There’s a perennial debate as to whether video games can be art. The height of it came when Roger Ebert weighed in on the subject and declared emphatically that is was impossible. Although he later apologized (conceding that as a non-gamer, it’s not his place to judge or label others’ experiences), the topic itself still lives on. Probably, it will for some time until this relatively new medium has found the same place in popular culture as movies, books and plays.
The dictionary definition of art is “The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” In that sense, I’ve played some games that definitely qualify. Games where, yes, the gameplay element and/or “fun factor” is important, but it’s the “art” side of things – the message, the meaning, the characters, the way it makes you think and the feelings left behind – that make them most worthwhile. One such game is a little Flash title called Today I Die.
Today I Die starts with a girl on the brink of suicide. The game itself offers no real explanation why she’s so depressed, but through a series of simple puzzles and what basically amounts to magnetic poetry, it’s up to you sort out her feelings and bring her back into the light. The game only takes a few minutes to finish, and the site it’s on offers some hints in case you get stuck. It even has some replay value: a choice presented at the end that affects the final outcome.
The graphics are extremely simple. I think this is good for the game. Without a lot of fancy stuff getting in the way, your attention is more focused on the gameplay and the message, whatever they might mean to you. The music, too, is a perfect complement: it both enhances and captures the mood as it guides you through the girl’s emotional journey.
Today I Die is the kind of game that’s probably different for everyone, and I recommend that everyone should try it at least once. For me, it’s a game I tend to come back to when I’m feeling hopeless and the fog refuses to lift or during less dire times when I just want a reason to smile. Somehow, working out those puzzles and putting it all together is often as helpful for me as it is for the pixelated girl. Not so much a joyous thing as quietly triumphant.
Oh, and if playing this game makes you cry, you won’t be the first.
You can play the game here: http://www.ludomancy.com/games/today.php