Sunday, August 07, 2005

Video Games

Recent email discussion with one of the great (former) web cinephiles of my generation has piqued my curiosity about videogames, especially games as complex works open to both hermeneutic and historical investigation.

My all-time favorite game was probably Blades of Steel (Konami, I think? ... for NES), which I basically mastered (it's an incredibly easy game to master!). But what I want to talk about is a game for which I had much less proficiency, Samurai Shodown (the versions I was familiar with were the arcade one and SNES). This was a fascinating game which, for the most part, reinterpreted legendary and historical warrior figures (most, but not all, of which were Japanese in origin), gave them weapons and special moves, and stuck them in combat with one another. So as a text which "reimagines" cultural history of some kind, it's worthwhile. But its gameplay is also important--it always seemed like the most graceful of the fighting games of its period, which relied on psychology (e.g., a special meter measured how angry a fighter was, so that his or her hits were more damaging when they were landed). Moving to and fro and sparring was just as much of the action as a well-placed flurry of sword slashes: the intensity of combat was subdued (though not diminished) in a certain way in contrast to, say, Street Fighter 2 or Mortal Kombat. Playing Samurai Shodown was not solely a way to pass time; there was a certain transference of consciousness involved in the playing, so that the space and time of the game took on a kind of resonance; this is something that needs to be discussed and which has been discussed a little by the aforementioned cinephile, at least.

Thinking of videogames as complex, rich aesthetic objects (whether high art or not) is not something most of us, cinephiles or culturally savvy folks, are adept at right now, I think, but in the future thoughtful appreciation will be more widespread.


Steve said...

You should take a look at Dennis Cooper's forthcoming novel GOD JR. (I think it comes out in the next few weeks.) Half of it takes place inside a video game.

ZC said...

Thanks for the tip, Steve--I'll jot it down.