Perspective and the Awkward Mirror
The more I play Perspective, the more I think about myself. I don’t mean to be vain, but I think the game is a mirror, a reflection of gamers like me.
I sit down at my PC and start the Digipen-student-made game. I start a new game and things get strange. I expect an introduction to Perspective. Instead it says “Ortho Graphic” in a large pixel font. Underneath the title, it says “Press Start.” and “Copyright 2012 Digipen (USA) Corporation all rights reserved.” At least I know I’m playing a game that’s made by the right people. What gives?
I hit Return since I don’t have a Start key. Then I see my avatar: a little blue guy with a big tv screen for a head. A yellow-and-green goal glows and dances to my right. I move my character into it with my WASD keys. That was easy. The next stage is almost the same, but has a simple orange obstacle and a gap I have to jump over. Easy. The third stage has strange blue bars and different angles above me. As I move closer to them, they shift about in the third dimension to form a ramp. I climb the ramp to a new goal. The camera zooms back, revealing I was just playing an arcade game called “Ortho Graphic” in an arcade with purple 80s-style decor. I have escaped the world of the arcade game.
It’s a few minutes later. I make blue guy jump into the air and click, freezing him in the second dimension as I move about the 3D landscape in first-person. As I unfreeze him with another click, he lands into the blue bar I set underneath him using my line of sight. I move him to the goal. Suddenly, he can escape the arcade game he was just trapped in. Now, we can go deeper into the arcade.
This poses some interesting questions: am I controlling the blue man? Or am I the controlling the player of the blue man’s game? If so, how do I still control blue man when he’s outside of his game world, navigating the over-world of the arcade?
Perhaps the game is asking me: Who are you?
Perspective is a heavy concept on paper, but in practice, it makes perfect sense: I’m playing a game as a gamer in a game world. This is my everyday life. I enter into one game world after another, often in the same sitting. Each game is different, but I am the constant. My world has become a library full rabbit holes. Perspective echoes this rabbit hole existence by using my blue guy avatar to link those holes together.
Perspective is certainly not the first game to use a Russian Nesting Doll mechanic, where you jump into a world within a world within a world, finding yourself several layers deep. I’ve been doing this since Mario 3. Perhaps this is why the meta experience feels like home to me?
I recently talked to a friend who has teenage sons that love Portal and Portal 2. He asked me if I think games like it engage his son in a healthy way or if it sucks them deeper into a land of cognitive dissonance. Do they make it harder for them to see that it’s not actually all about them? If Perspective is trying to answer that question, I’m afraid it’s in the negative.
If the best we can find in a compelling experience is a mirror, doesn’t that kinda define narcissism?
Perspective subtly drew my attention to who I am as a gamer: the constant across multiple worlds. I am the overlord.
Wisdom dictates that if I’m trained to see myself as center of the universe, I need to start looking outward. Games that encourage us to look outside ourselves may seem rare, but this is changing. Dys4ia opens our eyes to transgendered individuals’ lives and their experience with hormone replacement therapy. The Walking Dead centered on death–a self-death for the benefit of the weakest character. To The Moon empowered a woman who lived with Asperger’s Syndrome. The Binding of Isaac empowered a victim of religious abuse. For Papo & Yo, it was victims of abusive alcoholic fathers that were given voice. And Analogue: A Hate Story values the perspective of women who are victims of extreme misogyny.
Perspective reminds me that I’m not those things–I stand “above” those things, controller in hand. But that very reminder is a wake-up-call. I need to wake up and turn my eyes to the things that power-up other folks and give them life lest I continue to live in a vacuum of self gratification.