Last week, I wrote a fairly serious (and lengthy!) essay about video games and art. To help make my point and to add some humor, I included a video of Soulja Boy analyzing Braid:
I didn't have room to go into all the reasons I find this clip so amusing, but I want to expand on a few of them here. Jorge and I try to strike a balance between gravity and levity in our work, and I think this video is a great example of how something can be both light-hearted and insightful.
"You just walk around jumping on shit"
When you get right down to it, the basic structure of Braid, as well as countless other games, pretty much boils down to "jumping on shit." Replace "jumping on" with "shooting at," and you've probably described the majority of video games. Often, the line between an "art" game and an "entertainment" game is an aesthetic one, rather than a mechanical one.
"He looks like Mario in the future...in a business suit, with his hair dyed orange."
Intertextuality, anyone? As a medium, video games have reached a point where allusions to iconic figures denote meaning. Players have grown accustomed to the implications such allusions make. Something that initially looks and feels like Mario primes the player for a specific experience.
"Shit I'm gonna die! Woooooooop!"
One of the best about having established conventions is twisting them in unexpected ways. Like any experienced player, Soulja Boy knows that jumping into a pit while playing a platformer means "death." But Braid subverts that almost instinctual knowledge and lets you do what we've spent decades dreaming about: instantly rewinding a mistake.
I could write a thousand words about the mechanical and emotional resonance of such an action, but it is just as easily expressed by a long, giddy yell.
"He don't never run out of the 'go back in time potion'"
Pause to think about all the arbitrary elements of a game for too long and you'll quickly find that most titles are riddled with inexplicable oddities. Why do red barrels always explode? How can a character survive such a long fall? How exactly does "health regeneration" work? As Soulja Boy points out, the rewinding mechanic in Braid might as well be governed by some sort of mysterious, never ending supply of magic potion. The point is not the rationale behind its existence, but the effects its existence have on the game world.
"This shit's stupid as hell, man."
There's no rule that says games can't be both thought-provoking and stupid. Red Dead Redemption was great because of its bleak message about civilization's failings. It was also great because I was able to jump off of buildings and scare unsuspecting crowds of people. Far Cry 2 conveys a sobering story of war and violence, but it also provides an inexhaustible supply of stories about the sheer stupidity of starting a fire in the middle of a forest or letting a grenade roll back downhill towards you.
Enjoyment doesn't necessitate solemn reverence. Clearly, Soulja Boy is having a great time laughing at Braid's absurdity. He calls the game stupid as hell, but he does so with a smile. I suspect it's the same smile I have when I'm chainsawing an alien in half while playing Gears of War. It's one of the things I value most about video games.
"Video game" can often be a cumbersome term, especially in the context of ever more sophisticated titles that blur the lines between scripted media and dynamic systems. However, it's still useful for reminding us of the medium's inherent playfulness. It's alright to be silly and poke fun at games. There's always some kind of hidden depth behind even the stupidest situations.