If you’re like me, your earliest association with flash gaming involves setting a frog in a blender on different speeds. The end result was a cartoonish, bloody pulp. Not exactly a transcendent experience.
Things are different now; there is an ever-growing oeuvre of intriguing flash titles. The website Casual Gamer Girl has compiled several lists of free flash games over the last few years that have piqued my interest and warrant exploration from all those serious about gaming.
I find flash to be an exceptional format because it’s a democratic format that allows a wide variety of designers to actualize their gaming visions in very accessible ways. There is more than a few pixels of the auteur spirit in several of these games, which I find to be most welcoming.
I also enjoy the scope of these games: they’re short and they’re sweet. They ideally function something like poems, whereas standard-length games more resemble novels.
So, in that vein, I offer three noteworthy flash games — and pair each with an artistic work that speaks to the same themes and aesthetics.
–The Company of Myself
The Game: Although it’s admittedly light on plot, this game is a great example of how the flash format can weave innovative gameplay and evocative moments of storytelling into a highly rewarding gaming experience. Told from the perspective of a lonesome man who has isolated himself from the world, the plaintive titles at the beginning of each ‘screen’ strike an effective balance between exposition of story and of mechanisms for solving the various puzzles put forth. One provocative moment of forced tragedy withstanding, though, the game’s main strength is its engaging system of using ‘ghost’ versions of previous play-throughs as aides in accomplishing your goals. The content of the game never quite approaches the efficacy of this structure.
The Pairing: “Happy Days”, a play by the Modernist master Samuel Beckett. The unnamed character of “The Company of Myself” passes his days in solitude collaborating with his mirrored selves; this play’s main character, Winnie, is just as alone but much less mobile (being almost completely covered by a huge mound of dirt). The genius and beauty of the play is in witnessing Winnie struggle against her awful condition with ritualized primping, invocations, and musterings of optimism. In a way, the person playing “The Company of Myself” is doing something very similar for that man: pursuing distractions, for the sake of battling off misery.
–Colour My World
The Game: One of a series of four exquisitely-designed games, Colour My World is a treat largely due to its aesthetic: it is entirely hand-drawn, black on white, with clickable elements that splash color into the scenery. The gameplay is standard platforming; your character is on his way to have coffee with his lover, and the cold mechanical obstacles in your way are contrasted by the greenery and roses and symbols of love you create through your clickings. It’s not challenging, but it doesn’t want to be. It’s beautiful for the sake of being beautiful, and on those terms it’s very winning.
The Pairing: “Manhattan”, the Woody Allen classic. Its penultimate scene – where Allen’s character frenetically negotiates the dense, black-and-white New York cityscape in order to meet with the girl he loves – is almost precisely the filmic mirror of “Colour My World”. The fact that the flash game doesn’t attempt to shed light on the anxieties and complexities of love that “Manhattan” so brilliantly elucidates is not “Colour”’s fault. In fact, the moment where Allen sees his young object of desire’s face at the end of his mad dash is one of the more affecting beats of the film . . . and the very type of moment that is the ultimate goal of your character in “Colour My World”.
–A Mother in Festerwood
The Game: This is a small gem of a game that will shock you with its anxiety-to-pixellation ratio. You play a mother who must tend to your adventurous child as he rapidly grows; this essentially means you can stand in his way to keep him from walking past you. The thing is, you can only go within a certain radius of your home, and your child gets faster as he gets older, and past said radius is a forest teeming with wild animals that will kill your son with little provocation. Accompanied only by a simple proverb and artist statement, it’s a game that tugs at the boundary between control and submission in a way that speaks directly to a central human emotion: the need to protect your child, and one’s eventual powerlessness in doing so. It’s not fancy, and it’s not nuanced, but I find it to be an accomplishment.
The Pairing: “Black Swan”, the 2010 psychosexual drama that grabbed five Academy Award nominations. Barbara Hershey gives an excellent turn in this movie as a mother who is increasingly incapable of keeping her daughter from the dangers of her world; substitute the bears for the oft-masochistic world of professional ballet, and those strange black alien things for mental illness, and “A Mother in Festerwood” shines some light on the agony Hershey’s character goes through. You’ll certainly wish you had the option of locking your child into his cottage, that’s for sure.
What digital games can do that other art forms cannot is insert the player into the invented environment. By witnessing a great movie or play, and then playing a game that has thematic similarities, one can gain a new and exciting aesthetic experience.
So, what will your pairings be?
About the Author:
Drew is the guy who comes over and demands you play Mario Tennis with him. He is also a playwright, couch-surfing traveler, and sometime Internet-writer for such conglomerates as MTV Networks and Village Voice Media.
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