Things Left Unfinish…
It sounds like an old dial-up modem. When last did I even hear one? The beeping has ripped through that familiar little jazzy number that was playing on the radio, discord not unlike the insane scrawlings on the walls. I smile to myself. Even though I don’t have the software to decode the sound into an image, and even though I am playing on the pc, hence without the satisfying pop-up of “achievement unlocked”, I smile. I have done it. I have found the Rat Man’s final transmission. Cross it off the list of Portal 2′s Easter Eggs to find.
Games are great for completionists. You get long lists of things to do. The whole damn world waits for you to waltz into town and solve problems. The fee Civil wars in Nordic countries will wait for you to come back from spelunking your way to ancient swords, tons of gold coins and some monosyllabic words of power. And sometimes you can be daring and leave a quest unfinished. You devil, you. You can go back again and play the whole game again making the opposite choices to what you made the first time, so you don’t miss out on anything. Missing out: my childlike fear. I’m probably not alone here in my desire to experience every single aspect of a game (I’ll take the whole year to finish Skyrim).
For those who don’t know, a couple of weekends ago people got together for MolyJam, one of the wackiest events in gaming. Peter Molydeux, the Twitter account parodying innovative (dare I say avant-garde) game designer Peter Molyneux, has been going for quite some time now. His tweets are some hilarious, out-there, yet somehow perhaps just possible game ideas. A game where the pause button is a weapon. A game where you protest the rules that make up the game world. A game where you play as a full stop and interrupt the opponent’s sentence. I can’t even imagine how that would w. Ork.
I played a number of really great games, but the one that stuck with me the most is unfinished. It’s called “To destroy the beast we must hold a mirror to his thoughts.” It uses hypertext to create something akin to Alice in game-designer land. The game itself is unplayable in chronological order, but rather offers magic portals into four (relatively) finished parts of the story, allowing you a glimpse into what may have happened if you met Peter Molyneux, Ken Levine and Tim Schafer. You can go backwards at any point as you explore every hypertext in what is finished, which Mr. Completion did of course. But you can never properly see where most parts go, especially the amazing and amazingly short Ken Levine section. This is like being told “your princess is in another castle”, without any more castles for you to clear.
It made me think of one particular work of art. Well, four, but one really stands out. BA cred inbound: Michaelangelo’s Atlas Slave. The unfinished carving is, along with Awakening Slave, Young Slave and Bearded Slave, an unfinished work. I find these to be highly evocative pieces of sculpture.
Perhaps even more so because they are unfinished. Like a song cut off halfway through, it sticks in your head. Maybe it teases the completionist cortex of our brains that demands the closure of the finished.
“To destroy…” is like that. The rich description, the surrealism, the endless references to games and gaming culture as well as art and poetry are captivating. Especially the illusion of making choices. It’s unfinished, offering you choices that lead nowhere, or even a fragment of code that indicates a choice would have been there. It is just like the rough stone surrounding where Atlas Slave‘s face would be. All we have are eyes, looking at us through the rock our imaginations have to carve away.
Unfinished? Yes. Unimportant? Never.