“Now, this one is just masterful,” I hear the museum guide say. “Notice how the artist cleverly uses light to convey meaning and ultimately, resolution and…” Her voice trails away. I am eavesdropping on the group’s tour, their attention rapt and their questions signifying intense curiosity and understanding.
The room I am sitting in is full of paintings. I am ecstatic because one of the paintings is by John Singer Sargent, a portrait painter that I know very little about. “Oh! It’s John Singer Sargent!” I liked that one painting he did, with the soldiers following one another in a forlorn line. But this one is just a lady posing.
I look at the light. I study it, to see the ways it conveys meaning and ultimately, resolution and…
I’ve got nothing.
I have sat in front of Child of Light for hours, beginning with an open mind and ending up with a mind that is busy with self-guessing and assumptions about my inability to “get” art. “I don’t get it,” has to be the worst possible reason to dislike a work of art, especially for a critic. “I don’t get it,” is not a reason. It is a cop-out at best and an admission of disqualification on the part of the critic at worst.
So I continued on with Child of Light, whispering aloud the poetic dialogue, sometimes intrigued by how clever and unassumingly beautiful it is, other times repelled and annoyed by how forced and abjectly clever it is. I find myself wondering what the game is getting at. I think I recognize some metaphor in the pairing of poetic language and visual flourish, but over time its’ meaning fades away like smoke.
A number of times, Child of Light mentions patience. The heroine wonders aloud where all of this could be going. But she is certain she is in a dream, and so her demands to know the truth lack urgency, and they are further limited by the need to phrase everything in rhyming verse. She is not aware that she is in danger, and the danger itself seems unable to convey the concept.
There is something about beautiful works of art that cause us to stop and take inventory of ourselves. Child of Light is one of those beautiful works of art, but it stands in judgment of itself as much as it stands in judgment of me. The pure aesthetic glory of walking from left to right, flying from right to left, and fighting battles with dreamy, otherworldly monsters is a stark contrast to the rest of its’ parts. The story itself hints at beauty. It suggests to the player a world in which these words are beautiful, comforting, complete.
But the world that Child of Light actually exists in is fallen. It is a world in which people roll their eyes at poetry. I roll my eyes sometimes, too, because I’m human too. I am determined not to be that guy, but sometimes good art unveils that side of us simply by staunchly refusing to be great art.
Fighting enemies in Child of Light is a kind of forced meditation, a time-based system that rewards patience and thoughtful observation. While the game portrays our characters standing against one another, trading blows, the real action takes place in the timeline on the bottom of the screen where icons scroll and pause, waiting for the player to catch up to what’s happening, to manipulate time and command the party in a way that results in the destruction of darkness. But I am not able to connect all of the dots, or follow the action properly, even when it’s all boiled down to icons on a timeline. I’m forced to confront my inability to take the game on its own terms.
My eyes follow the icons impatiently as that glide along the timeline and rest toward the end. I am along for the ride, not guiding or even interpreting it. I am stumbling through the combat-puzzle rather than solving it.
Perhaps one day I will play Child of Light in a land of eternity, but for now, enforced waiting is unbecoming to my restless soul. I hammer on the A-button, attacking, attacking attacking. Every health potion I take feels like Adam and Eve’s first compromise. I am corrupting beauty. When I die, I shut the game off in frustration, mostly with myself.
I have learned to appreciate the museum as a body of work, if not a series of transcendent experiences. I have found that the more I seek artistic satisfaction or spiritual fulfillment in a work of art, the less I am able to rest in it. This is a weakness, not a value. But if I allow myself to discover, to become surprised by joy once in a while, I am able to walk breezily through a museum, perfectly happy to browse a number of superficial delights. And every once in a while, something commands my attention and causes me to sit and observe.
Those are the moments I seek after, though they never come from being sought after. I seek in the dark, but Child of Light irradiates the room, and all I could think to do was avert my eyes and scold my ignorance.