When it comes to advancing video games as a medium, there are valuable and simple lessons for all game developers and creators to be learned from the art of ….. eroticism… If these principles and ideas are applied carefully and correctly, it could enrich video games as a medium to show creative works. To put the lesson in one sentence it would be … leave some space.
What do we mean by that? …hmm first I will explain those ideas and then link them to video games.
In modern times the word Eroticism has become conflated with sexuality, and pornography but originally it meant romantic love; animated by Eros, the carrier of the arrows of love.
Artists who do erotic works aim to open a communication channel with the subconscious minds of their viewers without allowing them to notice that. How? By appealing to our feelings and intellect instead of basic senses and instincts.
Botticelli’s Venus, the goddess of love, is not aiming at arousing humans to physical love but to lift their minds to the realm of divine love.
Caravaggio’s painting of Amor with such incredible realism, clarity, and comfort that it all comes to life is loaded with allegories and symbols. What are these wings? The arrows? And why are these musical instruments thrown on the ground? … and unlike Baglioni’s depiction of Amor, which shows him afraid and panicked, why is Caravaggio’s Amor smiling and untroubled?
These questions are Caravaggio’s way of communicating with our intellect. Until this day, artists and historians are still debating the answers to these questions.
Caravaggio could have surely used his skills to paint an obscene portrait to feed our basic human instincts, but that painting would have gone unnoticed by history.
Many mistakes the erotic for the pornographic, the latter emphasizes on sensations without feelings leaving no role for imagination in the process. Repeated mechanical movements, filmed from multiple angles and uploaded online for instant consumption.
When I was an architecture student, I remember once when I presented to a professor my latest predominantly glass building design. His feedback was: “With glass from all sides, it is exposed. Cover some parts, make me wonder and think what’s behind the facade”. And then he added…..” Like they do in erotic art”
Cover some parts…make me wonder… like erotic art.
After having this idea in my mind, I kept on comparing situations in different movies, TV show and video games on whether the makers should have told something and explained it to the viewers or left it to their imagination.
George Lucas in Star Wars, especially in the first three episodes couldn’t trust his viewers to understand the feelings and emotions of the characters he created.
He had to rely on dialogues to make a character express its feelings, whether it’s hate, love, distrust, or disappointment.
Now compare that with a scene from Metal Gear Solid 4, when the main character Solid Snake meets an old Friend, Naomi Hunter, who delivers the bad news to him that his body is infected with a mutated virus that will outbreak in three months and become an airborne pathogen causing the death of millions of innocents.
In other words, Naomi was asking you the player to decide the fate of your character before the end of the three months period.
Did you notice how Hideo Kojima the game creator covered the part of Snake’s reaction to the news? Because It’s us the players who have received the news, leaving us for the rest of the game wondering and asking ourselves about what to do with this character that we have loved for years?
Unlike George Lucas, Kojima trusts the players to develop the reactions and emotions by themselves without taking their hands and tell them what to feel. He enriches your imagination by covering some aspects of the game.
Kojima himself stated once: “I have always had a fascination with what’s inside a human being.
I believe the game should feel what the players are feeling and change according to that.”
When it comes to the art of covering some aspects of your work in video games and leaving a room for your audience to develop ideas and interpretations, one games creator, in particular, comes to my mind.
He is the creator of Ico, Shadow of the Colossus and the last Guardian.
Like Caravaggio and Botticelli, he has mastered the art of speaking to our subconscious minds through hiding some aspects of the work delivered to us.
With every new game, he releases he pushes the boundaries even further by leaving more free space for his viewers to paint what they think is the full picture.
In his first Game… Ico, we are left with a boy with no name, speaking a language we don’t understand, in an unknown place and then eventually we meet a girl who does nothing other than adding more questions and mysteries to our heads.
That didn’t stop us from forming a strong platonic bond with the girl, defending her whenever she needs protection, taking risks for her and all this for some answers we made up in our heads.
Fumito Ueda brilliantly used this formula again in his second game, Shadow of the Colossus. This time he added more food to our imagination. Raising the bar by challenging the players to fill the gaps in the story and dialogues with their creativity.
Let’s see what the master himself has to say about this
“There’s a level of realism you can only achieve through the imaginary.
The player can come to their own conclusion about what the game is trying to tell them. I don’t like to force feed themes.
For me, it’s not important to tell the details of the story. In Japan, there is a poet expression called a haiku where you don’t explain some things in detail and let the receivers understand or use their imagination with what is presented”
The internet is filled with gamers debating the meaning of shadow of the colossus, trying to explain its mysteries. What are these rings in the desert? Are you on the good side or the bad side? And what happened to that girl we are trying to save?
In his final game, the last guardian, Fumito goes to the natural conclusion of this path. He liberates his game from the shackles of language itself.
We get a lesson in how Ideas are bigger than words and how dog doesn’t need a word for loyalty to practice it.
Instead of filling the game with dialogues to explain all the tiny details to the player, he leaves us with this creature to form a bond with him at our own pace. Although the game mechanics doesn’t reward the player for interacting with the creature, the looks and interactions of the creature implore the players to rub him, help him and give him food whenever is possible.
And to see how effective it was to leave the players and trust them with forming the bond with the creature on their own terms, simply take a look at the tens of YouTube videos showing the fans crying at the game’s ending which revolves around that bond they have created with the creature.
Give some space to your audience to use their imagination.
One last component game-developers should know in order to get to that goal is the idea of the ‘Known Unknowns’, developed by the two American psychologists, Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham. It is used to help people better understand their relationship with themselves as well as the things around them by putting objects, ideas, and concepts in four categories, known knowns, known unknowns, unknown knowns and unknown unknowns. The last category is the one that has captured the imagination of modern-day philosophers and scientists but the second one, the known unknowns is the one that artists and creative minds should focus on, it’s where eroticism can meet video games.
For example, I don’t know many historical and sociological facts, the distance to the moon, the president of Kenya and so on. But I know there are such facts that I don’t know.
Like Caravaggio, modern game creators should aim to enrich the known unknowns areas in the minds of the viewers.
A good tip to understand everything we have talked about in this video is to read a novel called Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy.
The story revolves around two characters the first is simply called the kid and the second is known as the judge. Both are members of a cowboy gang on a hunting spree to kill as many Indians as possible and collect their scalps in exchange for money.
McCarthy in the book has mastered the art of telling a story through the third person point of view, no mentioning of inner feelings of the characters or their thoughts, he simply puts you, the reader, there with the gang to observe the events by yourself. The task of developing emotions and thoughts is left to you, the reader.
All the love hate and distrust in the book is yours.
Like McCarthy, game developers should put more faith in gamers and give them more room to imagine. Cover some parts, make them wonder what’s behind the facade and from time to time tease them with hints of the full picture.
If there is anything to be learned from the likes of Caravaggio, Botticelli, Kojima, Ueda, and McCarthy is that putting your trust in your viewer’s imagination is the highest form of respect an artist could give to his audience.