If Music be the Food of Addiction, Play On!

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October 17, 2012 by ald7th

The game Swords and Sorcery is a fantasy adventure game.  Classified as “indie,” this pixilated, point-and-click game immerses players into a separate world, mostly because of the musical soundtrack.  I arrived home for fall break unaware of what game I was going to do my paper on.  When my brother showed me this game on his iPad, I knew it had to be this one.  SaS is an engrossing game, which, for game play on mobile devices, is quite a feat.  The actions are not overly complicated, and rather old school.  The player moves the character by tapping where you want her to go.  Most of the defense is taken by flipping the device ninety degrees.  The puzzles are simplistic and relatively easy.  In the wider history of video games, Swords and Sorcery is not likely to make a ripple.  A recent game, released in March of 2011 for the iPad and iPhone, Swords and Sorcery was developed by Capybara Games and designed by the Superbrothers.  The soundtrack designer was Jim Guthrie.  Although the game was nominated and won a few awards, the lack of characterization, the simple game play, and the pixilated visuals do not ensure the game’s endurance.  Yet the game remains charming.

According to “The Myth of the Ergodic Video Game” by James Newman, he talks about the complex role of a character’s existence.  The unnamed protagonist in Swords and Sorcery meets only a few other characters.  She is also not defined by what she can do.  Her existence is not that complicated, for it exists only in one medium.  Yet her existence is still beyond the player.  Referred to as a Scythian in articles, the protagonist becomes the player.  As Newman references, the third-person viewpoint of the game is only important as it affects the game.  It becomes a game of “being,” not controlling.  It is very much a single player game.  By Newman’s standards, since the game has low-quality visuals, a secondary player would not enjoy watching, and the primary player would have issues with the limited game play.  However, the viewpoint of the character is important to me, the primary player, because I can see how it affects the way other characters interact with me, as well as my game play–interaction–with the wider world.  Finally, with the emergence of mobile games and casual games such as Swords and Sorcery, I again question the validity of Newman’s statements.  These games are more solitary than the big, AAA games played on the Xbox or PlayStation3.  Yet the game still finds a balance between the visual and the kinesthetic that satisfies the primary, solitary player.

In terms of genres, Swords and Sorcery fits into the adventure genre, as well as the niche of “art” games.  According to the fifth chapter of Alexander Galloway’s Gaming (which I accidentally read for Wednesday’s class), art games fit more into a “countergaming” perspective.  Often, countergames have a more unconventional look, trying for aesthetic beauty in its design.  To a lesser extent, SaS also fits into his binary distinction of representational modeling versus visual artifacts.  The powerful 2D aesthetics of SaS are not “mimetic modeling of objects” (125).  Although the game nears this, there are still some artistic liberties.  This is partly because of the fantasy imagery.  There are rainbows, mountains, and books of sorcery.  Magical creatures lurk in the forests.  As the game goes along, the Scythian can jump between worlds: the “dream” world and the “real” world.  The fantasy aspect of the game moves it away from any sort of simulation genre, as well as away from the action genre.  It fits in well with the adventure genre, with the visuals and game-play.

In Jesper Juul’s “Games Telling Stories?” he states that games are not narratives because of the time differentiation (in video games, the story time is more likely to equal the discourse time).  In Swords and Sorcery, this is not entirely true.  In the most confusing and frustrating quests of the game, certain events are supposedly only playable when the moon is at a particular phase.  This strange, otherworldly game, based completely in narrative, warps itself back to earth through this requirement.  The story time can be put on hold until the “real” world requirement of a full moon comes true.  Granted, there is a “moon grotto” one can unlock to then change the phases of the moon.  I did not get this far, for I was too frustrated by the idea that I would have to wait until the moon changed to get to the next point.  Time is supposed to be different in video games.  The game did not allow me to fall asleep and wake up, conveniently, when the moon was full.  It was not the symbolic action, but the real world action, that held me up.

Finally, I’m going to take a few moments to talk about the music.  The reason this game is immersive is not because of its visuals, characters, gameplay or narrative.  Rather, it was all of this combined, with the music.  I played this on mute for five minutes while trying to listen to the news.  It’s far less exciting.  Actions signal certain musical tracks.  Puzzles become more stressful as the music shifts.  The game succeeds because of Guthrie’s soundtrack.  The only sound that really matters in the game, the score both adds to the mood but also points out solutions to some of the tasks.  The aesthetics are nothing to brag about.  The narrative is simplistic; the gameplay, even more so.  Yet when combined with the music, Swords and Sorcery manages to immerse players and make an impact.

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