The Art Gallery: Loved


The Art Gallery: Loved

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The Only Game That Has Actually Hurt My Feelings

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Are you a boy or a girl?  You’re wrong.  And that’s how Loved: a short story by Alexander Ocias begins.  Loved is a short platformer where you play a small creature that is berated for disobedience by a mysterious condescending voice.  Although it was just text on a screen written by someone I have never met before I couldn’t help but take the constant insults personally.  The music, messages and visuals create an atmosphere that feels oppressive but teases freedom if the player looks for it.

I would love (HAH!) to go into more detail about Loved but part of what makes it so compelling is the confusion the player feels and his personal exploration of the game.  Talking too much about the game before playing it would ruin the experience so take a few minutes and play through it first here: http://www.alexanderocias.com/loved.php  And make sure you play it twice.  Go on, I’ll wait.

Done?

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//SPOILERS***

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You didn’t actually play it did you?  Seriously, it only takes a few minutes.  It’s worth it.  Go do it for real now.  And play it TWICE.

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//END SPOILERS***

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Ok, so you’ve really played it now?  Alright then.

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//SPOILERS***

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I think the game is either about abusive parenting or possibly authority in general.  Right from the get go, the voice makes it clear that it has standards for you and it expects you to follow them without question.  If you do everything the voice says the game is actually not too terribly hard on you.  In fact it actually rewards you.  Every time you obey the voice the world becomes more distinct and detailed.  It allows you to see the world as it really is although I think one could argue that it only teaches you to see the world the way the voice sees it.  You can see that the check points are statues; you can see the dangerous barbs; you can actually see the forms of the hostile creatures that try to destroy you.  Bricks and foliage appear and vertical juts in the terrain look like roman style pillars.  And through you’re obedience you gain the respect of the voice.  It once again asks you if you are a boy or a girl and this time it says “No, you are a man/woman” agreeing with whichever gender choice you pick the second time.  In an anticlimactic ending you climb a mountain and grab a single coin, the end.  Congratulations, do what you’re told and you’ll get respect and wealth and you’ll be “successful.”  But that ending feels lacking.  It makes you wonder if you won at all; it makes you think that maybe that was just a waste of time.  It feels sad, empty.

Now if you disobey the voice, it insults you.  The voice takes any opportunity to make you feel inferior and dependent.  The second question in the game, “Will I teach you to play or not?” garners you no support from the voice no matter how you answer it.  If you ask it to teach you it tells you don’t deserve the help, if you tell it not to teach you the voice tells you that “you will fail.”  The voice tries to make you feel like you need it and you are nothing without it.  Every time you disobey the voice it calls you a disappointment or a “disgusting creature.”  But when you disobey the voice and act on your own, color begins to seep into the bleak game world.  Just a few specks at first but as the voice hurls insult after insult and you act more and more on your own volition the dark world of the game becomes flooded in color.  It seems like a brighter happier place but the voice does its best to darken it.  Although the world gets a rosy tint the game becomes harder.  The colors blind you as you progress and the threats blend in with the scenery.  You cannot see the barbs or monsters in detail; they only appear as red blocks.  When the world is filled with disorganized blocks of color the red mixes in with everything else.  The background mixes with the foreground and you can’t even see the walls or platforms you need to jump to in some parts.  When you get to the end the voice becomes sad, heartbroken.  It asks, “Why do you hate me? I loved you.”  It asks, “Where will you go? Will you stay close to me?”  The game concludes with you walking away on your own in your colorful world.  By striking your own path you are happier and the world seems like a better place but still if you tell the voice you’re going away it seems actually sad now and you feel sorry for it.  It’s a broken relationship.  But if you tell the voice you will stay close, there is hope.  “I’m sorry” it says, “we can try again.”  The overbearing parent sees how its strictness destroyed its relationship with its child and is willing to change to save that relationship.

