Sunday, September 21, 2014

Flower (PS3) Review

Flower is a beautiful little game. It’s…look, I’m going to be honest with you, I haven’t been having the best day. I found myself not wanting to get out of bed today; found myself wondering, as I sometimes do, why I ever get out of bed. It was safe in there, warm; why leave? Why not just retreat back to the land of dreams? Why get up? Why leave such a safe haven and deal with all the stress, fear, anxiety and discomfort that waking consciousness would bring me? I shut off my alarm and tried to just relax. Just forget. I finally did get out of bed and was disappointed in myself. It was already far too late to squeeze in everything I wanted to do today and therefore I didn’t feel up to doing anything at all. As evening came on, physical discomfort joined my emotional discomfort and even though I still had a headache among other aches, I say down to play Flower. In the PS3 menu before even starting the game, a simple image of a blue sky and tall green grass with a single flower in the corner was accompanied by a tranquil musical piece and a simple, three line tutorial on how to play the game, explaining the only two actions needed (“tilt the controller to soar” and “press any button to blow wind”) followed by the words “relax, enjoy”.

Relax, enjoy.

These words…. Maybe such a thing is simple for most people in their down time, but it is very difficult for me to “relax” and “enjoy”, at least completely. But these words still brought comfort. Encouragement. They were quite simply, what I really needed to hear at that specific moment in time.

The opening moments of Flower juxtapose a noisy cityscape with a peaceful green field in the middle of nowhere. This perfectly reflected my current feelings. All the stress and frustration and noise then…peace. Just what I was looking for. The opening moments of playing Flower were exhilarating. As the text earlier informed me, pressing and holding any button summoned a gust of wind that moved a flower petal, while tilting the controller itself aimed it. That was it. I was just a flower petal, weightless and free, soaring over a field of tall green grass blowing in the swift breeze. A blue sky and golden sun were overhead. I felt a breath of fresh air.  For a moment, I didn’t feel shitty or anxious or sad. I felt gleeful.

And that’s really it. Flower is that moment. Sure, the game goes through a few different settings and changes things up with each level (or “flower”) you play; it’s a journey that leads the player through tranquil valleys, over windmill-covered plains into the sunset, across a dreamlike nightscape dotted with streetlights, into a dark and lifeless wasteland and finally to the city itself, all in a quest to restore life and nature and deliver the simple message that something as simple as a flower petal can bring so much joy and meaning to life if you just take the time to notice it.

Maybe this all sounds hokey to you. Too pretentious, overly sentimental, or too obvious a metaphor. But it’s effective, damnit. It’s human. And is it so obvious? How many of us don’t take the time to appreciate a flower blooming in the middle of a city? And I mean really appreciate it. How much better would all of our lives be if we just remembered, every day, every moment, how much happiness little things can bring? Not just flowers but a warm blanket, a conversation with a dear friend, a cool breeze, a really creative video game.

But at its core, Flower is really all about that opening moment of blissful play. That feeling of weightlessness. Of mirthful flight and wonder, a vast landcape with a blue sky above. What a goddamn ingenious concept for a video game: a flower petal floating in the breeze. Maybe this is something you’ve seen in hundreds of art films and read a thousand poems about, but how often do video games tackle this kind of subject? And how perfect are video games for this kind of experience? What other medium uses a combination of sight, sound, and feel to allow us to assume the role of a flower petal dancing in the wind?

Flower isn’t a perfect experience. It’s at its best when it actually makes the player feel like a weightless object gently gliding through the open air. Its central objective of guiding your slowly growing swarm of flower petals into rows of flowers on the ground in order to make them bloom, gather more petals, and magically cause certain environmental reactions can sometimes conflict with the core experience that the game is trying to deliver. It can be tedious if you miss one or two or six little flowers which blend in with the ground and have to awkwardly spin around looking for them. This act can take away from the gracefulness of the whole thing and remind me that I’m playing a video game, looking for objects.

But whatever. The game doesn’t require every little flower be touched, that was mostly just my OCD’s idea, always terrified of “missing something”. This is a game about being a flower petal and joining other flower petals and floating in the breeze. And I got to do that. Flower isn’t life-changing, but it is life-affirming in its own small, but oh so important way. It’s not revolutionary, but it actually kind of is. It gives me so much hope for the potential of video games. Video games…interactive experiences can be about anything. Anything. In an industry and medium that is driving itself into the ground with shallow narrow-mindedness and stubborn, strict definitions of what a “video game” should be and is, Flower might as well be a revelation. And I know there have been plenty of indie games tackling original and experimental ideas since Flower originally released five years ago, but in regards to mainstream video game culture, I still think the previous statement in valid.

More importantly than that, Flower, in its simple way, reminded me on a shit day of how life can beautiful and about what makes me happy in life.

It answered my questions from earlier: it reminded me why I get out of bed, at least for today.

No comments:

Post a Comment