Back in 2010 and the furore of the late Roger Ebert declaring that ‘games can never be art’, I read this well-written editorial on a much-hyped video game which makes my heart sink, Heavy Rain. As developers of the form seem to be pre-occupied with getting the media seen as ‘art’, it seems like more and more titles like this are trying to show how complex their stories are, how ‘mature’ their content is; and I would argue it’s the small child wearing adult clothing and pretending to be mummy/daddy before it is even developed enough to be confident of it’s own identity.
Breaking down the term I uniformly use; video game; the first part, video means something graphic, something visual (as the phrase veni vidi vici would have it — I came, I saw, I conquered, thus providing the etymological roots for the words venue, video and victory) and this term’s modern usage sees it applied to matters of the screen – such as to watch a video, by way of example.
Secondly, a game. My first stop to define this term is dictionary.reference.com, which gives a broad but clear definition that a game is an activity to be participated in; to be played. The latin root for this is ludus, from which the name of the board game Ludo is derived, but also Ludology. Without going deeper (another entry, maybe?) ludology is the study of play, of interaction.
I consider myself a ludologist; play and interactivity define video games as a form for me, not the story or camera language or anything else it borrows from the more established media (a terrible habit of the industry which is why, even as an ardent gamer I was at one point inclined to agree with Roger Ebert about their non-legitimacy as an artform – at least until they learn to exist on their own terms). A game doesn’t need to be validated with a narrative. Twenty two athletes are not kicking a ball around a field because of some complex politics, cards needn’t be grouped in an orderly fashion on a table because aliens are invading, and tetrominoes certainly did not kill your father.
Continuity is an amazing example of a game. Although not scored (and with only two ‘achievements’ to note), it is through-and-through a game, and unashamedly so; mixing the concept of a traditional sliding-tile puzzle with the most basic of platform game mechanics, the concept is pure ludology. The age old lock-and-key dynamic is the one which ultimately solves levels, but an application of lateral thinking, spatial awareness and manipulation of this space will achieve this.
Controls are very simple, arrow keys ‘slide’ the puzzle pieces or make the player’s stick-figure avatar move, with the space bar switching between these states; background music alternating between a meditative piano piece and a higher-energy electronic version of the tune to differentiate the different styles of interaction. The tiles must be joined via ‘matching’ sides for the player to navigate from one to the other, to get the key(s) and enter the door.
Early puzzles in this game are very simplistic. Forgoing the modern games industry trend of spoon-feeding the player with the information they need to learn in order to progress, Continuity lets the player find out in a series of very simple early stages in which the rules, one by one, are made clear. It is nicely paced, and allows for a good 9 levels of progression before upping the ante and really testing the grey matter.
I am impressed with this game. If games are to be seen as ‘art’, this is an example I’d rather hold up than the likes of Shadow of the Colossus or Heavy Rain, since it is no pale Hollywood imitator. It is also free from many of the short-sighted constraints that video games usually place upon themselves, too – levels can be skipped if too difficult, there is no time limit – this would make the ideal first video game for someone who had never played in their entire life. It is what it is — a game, without apologising for itself or trying to justify itself. And it is genuinely relaxing, yet engaging.
The link to Continuity. Go play it.