– Sink Or Swim.
= Oh yeah, and you can’t swim.
Another World has the same attitude towards task familiarization as my father, which as far as I can tell was the idea that success can only be achieved by unrelentingly brutal failure. I’ll never forget how he flung my hapless juvenile self headfirst into the community pool, just as how I’ll never forget how Another World’s gameplay cold opens. Yes, it gives you a introductory cut-scene that explains *how* you got into the pool (SCIENCE!) but it does absolutely nothing to explain why you are there. It just is. The game doesn’t imply any purpose behind it.
To use one of those words I still owe money to my college for learning, the game has no inherent teleology. Yes, once you’ve beat
the game you can say the purpose was to fly off on a dinosaur with your idiot man-friend (yes, really) but that is clearly not the cause that booted a thousand consoles (thanks professors, the check is in the mail!). Really, the only goal is survive. Which isn’t altogether unlike my goal back when my father slap-dashed me into my ill-fitting second-hand swim trunks and chunked me into a pool.
The irony of the game is that not dying is impossible unless you’ve died. Death is a gameplay mechanic; it’s how you learn how to actually play the game. There isn’t any other way to do it, because there’s simply no other way to know about all the obstacles and challenges the game throws at you. Unlike modern games, it’s unimaginable that anyone could ever play through Another World without dying at least several dozen times. Another World starts you out in a position of immediate peril, you must get away from the pool or the tentacles in it will get you. Just like when I was kid, I needed to get out of that pool not just because I couldn’t swim but because I could barely keep my swimsuit on.
Consider: If Another World were made today, those tentacles would still be reaching for you, but you just know the game would warn you. It would flash an up arrow urgently or do something like Microsoft’s UAC where it greys out the screen, stops the action, and asks “Do you want the tentacles to touch you? YES/NO.” The truth is that a quick-time event would be an indignity, and I think that sort of hand-holding is demeaning. After all, my near drowning at the hands of my opportunistic and swim-capable frenemies and the associated humiliation of unintentional public semi-nudity has made me into the well-adjusted individual I am today. That’s why I talk about vijergames safely ensconced in my mancave, isolated, dry and fully-clothed.
– It really *was* another world.
= Like the Bed Intruder, You are dumb, so dumb, for real.
Everyone always says something trite like “They don’t make games like this anymore.” For Another World, I’m willing to go even further to top that and say I’m not sure they ever really made it in the first place. Seriously. If its creator demoed it everyone would be nonplussed. Eric Chahi, knowing the game backwards and forwards, would have just run through the entire thing in probably less than ten minutes, hopping, shielding and blasting merrily away. Potential distributors would think to themselves “Game?”
It’s not just a game that you learn by playing badly, it’s a game that you enjoy by playing poorly. Even once you’ve learned it and can breeze through with relative ease, it’s still a pleasurable experience because you remember and relive the accomplishment of figuring it all out and developing the required skills. The collective sacrifice of all the previous incarnations of your little physicist guy have culminated into nostalgia for adversity. You love the game because you used to hate it.
But what really makes it stand out, and what make it hard and sometimes frustrating, is how unique the world it creates is. There
really aren’t that many other games like it, if any. The presentation really is out of this world, and when you play it for the first time you have no idea what to expect next, other than that it’ll probably kill you.
Which is fair. If I was a soft and squishy scientist presented with a cute lil’ fuzzy caterpillar inching its way towards me, I’d probably pet it too. And then instantly die, because it fling-bites its nasty tooth-venom into my shin. The game is hard at first because you don’t know anything and have no way of learning outside of macabre trial and error. You’re an interloper, an intruder, woefully out of place in on a planet that’s so desperate to kill you that I’m surprised you can breathe the atmosphere (Don’t get any ideas, Eric!). You don’t belong there, and your stupidity and ignorance will constantly remind you of that.
It’s such an uncommon and unlikely adventure that it defies your experience not only of our natural world, but also the whole vijergame paradigm-whatsit. You have no touchstones at all, nothing with which to ground yourself to. Yes, I suppose death is bad both here and there, but that’s probably the only thing our worlds even share. When you give the universal hand sign of peace, they blast you. I guess that’s an obscene gesture over there, but it’s not as if the game ever tells you.
-A Narrative given is not a narrative earned.
=It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s … what you just told me a moment ago.
I had the kind of Uncle growing up who was delighted by how kids say the darnedest things. He wasn’t content just waiting for it either. No, he, like everyone else in my family, was an engineer. He wanted to create it. So he would do things like bring the movie ET for me and my younger siblings to watch and claim that it was the “special edition” with “new scenes.” Of course, that was nonsense. It was the same movie that I’d seen before. He didn’t crack until I made my way through two-thirds of the movie dutifully pointing out all the “new” scenes I didn’t remember from before (my therapist took months to work through the relapse that Spielberg’s shotgun-to-walkie-talkie trick induced. Also: never mention George Lucas in my presence). He’d also “borrow”
things from my family, and then return them, wrapped, years later as if they were new gifts. I think he may have also have re-gifted to us the gifts we gave him, but I have difficulty discerning the true memories from the false ones during that period of my life.
