As you may have read previously on GeekDad, I’m often on the look out for unusual ways to engage with the medium of video-games. To this end I got involved with a project that uses songs as a means of reviewing games. Recently I asked the writer of those sung reviews (Rebecca Mayes) to revisit some of her work and explain how she came to write them, and what the games she was singing about meant to her.
The result was a short series of mini-documentary videos that engaged with topics as diverse as violence, therapy, family arguments, body image, life choices and living adventures. They have turned into some of the best video-game conversation starters I’ve found and not just for gamers.
In the run up to Christmas, with the lights flashing out side her window (or was that a UFO?), she spoke to me about how she came to write her lament to Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. “Although I’m not really a fan of horror, I liked the cleverness of the therapist idea … I loved the quirkiness and the UFO endings and wanted to get that in the song somewhere.”
Various friends, family and viewers have taken a fresh look at what games might mean for them through the eyes of these songs. It’s been an interesting way to avoid polarizing video-games into gamers and non-gamers, avid fans or suspicious onlookers. It seems that everyone is happy to talk games when there is someone singing about them.
In addition to her Christmas review of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories above, Mayes also revisited her reviews for Mass Effect, Call of Duty, Fable and a new song about parental controls. She talks about the process and thinking behind each of these songs in her longer discussions on each of them available here: Silent Hill, Mass Effect, Call of Duty and Fable.
Beyond the quirky appeal of songs about video games, I like the way that they throw fresh light on what a game might be about. It’s like playing a favorite game with someone new and seeing things I hadn’t noticed before. In fact I’ve just started back through Uncharted 3 to find all the treasures and I’m still impressed at the dense themes the game plays with in Nate’s personality — and how he is reflected in the people around him.
Approaching games like this also uncovers their limits. Cutting through the whole “are games art” argument by treating them as if they are culturally valuable inevitably shows up some experiences for falling short. Asking what is a game about, beyond its entertainment value is a question we don’t ask very often, but is one worth asking in my experience. In fact it’s often a game’s success as entertainment that intertwines with the themes it addresses and subtly subverts.
Spec Ops: The Line and Papo & Yo are obvious examples that wear their “meaning” credentials on their sleeves, but there are other games like Alan Wake and Limbo that also have more to them than meets the eye. These songs helped me rediscover that; maybe they will do the same for you.