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If anyone knows a way of buying a laptop cheap in Texas, I'm all ears.
Oh, and my birthday was on Saturday. What a way to begin a new year in my life...
Now Faith... is the art of holding on to things your reason has accepted, in spite of your changing moods. -C. S. Lewis
That's damn poor luck. Sorry you to hear someone stole your laptop. :(
All I can do is wish you a belated post-happy birthday from here onwards and hope you get whatever was taken from you back pronto. Life can be rotten sometimes, epsecially when it comes to timing and coincidence. Here's hoping you don't let the incident get you down too much.
Becoming stuck in a personal rut will only most likely accentuate any sense of negativity.
But hey... At least you know one thing for sure. You've got a brain, and at some point in the future I'm sure you'll be able to use it to come up with even more incisive and in-depth points. :)
Thanks, I appreciate your words. In truth, I'm not feeling quite that down, though. :) But the thought of redoing all that lost draft... ugh. Why don't I ever listen and make backup copies?
Eliot, I've very sorry to hear about your laptop being stolen. I was beginning to wonder why it was taking you so long to post your next entry.
Happy belated birthday!
I know that sounds kind of hollow after the week you've had, but I did want to wish you a happy birthday.
(2) Ico and Yorda must explore the castle. I had to scrap the first draft I wrote for this section because while I was mulling over the castle's role I got too deep into the gameplay territory and lost sight of the narrative. Then I lost my second draft when my laptop got stolen along with all the writing in it that I had not bothered to save elsewhere. More to set my own thoughts straight in all this rewriting confusion than for anything else, I will begin this talk with some very basic considerations. I think I set down pretty clearly last time that the castle is exceedingly important. Very well, it is important. But how is it important to the story, rather than the gameplay or the aesthetics, of Ico?
To answer that I want to consider briefly what a story is. It is a popular mistake to confuse "story" with "fiction." The two are not synonymous. For instance if I said "There is water on the moon," that would be fiction insofar as I made it up, but it would hardly qualify as a story. On the other hand a biography of Abraham Lincoln would not and ought not to be fiction, but it would certainly be a story. Similarly when we say "This is a story of my life" we do not mean "This is a story which I made up about myself." We mean "This is how my life unfolded and became what it is now." To tell a story means to give an account of something, whether true or imaginary. The act of giving an account usually requires that we keep track of three things. These are characters, setting, and conflict.
Characters are a a set of actors (who need not be people necessarily) that we see more or less from the beginning to the conclusion of the story. Setting refers to the sum total of circumstances under which characters operate—the times, the places, the conditions. The last ingredient, conflict, is anything which drives characters to abandon inactivity and do one thing or another. Conflict in fiction may involve outright fighting or competition, solving a murder mystery, falling in love, or a Coke bottle dropping out of the sky. A biography of Lincoln is a story since it has all three ingredients. The gibberish about there being water on the moon is just that: gibberish.
Let us see how the castle fits into this scheme. We immediately recognize it as a part of the setting since it provides the environment for the story. But it is also the apparent source of the conflict. For the children want freedom, and the castle keeps it from them. And since the castle is the greatest obstacle in the children's quest, it is not a mere arena in which to confront the enemy: it is the enemy. It thus almost behaves like a character also. The puzzles are its means of keeping the children imprisoned—its weapons, if you will. That is why I said that the narrative would collapse without the puzzles. They are the substance of the main conflict in the story. And a story without conflict is like pea soup without peas. It is gibberish.
I think I am finally ready now to take up the second principle, which states that Ico and Yorda must explore the castle. In place of "explore" we might substitute "deal with" or "overcome." Ico and Yorda must deal with the castle. They must overcome its cunning with their own. But I used "explore" here deliberately because that word has implications which the other phrases do not. To explore a place is more than simply to visit the place. You can visit Grand Canyon all you want as a tourist, but until you have invested time and risked bodily harm to confront its wilderness you cannot say you explored it. Likewise it would be preposterous for anyone to boast that he has explored Grand Canyon when in truth he has only dealt with a negligible fraction of its vastness. Claims like that belong to committed explorers whose scope goes far beyond popular hiking courses. The children too must explore the castle in this sense. They must. They have no choice about it. One explores Grand Canyon because he wants to learn, because he is curious, because he wants excitement. Ico and Yorda do not want to learn about the castle, they are not curious about it, and they are certainly not looking for excitement. What they want is to get out of it as fast as they can. They do not want anything to do with this dreadful place, do not want to stay in it one second longer than they have to. They are on the run for their lives. Sightseeing is the least of their priorities.
Now let us imagine ourselves in the children's place. Suppose we really are trying to escape from a spook-infested castle. Suppose we have just entered a courtyard. We are surrounded on all sides by beautiful and wondrous sights. Should we take a moment to "explore" and enjoy? Not unless we are very dumb. We see an exit in plain view. We should make a beeline for it. But we cannot. The pathway is blocked. We must find a way around the obstacle. We have no choice but to explore. That is, we must investigate places we would rather bypass and fiddle with contraptions we would rather let alone. We want the quickest shortcut out of here, but what we are offered is an endless string of detours within detours. For that is what the puzzles amount to: an elaborate, grueling sequence of detours that will eventually take the children through each and every area in the castle. They could not care less about seeing each and every area. They want a shortcut to the exit, to freedom. There is none. If there were, the children would be happy but the story would lose its conflict. It would lose its peas. Cruel as it sounds, the poor youngsters have got to do things the hard way for our entertainment's sake.
