This a game about one man’s dependency on perhaps the most precious resource in the art world: a secretive creator to whom you have exclusive access and whose work can be crammed full of as much meaning as you care to invent, regardless of the creator’s actual intentions. This eventually builds up into a conflict between the player-narrator, Davey Wreden, and the designer-creator, Coda, who despite his every effort to deter Davey from playing his games, continues to be hounded by his intrusive meanings that have been injected all over his work. Not only that, but Davey’s also made a bunch of unwelcome modifications to Coda’s games, which makes it possible for him to take us, the observer, on this guided tour with him.
There’s an intriguing question at the heart of this. Is it the game mods, such as warping the player past an impossible labyrinth or placing a door in a sealed room, that make Coda’s games playable? Or is it rather the so-called deeper meaning, i.e. Davey’s interpretation, which potentially grants us a glimpse into a troubled mind, which makes it so? If any of Coda’s games had been released on their own, without Davey’s commentary or recommendation, would anyone bother to play them? It reminds me of Extra Credit’s experiment, which helped fuel the “mechanics as metaphor” trend in modern game design theory a few years back. No doubt, Davey worships at the same altar.
Whatever the case, without either the injected mods or the meanings, the games cannot stand on their own. This, despite the continued plea to evaluate games as they are, and not as what they’re not.
But why are people like Davey so obsessed over games as revelatory of their creators? So much so that if anything comes between the artist / auteur and the realization of his vision, it is considered the greatest of all evils? Modern existentialism, which asserts that everyone is his own god, trapped in his own mind unable to communicate with his peers or to build lasting communities, sees the existential creator with no choice but to go it alone in order to ensure the integrity of that vision. Especially if he’s a believer in artistic inspiration, which is that trance whereby an artist becomes possessed and spontaneously creates, from before which all impediments must be removed, including even those that come with releasing the artwork to the public. It’s this spirit that transforms the artist into something of a modern prophet. But what is it that the prophet is revealing, and why such the intense interest in what he has to say?
It’s because every day of the art gamer’s life is a confrontation with a reality that bears down on him with such tremendous force that it takes every effort to suppress its revelation. Not necessarily because they don’t want to accept it, but because they can’t. This is most apparent in the peculiar tendency among art gamers as they slip into a game. Here they’re finally able to let their guard down and accept the game as a work of creation, not only because it’s irrefutable, but because the creator revealed therein is always a flawed one and never requires anything but trifles. Here, even in a virtual prison (as many of Coda’s games are), he finally feels free, because it has been put together by the only kind of creator he’s willing to accept.
This is the great appeal of the art game prison. It functions as a self-imposed banishment from a reality revelational of God, the Creator, and rich with His meaning.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
What are all these invented meanings but vain imaginations set up in opposition to God’s Word and His meaning? It always involves a rejection or denial of truth, and reveals far more about the fallen state of the fabricator than anything else, a point which the game goes out of its way to make. It’s the sorry lot of the sinful mind, which craves meaning and spiritual nourishment, but rejects it from God and resorts to seeking it amongst scrap and bits of dust. This culminates at the very end of the game into a real hunger gnawing away at Davey, as he pleads for Coda to return and make more games for him. There’s a terrible desperation in his pleas as he shouts out for reconciliation with this creator, but hearing only silence in return.
But isn’t the indifferent, absent creator what they want? Everything about what they do outside of their games testifies to this fact. And yet here we have a gamer within the game begging, in such a way as to echo the cries of David in the Psalms, for his creator’s forgiveness and a return to grace. What a fearful despair must be lurking in Davey’s heart, which can drive him to cry out like that unto the abyss.
Here you have as fine and as honest an example as you’re likely to get of the modern spiritual crisis afflicting the intellectual gamer. It’s easy to see why so many critics have thought (when they do have something to say) that this is a game about game design and the creative process. They’re ready to see even the most insignificant hint of brilliance revealed in Coda’s levels or to fawn over the perceived anguish of the spent and weary artist-prophet, but they will not acknowledge that the basic question of the relationship between creator and creature is inherently a religious one. Missing that crucial point and pontificating instead on levels that require you to walk backwards the whole time or what the game’s trying to say is as misguided as Davey’s own attempts at interpretation in-game. It’s to completely miss the boat.
Videogames are capable of delivering powerful confrontations with reality. It’s about time we asked ourselves what we’ve actually been confronting all these years, whether we’re able to face the implications of that discovery, and where do we go from here. This is just the beginning.