The genius thing about all of this is that the relationship doesn’t have to be destroyed.  Some players are naturally inclined to listen to the voice from the beginning and they wind up getting along with it just fine.  It’s a bit rude at the very beginning and there is some crudeness in the middle when it asks “do I own your body or your mind?” but by the end of the game you have its respect.  The game doesn’t make an overt statement about what effect being overbearing as a parent will have on all children but instead gives a flexible honest answer about its effects.  The effect is dependent on the disposition of the child.  A child can be raised well through overbearing parenting if the child has a natural inclination to listen to authority and has a natural submissiveness.  But if a child has a natural disposition to rebel against authority if it’s just authority for its own sake, that approach can tear the relationship with that child apart.  The key thing in the game that suggests that the issue is with arbitrary authority is that the voice doesn’t always tell you to act in your own self-interest.  The voice sometimes tells you to do self-destructive things.  At one point it tells you to jump on the barbs and kill yourself.  The voice insults you if you do otherwise.  The voice at one point tells you to stand still, it has no effect on the gameplay, it accomplishes nothing but it still expects you to do it.

What led me to think the voice is an overbearing parent and not just some abstract notion of general authority or society itself is its claim that it loves the player.  The voice seems genuinely hurt if you ignore it and thinks you hate it if you disobey it.  Love makes it personal, if the voice was just general authority or society, love would have nothing to do with it, that and I doubt the game would give you the option to leave.   But the expressions of love only imply that it is a personal relationship between the player and the voice, why would I suggest it’s necessarily a parental relationship and not say a relationship with an abusive lover or friend?  The reason I think it’s a parent comes from the question it asks at the beginning and the end.  “Are you a boy or a girl?” and then the reply at the end if the player is obedient “No, you are a man/woman.”  These statements imply a maturation of the player, that the player has become grown over the course of the game.  The level design is also a metaphor for the player’s growth.  The game slowly increases in difficulty and the player gets more and more responsibility, more and more is expected of the player as he progresses.  The voice also expects more of the player as the game progresses.  In the beginning the voice gives specific commands and explains basic elements of the game.  “Jump over those barbs” and “Touch the statue, I’ll forgive you. (I also think this is a clever little set up for the command later on ‘do not touch the statue.’  By saying that he will forgive you this time, it implies that there is something wrong with touching the statues, something that you need to be forgiven for doing)”  give very basic information about the game world and doesn’t presume anything of the player.  By the end of the game though, the commands are vague.  The last command before the game enters its ending sequence is “Do NOT fail.” It doesn’t tell the player how to do that, it just assumes the player is now competent.  The fact that the voice is with the child from the beginning until its maturation into adult hood implies that the relationship is a parental one and not simply one with a mean spirited peer.

I hesitate to simply refer to the voice as abusive because if you play through the game obediently the actual abusive comments are few.  There is the initial conversation when the voice asks your gender and if you want help only tell you you’re wrong and you don’t deserve help or you will fail; and there is the conversation where the voice asks if it owns your body or your mind and then tells you either to dance or beg for the voice but after these statements at the beginning, the rest of the game is just compliments and congratulations at the end.  The voice only becomes extremely abusive if you play through the game rebelliously.  This isn’t to say the player is responsible for his or her own abuse but the events that lead to the severe abuse only occur in a play run where the player chooses to be disobedient.  One thing I find interesting to note is that the voice will ridicule the player not only for his choices but also for simply failing despite trying his best.  The last command is “Do NOT fail” and every time you die while the command is active it’s still considered disobedience despite the fact that it wasn’t the player’s choice.  It can create a situation that illustrates the feeling a child might have where no matter how hard he tries he simply can’t meet his parents’ expectations of him.

The way I interpret the game is that it’s trying illustrate the different possible consequences that overbearing parenting can have on the relationships between parents and their children.

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//END SPOILERS***

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That’s only my perspective on the game though.  I’d love to hear yours so please leave whatever thoughts you had about Loved in the comments below.  Also, while you’re at Alexander Ocias’s website, you might want to take a peek at his showreel, it’s some impressive stuff.

 

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