Art is a dialogue with the artist(s)

… is a pretentious-sounding thing I’ve kept hearing myself thinking recently.

When you’re watching a movie, reading a book, playing a game, you know there are certain rules. Like, if the main character is in a dangerous situation 15 minutes into the movie, you know they’re not going to die, because you know the movie is 2 hours long. Or if the story’s pretty coherent and then there’s a super-trippy unbelievable situation, you can imagine that it’ll turn out to be a dream. If you’re playing Final Fantasy XXVIII, and you see a treasure chest, I mean, open it. Take everything that’s not nailed down. If you’re Link, break all the pots; some will have a rupee inside.

If it’s a big-budget Hollywood movie, you can expect a happy ending. If it’s a Bollywood movie, it goes even farther: you know the star-crossed lovers are going to get together. Shakespearean tragedy? Not gonna be so happy. Game of Thrones episode: someone you love is going to die.

Which is why I’ve been loving it more when artists break these rules, or at least threaten to. Like in Psycho, when they (spoilers but not really b/c you know the shower scene) kill off the “main character” half an hour in.

A recent favorite has been the game Undertale, which looks like a Final Fantasy-ish game circa 1997, but keeps screwing with you. You meet a monster you can fight, or befriend! But then you get to a boss battle, and surely I’ve got to kill them, right? Nah, turns out you can befriend them too. Here’s a minigame in which a robot jokes with you. Then threatens to kill you! But doesn’t actually kill you. You’ve got to kill King Asgore and escape from Monster World before he steals your soul! Don’t you?

And even deeper, the game’s creator(s), mostly Toby Fox, keep this dialogue going on many levels. I know that I don’t have to keep re-re-re-saving, because few things are impossible to recover from. I sure am spending a lot of time walking backwards, aren’t I? Nope, there’s a boatman willing to help me shortcut some of this, cool. Spend 1000 gold to send a minor character to college? They’ll just laugh at me, right? Nah, you get something out of it. But it won’t really change anything if I befriend or kill these bosses, right? … there’s not like whole other levels, right? It’s a comedy game, not a tragedy or horror game, right?

Anyway, back to work, but check it out. It’s like 5 hrs for a playthrough, worth playing through at least twice.

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