I can’t say my Uncle was altogether bad, because he would frequently introduce my family to the videogames he was playing. One of his gifts to me (I think?) was Another World, and since it was given for a holiday he was there to see me play it. As I was a child I had all sorts of the questions like, “what is going on?” to which the earnest reply was “I don’t know.” When I was finally was captured and imprisoned in the game, I asked “why is this alien in the cage with me?” and “why is he helping me against his own kind?” and “how do I shot gun shield?” His answers were “Maybe it’s a prisoner” and “Not all humans are on the same side here either, how do you know its a he?” and “hold the key down.”
My Uncle answered honestly because what else could he have done? He reveled in messing with my head; he could have invented some fanciful and ridiculous story or explanation. But the joke would have been on him. Remember: the game ends with you flying off on a dinosaur (to where? Wait, what?). The point of what I’m saying here is that my Uncle could have constructed all manners of answers, but they all would have been more-or-less right because they couldn’t be wrong. He could lie about the upcoming events in the game, but that’s mundane, obvious and easily contradicted by a child. But he couldn’t fool me over the motivations of my alien BFF because no one has any idea, other than their own, about what those motivations are. There was no meta-game for him of gaming my mind because Another World simply didn’t offer him the opportunity.
This isn’t to say that Another World is unremarkable, bland or unmemorable. Completely the opposite, in fact. You spend so much time,
consciously or unconsciously, interpreting events, scenes and scenarios that you develop your own idiosyncratic narrative and back
story. Yes, a lot of it will coincide with the ideas of others because everyone is interpreting and playing the same game with the same visuals, but you are still going to feel like your constructed world is uniquely yours. Indeed, you are the one who made it. The fact that others made something similar in their own minds doesn’t, and can’t, detract from that.
When you think about it, it’s not really that surprising. Despite how most media is so saturated with explanation and over laden with
exposition, what actually grabs us about most stories are the extrapolation of events to come, supposition about past events unseen,
and counter-factual exploration into what could have happened but didn’t. The truth of this is obvious, just look at how people discuss and share the media they love. This is exactly what they get the most passionate about. It’s all but palpable. Whenever the creator of an ongoing work contradicts a prediction or supposition cherished by the work’s fans people get pissed and write trashy slash-fiction in which the characters are all furries or all the same sex characters fall in love with each other, regardless of their exhibited personal sexuality, inclination, or even outright hatred for each other. It’s punishment! (That is what slash fan-fiction is about, right? RIGHT? Not that I know anything about this personally. I have NO interest in Another World Flying-Dinosaur/Man-Friend Slash fanfic, but if you have any my friend is. Let me know. So I can tell that friend).
Some creators are so drunk on exposition that they can’t even help themselves from telling us “twice” like in the atrocious joke about wife battery. Which is exactly like what it is. We’ve all seen the movies and TV shows in which some event or fact whose primary distinguishing characteristic is its blatant obviousity is recounted, re-shown, or just re-said by the disembodied voice of whoever said it originally. Creators, why oh why do you do this? Look, we remember that scene, and it was better the first time when it was in color and you didn’t screw with the sound to make it all tinny. You’re not ringing the cluebell of clarity, you’re misappropriating the cluebat and hitting your characters with it. It’s like beating your own children to teach the neighbor a lesson.
Simply remembering something that happened just a few days ago shouldn’t induce an apoplectic fit in your characters, though
hamfisting epiphany like that might induce such a fit in your viewers. It certainly does for me. All appearances to the contrary, I don’t actually like being overwhelmed by a paroxysm of rationality rage, it is just an irresistible compulsion. Kinda like pika, except that you don’t eat stupid things, stupidity just seems to be devouring you.
Anyway, I’m going overboard like this to try and illustrate how refreshing Another World can be to the exposition-weary soul. Face it: we’re drowning in a desert of imagination. The Midas touch of embellishment has paradoxically ruined the true finer things in our
media. Narrative and story are so constructed and overdone that you can’t even follow them (Have you WATCHED Modern Warfare 2?). We have so much of it that we can’t appreciate any of it, and it displaces our ability to personally connect with our media. It needs to be said: Story does not need to be literally told, story is something that we should experience and embellish ourselves. Another World was made twenty years ago, but despite the fact you can beat the game in 15 minutes and there isn’t a single intelligible spoken word, it’s much more engrossing universe than the majority of intentional attempts to develop the same with huge teams of people and near-unlimited resources. Another World is not even the implicit reproach to “Show, don’t tell,” it’s “Let me show myself.”
So, please, LET US.