Thursday, March 5, 2009

Half-Life 2 Critique

The damn problem with overlapping Jungian dream analysis and games is that the systems match, it’s just they rely on different resources. Jung would typically read through 400 or so dreams from a single person, often written with no knowledge by the patient that Jung would be examining them, and then single out of that batch 30 or so that displayed archetypal tendencies. Then he kind of…ping pongs the individual dream off this massive amount of knowledge he had on religion, myth and the occult. So he would figure out what was going on in the dream by finding connections through myths and religions until he could see a commonality. So the physical action for baptism, let’s say, involves immersion in water. You see that in a dream, minus the context and maybe involving talking pink elephants, and then connect that to other themes.

So the first brick wall I’m facing is that I don’t have Jung’s education in myth and religion. I’m not really sure anyone does. He’ll stop and say, “Look, this is a baptism archetype. It relates back to ancient greek mythology about cleansing, this is the religious pattern for it and this is how we dream about purging.” The thing he’s pointing at, however, is usually something like a golden skull slurping up Jell-O pudding. As soon as you try to nail the archetype down though, for example another golden skull but this time slurping diet Coke, it doesn’t mean that at all. I’m being facetious but the point is that the content isn’t really relevant, it’s the form and what it induces in the patient. It all still charmingly fits my original hypothesis that archetypes and game design work the same way, a jewel in Zelda is not the same thing as a jewel in Bejeweled obviously, but f*** all if it does me any good. I know what a chaos archetype is and I understand how it’s working in Bejeweled, but explaining to someone that the reason you obsessively play the game is because the Greeks believed the world began with chaos before order was applied and we subconsciously mirror this through our own mind by constantly applying order to the universe doesn’t help anyone. You say that to a room full of gamers and developers.

The other issue is that obviously a game isn’t built like a dream or religious ceremony. I’m not blasting through a warehouse in Max Payne to show the constant packaging of violence that makes up the whole of the game’s experience. I’m in a warehouse because the assets are easy to make and it drags out the length of the game. So even once I’m done with figuring out how to replicate Jung’s archetype identification system I’m going to have to replace the huge myth template with video games themselves. I didn’t really think of them as archetypes before but I’m starting to realize I was already doing this all along, like pointing out how the Myst archetype of realizing your actions spill into the real world is present in Manhunt 2. Two totally alien games, same archetype going on. Unless there are a bounty of people who are as crazy as I am and actually trying to identify these things I’m stuck with what I’ve produced thus far and what I will add in the future. So…I just have to keep writing about old games.

At least this is all going somewhere.

Oh yeah, I wrote a giant essay about Half-Life 2.


Iroquois Pliskin said...

this is a nice write-up.

I should mention, since you played on the Xbox, that this game contains my favorite achievement of all time. Remember where the guard throws the can at you and tells you to pick it up. I was like, "fuck this guy" and I threw it at his head rather than putting it in the trash. And then when I got an achievement for it i was really delighted.

Geoffrey said...

The parallel you drew between the Military intervention in Half-Life and the Combine's presence in Half-Life 2 is really interesting, but it doesn't jive with the impression I got from the Human/Combine interaction. To me, it was more of a "humans are being squashed by the Combine invaders, Breen convinces everybody they're better off as the newest members of the Bor...I-mean-Combine than they are dead." Did you really get the feeling that the Combine were initially thought of as saviors/protectors, or was that more a stretch to fit the parallel?

L.B. Jeffries said...

I figured since they employed humans in Civil Protection there must be some portion of the population that thinks these guys are the best bet. Given how disturbing the wild aliens are, I found myself being able to relate to needing the Combine despite the awful price of it.

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