, and social commentary that still rings true to this day. It also mechanically changed how a Sunday comic strip could be drawn/displayed. The hermit-like artist, through his comic strip, sparked the imaginations of a generation of kids while indirectly making himself an anchor for Generation Y’s youth.
He was also wrong about a lot of things. Comic books can be stupid, but that doesn’t mean he’s not hypocritical for disparaging an entire medium (which is more a less a brother to his own) by blaming the content for the delivery mechanism. It’s also naive to want one’s art to reach as broad an audience as possible while remaining anonymous. This is no knock against his creation, of course, but rather a reminder to my fellows that Watterson was a man rather than a prophet
Every game is about choice, but some games are more about choice than others. BioWare, among other developers, has built their reputation on allowing gamers to (somewhat) choose the path to follow throughout their titles. Other games, even as simple as the most basic of edutational titles, put the gamer in the driver’s seat. It’s the principal difference between video games and other methods of narrative: technology allows for interactivity in narrative.
Music in games is a very strange thing. Given how, over the short lifespan of the medium, sound in general has been treated, the way that music has evolved has a sort of logic to it that sort of defies conventional explanation. Being both a sadist and a pretentious prick, I am going to go ahead with that anyway.