If you’ve read some of my older posts, you probably know that I just love to put too much thought to many of the games I play. Explore the themes. Read into the little features. Even when the developers didn’t intend that to be there. Especially when the developers didn’t intend that to be there. You probably also know that I am an amazing human being, and every living human either desires me or desires to be me. You wouldn’t think that would be related to my tendencies for over-analysis, but to be honest, I don’t know how I make my magic work, so it very well could be.
Maybe you want to be amazing just like me. You shouldn’t. You should want to be amazing in your own way. But if that way involves analyzing video games and other creative works, maybe I can help you with that. Let’s take a case study, and go over the sort of unconscious method I use to dig into the plots, the settings, the themes, the meanings, the hidden little features of things in a way that makes experiencing them so much more meaningful to me.
To play along, I ask that you give Loved by Alex Ocias a go. It’s a quick little platformer, minimalistic, not really heavy on the mind, but it has a lot of features that we’ll be able to apply the following lessons to. So please, if you have 10 minutes to spare, give that a quick playthrough before continuing on with the rest of this post.
Anyways, let’s get going. You want to analyze a game? Here’s how I do it.
1: Understand Your Filters
We’re all on our own lives here. Every single one of us has our own backgrounds, morals, beliefs, values, set of experiences, and whatnot. Your family, your friends, your work, all of them will have their own, different cultures. Every one of us has our own path through life, and have absorbed so many little unique bits into ourselves that make up a huge chunk of who we are today. And that impacts the way we view our media.
Assuming most of us here are human adults, our brains don’t experience most things in a vacuum. Rather, our brains will process stimulus by comparing it to what we’ve experienced in the past and basing it on that. Our past experience color and change the way we have our current experiences. We have lens. Biases. Filters.
Usually, this is not a bad thing. These lens can become overpowering, to the point where you’re primed to see something based on almost no indication and you ignore the contrary and deeper points and you end up having big, dumb, easily refuted rants about the deeply offensive targeted political statements of Princess Tutu or something, but most of the time, they’re just a thing to be aware of. They can be helpful to you, in fact, giving you an interesting and unique way of looking at the media you’re going through. And these change with time as well, as we all go through life. Our understanding of the world evolves, and with it, the way we enjoy our fiction. To make the most use of them, however, you need to know what they are and where they’re coming from. Knowing what you connect with and why, what’s going to make the most impact on you and how it gets there, is really the prime step in going for a deeper understanding.
So, in the case of Loved, it starts of strong with just its title. For those of you who aren’t playing along, a) c’mon, seriously? and b) Loved is a simple platformer where the narrator is continuously putting you down and ordering you to do things which are commonly not in your best interest. Obeying the narrator adds more details to the environment and gives the interactable objects distinct shapes, but leaves the world black and white. Disobeying adds color to the world, but leaves things as indistinct squares. There’s only two characters in the game, you and that narrator, and you’re given very little details on either. Because of the title, you know it involves love of some sort, and it’s clearly an unbalanced sort of love, with the way the narrator treats you, but other than that, the specific impression of the relationship between the two, that all comes from you. So who were they? A romantic couple? Parent and child? Owner and pet? The game gives little indication. Your sense of their relationship is going to come from your filters.