Persuasive Games: Video Game Kitsch
February 17, 2009 Page 2 of 3
The Player of Light
Take Ferry Halim's online Flash games, published on his Orisinal website since 2001. Halim's games are perfect candidates for videogame kitsch.
They borrow conventions from casual games, using simple mouse movement and button pressing as their sole controls.
Thematically, the Orisinal games depict idyllic scenes of natural beauty and wholesomeness, riddled with cute critters and schmaltzy musical scores. And from the perspective of production, Halim's games are well-executed, with high-quality illustration-style graphics, smooth animation, and fitting sound effects.
Take the first game published to the site, Apple Season. In the game, 100 shiny, red apples fall from the top of the screen, accelerating as they spin. The player moves a small basket side to side at screen bottom, attempting to catch the apples.
The source of the apples isn't shown, allowing the player to fill in the details: perhaps they are falling from an unseen, noble orchard tree, waiting to be reaped by ruddy-faced families. The score display at the bottom adds the final packet of saccharine sweetness: apples are not caught, but "saved." The noble player basks in this virtuous, if corny victory.
Or consider Take Two, a game about helping a dog and cat help one another. Adorable, illustrated animals (a Halim trademark) stand at opposite sides of a seesaw.
When the player clicks, the animal at top jumps down, vaulting the other up to the platform at top. The player attempts to time these jumps such that each animal captures treats that pass across the middle of the screen.
Take Two capitalizes on the metaphorical sentimentalism of working together. The dog and cat, so often thought to be at odds, work together (thanks to the player's intervention) to meet both their needs.
A new age piano loop cements the game's already glaring mawkishness: if only we could all get along like the adorable puppy and kitten.
Or take another game, Rainmaker. In this one, the player pilots an adorable lad atop a cloud. When clicked, he strikes a mallet against the cloud, causing rain to pour down below.
Meanwhile, black birds fly from side to side; the player must time and orient the rain showers such that they wash the blackness of the birds into a bright white, crows becoming doves.
Again, the game's sentimental message is clear: the innocence of youth, represented by the boy-cloud, can overcome the world's sorrows, represented by the black birds. Secondarily, the rain -- often an omen of despondency -- can also deliver joy. The game can be succinctly summarized with cliché: every cloud has a silver lining.
Both Rainmaker and Take Two include Halim's characteristic style of the nostalgic halcyon of lived environments. In Take Two, the background includes a blissful, clean city block, light spewing from behind a building, Kinkadesque.
In Rainmaker, the cloud and birds fly above an idealized city at golden hour, its rooftops blurred in a rudimentary but effective simulation of the shallow depth of field one might see on a postcard photograph.
Like Kinkade's art, the games of Orisinal depict idealized versions of locations and situations that probably never existed, but which the player can enjoy occupying as if they had.
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