A Medium Reimagined

A filmmaker and close friend of mine, Ford Seeuws, shared this Verge article Tuesday morning. It introduces the video game Proteus, which offers little action, little storyline, little graphical innovation. In fact, the game looks and plays much like a game we might expect released in 1998:

But here is where it differs:

It may sound boring, as these kinds of games so often do, but Proteus is a surprisingly enjoyable way to spend an hour, and that’s mainly due to the music. Trekking across the island will cue different sounds — from the soft tinkling of rainfall to the excited hops of pixelated rabbits — but unlike more obvious music-focused games like, say, Wave Trip, you can’t use Proteus to craft an inventive new song; it’s much more passive than that. “We didn’t want to make a literal musical instrument,” says Ed Key, who developed the game alongside composer David Kanaga. “It’s more about the world as a piece of music that you can go through and explore in different ways.”

It is a game that focuses on the experiential — the emotional and intellectual — reactions to basic sensory data. It reminds me, in a way, of the brilliant TED Talk from Neil Harbisson, a colorblind man who listens to colors — and encourages other to join him.

What I like most is how the creators of Proteus re-invented their medium. In the past, artistic expression in video games came most often through expensive graphics or complex, orchestrated soundtracks or bizarre, far-flung worlds — think the epic RPGs of Square Enix or the vivid realism and creative worlds of Bioshock. But, the Proteus creators have found an almost impressionist, almost modernist means of creative video game art.

Writers and artists of all brands and genre should aspire to that ingenuity.

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