Life’s a Bench…

24 Aug

…and then you die, granted you’ve paid the five dollar fee.

Morgan Webb reminded me about The Graveyard, a short game interactive experience by Tale of Tales, in one of her pointless Morgan Minutes on G4. Being awake at two in the morning and bored, I decided to check the game interactive experience out.

Turns out there are two versions: the free trial and the five dollar full version. I went with the trial.

Basically, the game interactive experience has you guiding a hobbling, old woman through a black and white graveyard. You slowly approach a bench in the distance, turn, and sit. A song plays as you rest, and then you get up and leave the way you came. If you paid for the full version, you might die.

You see, it really isn’t a game. Tale of Tales likes to describe it as “an explorable painting”, and that’s a pretty good way of putting it.

Right off the bat, the black and white visuals attempt to get that point across to you. Before you even begin, you hear the sounds of the city around you: traffic, birds, dogs, sirens. The bench is off in the distance and the old woman you control is quite slow. Along the way, you observe the gravestones and her seemingly slowing pace.

I knew there was some kind of scene that was to take place once I reached the bench and I knew that there was the possibility of death (though I wouldn’t be experiencing that), but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

On my slow way to the bench, I started to feel it, or what I assumed it was that Tale of Tales wanted me to feel. I started to get a sense of what it was like hobbling through my final moments.

As the woman sat, her face was super-imposed on the right hand of the screen as a strange song began. The lyrics were in Italian or something but were accompanied by subtitles. As they began, I got a sense of what they were going for. The song was the woman remembering the deaths of her friends and family. To add on to the sensation I felt as I approached the bench, I kind of understood the point of view of someone like the old woman: she was prepared for death because she wanted it.

Then the song kept going.

The lyrics were pretty strange to begin with, but then it went on about wanting to pull out the webs from between Jesus’ legs. It was all pretty awkward and really took me out of the experience. Instead of relating my own personal experiences to what I would have assumed the woman has gone through, I was forced to try and understand what she’s seen by translating the strange (for the sake of being strange) lyrics.

The song then looped without lyrics and the woman shed a tear. I had her stand up and attempted to walk back the way I came. Turns out the game uses tank controls, so I walked against the bench for a moment or two, something that only further took me out of the experience.

When I reached the entrance, the screen faded to black and asked me if I wanted to play again or buy the full version where the woman might die.

While the woman’s death is the obvious “true” ending, I knew that I had gotten as close to a significant experience as I would have in the moments before I sat down. I decided to read about the full version instead. According to an article on Wired, the woman didn’t die the first time, then died mid-rest, her head suddenly slumping down, the super-imposed image focusing on her neck from behind.

I’m sure it was somewhat shocking, but I felt that Tale of Tales missed their mark with the song, specifically with the lyrics. They were just so plain weird.

It reminds me of the first time I properly listened to Zaireeka, a four-disc album by the Flaming Lips (best band ever) that you’re encouraged to listen to simultaneously(!). With a desktop, original PlayStation, portable DVD player, and a traditional CD player, my roommate and I synchronized the album as best we could.

Despite a few delays here and there, the experience went pretty well. I was pleasantly assaulted by four waves of sound from four different directions. I was thrown out of the experience, however, by a strange line in one of the songs “A Machine in India.”

In the song, singer Wayne Coyne delivers the following line in his signature voice:

I’m going to India

over and over again.

I’m standing in a cylinder

seein’ all the bleedin’ vaginas.

Even going into the song having read the liner notes, knowing the song was about Wayne’s wife Michelle becoming like another person during her period, hearing a blunt line like “seein’ all the bleedin’ vaginas” just took me out of the experience.

Keep in mind that this isn’t some passive music experience. Yes, some of Zaireeka has been put together into single MP3s, but the point of the album is to sit and actively listen as four sources of sound come together as one.

While before, songs were being created all around me, I was now sitting in the middle of a bunch of noise as I sat, forgetting about the music for a while, focusing on the lyric.

I still like the album and even the song, but I just felt that the lack of subtlety in that one part was a bad move in an otherwise innovative album, just as the song in The Graveyard was a bad move in an otherwise innovative game interactive experience.

I encourage everyone to give The Graveyard a try. Maybe you’ll approach the same feeling that I approached. Maybe you’ll even get further than I did. Or maybe the song is truly a fatal flaw. Either way, I hope everyone can at least appreciate the idea behind the game interactive experience.

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One Response to “Life’s a Bench…”

  1. Simon Roberts August 27, 2008 at 2:36 PM #

    Hmm, reminds me of Jason Rohrer’s Passage, especially where you mention assuming versus trying — Rohrer’s work never really makes you try too hard, although some measure of extrapolation is still required (as with all good artistic works.)

    (I tried The Flaming Lips, but I couldn’t get into Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots — other than the title track, it was just too eclectic for me, which I guess is an accomplishment considering I’d spent the previous day listening to Dinosaur Jr.)

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