30/09/2011

kung fu disco

Walking through a mausoleum of tat (or shopping centre) the other day I recoiled in horror as I came face to face with a life-sized, life-like cardboard cut-out of a standard issue Hollywood celebrity. You know the type, it looks almost human, with a face and everything. I'd say it almost looked like the real thing but it seemed far more authentic, more true to life than any so-called human seen on-screen. You see them all the time, in their blockbusters and their rom-coms, but they never look so full of life as when you see them in two dimensions or less.

It's the dark side of the media age, you begin to lose the plot faster than Michael Bay at his best. Everything is in high definition until the day we get bored of the mere details reality has to offer us. Soon comes the day you turn on your favourite show in super high crikey-vision only to find that your television is displaying images in a higher resolution than your eyes can cope with. The result? Your head explodes, in 3D, the end.

Oh yes the third dimension, the current bandwagon of choice. Truly this is where history ends until, you know, the next time. Just imagine the movies of Jennifer Aniston coming out at you from the screen and wonder why the entertainment industry just doesn't invite you to experience your darkest nightmares in 3D instead. Who knows where the search for the perfect image will end? In tears presumably, with weapons-grade entertainment projected onto the inner side of your eyelids from a device located where your brain used to be. I'm sorry but those motor functions will just have to go.

It's an arms race to the apex of visual perfection but what will it look like when we get there? Answer there comes none obviously. Visual imperfection is a far more comfortable easy-going notion, far less taxing on the old brain matter lurking in our skulls, a term describing as it does pretty much everything we can lay our eyes on. 

It certainly didn't hinder the games of the past. Space Invaders wasn't held back by a lack of computer-resuscitated special effects, nor was Pac-Man or Tetris. In fact I'm certain that five minutes of Tetris alone contains more plot than two hours of Avatar when measured in the absolutely unquestionably scientific scale of plot-per-minute.

Maybe for his next film James Cameron could give the world Tetris The Movie and finally blow our tiny little minds off for good, leaving us with but the minor problem of how to wear 3D glasses without a head to wear them on. Minus a head and free from involuntary acts of thought, our newly beheaded cadavers will no doubt show us where we have been going wrong all this time, thinking as we do with these lumpy appendages located above our necks.

Video game history is a recent history, a compressed history certainly when you sit it alongside films, books, music and the art of kung fu disco. So recent a history that those who played the games of yore three decades ago have grown up to make games themselves, games that in 2011, still allow us to unleash our inner spaceman upon quaintly rendered space-based invaders. 

Yep much like film, music and the like, video games are undergoing their own retro revival, remixing the game play of the past for the energy drink addled brains of the present. The end-results only play like something out of a top secret CIA experiment into cerebral warfare. I've played an updated version of Pac-Man recently, without medication. Thinking back I remember only a bomb blast of light turning up at the front door to my brain without checking in at my eyes first. It's half game, half cure for the laws of physics. Science should look into it.

But its not all about the high speed light shows burning patterns into your eyeballs. There are of course the more sedate charms of games like Angry Birds, Flow and Braid. All these games are nostalgic for the gaming of the past or rather, a particular idea of this thing we call the past. It's what the past always is to some, its something vague and out of focus but always better, ever better than the present. 

These games sticky tape the notion of high quality game play to a particular idea of what such game play looks like. In this case it looks a little rough around the edges, stylised, almost folksy even. The low budgets behind the retro revival of recent times is partly the cause for it but at the same time so much effort is put into how these games look I can't help but feel there is a conscious effort to evoke something here of the games of yesteryear. You can almost imagine these intrepid independent DIY programmers, these punks of the code working late into the night fixing each and every pixel to the screen.

But Space Invaders and the like were always the exception to the norms of their time. Perfect balances of function and form are a rarity in anything that has ever existed, ever. Now there are words that seldom like to be seen alongside each other, like trendy stew or Cliff Richard. Mainstream quality is another, in fact I've never heard of these two words in alignment before. But every so often blind eunuchs find their nuts and give us films like Inception or games like Portal and its sequel. Eye bleedingly good entertainment not short on ideas. Ideas always a good, ahem, idea no matter how much they're tarted up for the screen.

Unlikely to give up their love affair with high quality imagery any time soon, those big faceless corporations will no doubt slowly mainstream us all to death with only the occasional pause for thought. Meanwhile the little guys will continue to carve out their own little niche of the visual landscape with a fraction of the resources, playing the same game, trying to grab this notion of quality and making out like only they are totally for real yo! Me I'm too scared to wander in the open lest I get accosted again by the dead eyed glare of Justin Bieber in all of his two dimensions. Whoever wins, I lose.