At this point let me bring in a previous poster's comment as I promised I would. I mean about the puzzles helping us immerse ourselves in the environment. How do you suppose they do that? Well, I said Ico and Yorda want as little to do with their prison as possible. But the puzzles demand that they be intimately acquainted with it whether they like it or not. Let us take the example of Grand Canyon once more. Millions visit Grand Canyon National Park every year. Most of them go no farther than contemplating its majesty from a safe distance, much like enjoying the ocean from the beach. But if you really wanted to immerse yourself in it, if you really wanted it to come alive, you would not be satisfied with that. You would venture into the canyon and put your hands and feet, not just your eyes, into the experience. You would want to cover as much ground as possible so that you would be able to appreciate the canyon from on high, from deep below, from the east, from the west, from within, from the extremities, at dawn, at midday, at sunset. This is just what the puzzles make us do. They make us encounter the castle from all angles. We cannot say "Oh, I already know what that place looks like, so I won't bother to go that way this time."
I spent four years at the university where I graduated not long ago. You would think I am thoroughly familiar with the campus of my own alma mater. But in truth there are buildings and facilities there I would not be able to give you directions to because I never had the occasion to make use of them. If you asked me what our business school building looks like inside, you would only get a blank stare from me. In four years I was never in it. I would bet most people have similar memories. That is, they develop a routine and as a result remain surprisingly ignorant about the fixtures in their lives. They may only frequent certain sections of their hometown so that they feel like strangers in a foreign country when they venture to the other side. Or they may not know the name of the middle school they have driven by everyday for ten years. You get the idea. But the castle is an entirely different story. I have spent only a few hours "inside" the castle. Yet its memory is vividness itself. I know it like the back of my hand. How is that? Well, I have been everywhere in it. I have been to, and have had to contend with, every chamber, every tower, every bridge, every courtyard, and every weather-beaten cliff. I left no stone unturned. The game would not let me proceed otherwise.
And leaving no stone unturned is just what the puzzles are about. They require that we experience the castle to the fullest. There is exactly one spot we want to be, but to get there we have to go through every other spot in the whole godforsaken fortress. This is true in our first run through the game and in our seventh. There is never any shortcut. That we already know the solutions to the puzzles does not shorten the distance we must cover. In a typical maze there is one correct path and ninety-nine false paths, but in Ico there is to begin with a single excruciatingly long-winded path and no other. In this way solving Ico's puzzles is less like answering riddles and more like climbing a mountain or crossing a canyon. No one solves the same crossword puzzle or works out the same arithmetic problem twice for the fun of it. But there is plenty sense in revisiting a summit one has already conquered, and in fact many climbers enjoy doing so.
You may think that I am putting you on. Playing a videogame is of course quite unlike climbing a mountain. We do not exert our limbs or risk our lives when we play a videogame. But remember what I have stressed a few times already: we may control Ico's actions, but we are not Ico. It is Ico, not we, who exerts his limbs and risks his life. We imagine that for him the labor and the danger are very much real. We make the same concession whenever we read a novel or watch a film. We know perfectly well that we are ourselves in no danger of falling as we watch James Stewart hang on for his life in Vertigo. But we do imagine that the danger is real and physical for his character, or the scene would lose all suspense. We now understand why things like realistic lighting, accurate sense of scale and distance, and complex character animation are crucial in this game. Aside from making the game look pretty, their job is to convince us that these are real kids in a real place and consequently in a real trouble. The puzzles require only mental effort from us, but for Ico and Yorda they mean physical labor. We see their frail forms struggling against the pitiless environment, and we remain under the illusion that though things are plain and easy for us now they are not plain and easy for these two. That is how the game continues to command our attention, if to a somewhat lesser degree, after the puzzles cease to present any challenge.
Is it silly to sympathize with computer-generated characters? Perhaps. But then it ought to be equally silly to sympathize with Disney's Snow-White or Miyazaki's Nausicaa. They are also mere "pictures" after all. The only way we can put up with animated characters like these is by imagining—that is, by pretending—that they are real after their own fashion. Ico is no different. It is a game which rewards the imaginative player.
To sum up this section: The puzzles force the children to explore every nook and cranny of the castle, which is equivalent to keeping them in constant clash with their archenemy. Do not be confused by the term archenemy here. Some of you are thinking "Isn't another character entitled to that role?" By archenemy I mean the enemy Ico and Yorda deal with the most. Palpatine may rule over the Empire, but anybody who knows anything about Star Wars will tell you that the role of the archenemy belongs to Darth Vader. He is only a subordinate in the grand scheme of things, but he is the pain in the neck the protagonists must deal with at every turn. In other words he is immediate, unlike the Emperor who is usually beyond sight and reach. The castle too is immediate. It is always in your face. It is the presence you cannot ignore, the hand of the real foe who as yet remains unseen.
If you have read all that, God Bless You. I will treat the third and final statement next time.
final statement next time
Say it isn't so. I don't want your analysis to end.