• Topic Closed
16 years ago #23
Now, I already said that this exercise is not about how good a game Ico is, and I stand by my word. But I think I do need to say something about how Ico works if the next segment of this talk is to make any sense to you. (I will leave to you to judge how well it works.) Recently I exchanged some e-mails with a very devoted fan. He loves the game so much that he has written a fifty-page essay on it. He surprised me by saying that he had not played it in months. He said that the experience feels more real when he seldom plays it. About then I was also surprised to hear ladyhawke2 say on this board that she was only then playing through the game for the second time; I know how she adores it. But I really should not have been surprised at all. I have myself played the game to completion just three times. Now we have got a bit of a paradox here. Here we are, three diehard admirers of Ico who confess it to be their all-time favorite game--and we hardly play the game at all! Paradox is calling it nicely. Either we are lying when we say Ico is our favorite game, or we have deluded ourselves that we like it more than we actually do. Right? No? Well, why not?

At first glance it seems perfectly reasonable that you should spend the most time on the game you enjoy the most. But in fact people have been conditioned to think this way ever since they popped their first quarters into that arcade machine, long before video games were a part of the home entertainment system. If you were a good gamer, you got your quarters’ worth of playing time and then some. If not, you needed lots of quarters or you would not be playing very long. An idea took shape that in video games you invested Money in order to be rewarded in Time. That idea has stayed through the years. After all that is what replay value is all about, isn’t it? Replay value stems from the notion that a game’s function is to help us pass Time. And though we may not have to pop quarters in every fifteen minutes anymore, we do have to pay fifty dollars for a game, not to mention a few hundred for the system. Since the age group of most gamers is not known for its deep pocket, economics cannot help but remain a factor. But in the end that is all it is: economics. You may very well play Ico to completion just once a year. That is a sound financial reason not to spend money on a copy of Ico. It is not a sound reason to detract from the game’s intrinsic worth. It does not keep Ico from being someone’s fondest and fullest memory of a game.

Speaking of intrinsic worth, let us return to the game. I apologize for digressing, but I felt it was necessary preparation before we could place the puzzles in the proper narrative context. I do not want anyone to believe that I think the puzzles unimportant. On the contrary I think they are the muscles of the game. What I want to impress upon you is that these muscles serve two distinct sets of functions. The first and more obvious set is of the conventional sort, which applies to any puzzles. We solve them because they are fun to solve and because they help us pass time pleasantly. But are these the chief functions of the puzzles in Ico? I have to say No. You already know my reasons: puzzles are no longer puzzles once they are solved. And since every task in Ico has exactly one prescribed solution, it is pointless to go back and try to work things out differently. By this logic Ico’s puzzles ought to lose their capacity to entertain us once we have completed the game. But, at least for me, that is hardly the case. The fact that I have exhausted all technical possibilities in the game, but that my thought continues to dwell on it and be fascinated by it, tells me that the game’s true strength is not in puzzle solving. Depending on our approach to Ico, the experience can retain a great deal of their potency. This is where the second set of functions, the narrative functions, comes in.

And that is what I will be back with next time.