it's not much but somehow i consider this a spoiler

anonymous asked:

What do you think the black turtles in Over the Garden Wall represent? I've debated it back and forth with myself but I'd love to hear your interpretation because your cartoon analysis is always interesting. :)

Ah yes, the dreaded black turtle question. I knew this day would come sooner or later. (Spoilers follow.)

In his interview last week with The Dot and Line, Patrick McHale responded to the question “What’s with the turtles?” thus: “It’s an imperfection in the quilt.” At first, when I read this, I thought he was just admitting that he didn’t know himself. (Poets, am I right?) But my second thought was that he might perhaps have intended it more literally. That the turtles might be little fractures–cracks between the spiritual plane of the Unknown and the reality which Wirt and Greg inhabit. There have to be rips in the fabric somewhere or they would never have been able to fall through. And it’s fitting somehow to consider the Unknown as a quilt, stitched together as it is out of a hundred eras into something eerily coherent. But you can’t hem a world like that together and expect it to lack a tear in the seams here and there. 

I don’t have much in the way of concrete evidence to back this up, but it’s nice to think about. 

When I was younger, there was a point where I was simultaneously playing a lot of Heroes Of Might and Magic IV and reading the book A Spell for Chameleon. Presumably due to the primal human urge to write crossover fanfiction, I at one point began to consider whether someone could make a Heroes 4 campaign based off the book. 

Spoilers for a book I didn’t like that much: the main character was immune to harmful magic. There was a skill in Heroes 4 that, at its highest tier, made a character immune to harmful magic, so that would kind of work out. However, in the book, the character’s magic immunity was a plot point that not even he knew about until the very end. In a game, the skill would be plainly visible. Even if the attribute could be hidden somehow, its effects would probably become apparent far earlier depending how the player played. Without major transformations, there was really no way to turn the story into a game of that type. 

It was sort of the first time I really became cognizant of the fact that different mediums enabled different things. Prior to that, it was easy for me to think of it as a progression: good books became movies, good movies became games, and with adequate resources someone could skip some of the earlier steps. The (rather obvious) realization that some adaptions were impossible led me to, for the first time, really think about the fact that different mediums had different strengths and weaknesses. It wasn’t something I had heard much about, and it made me want to play with them all and find how far their boundaries could reach.

I like things that step outside the norm for their medium. I’ve been enjoying the Hobbit movies a lot more than the original Lord of the Rings because, by movie standards, they are agonizingly slow and in-depth. I guess that’s what happens when you adapt a short book into a full trilogy, and I really like it. On the other hand, there’s some boundary-pushing that doesn’t really work for me. I think most story-based games fall into this category. I’ve been playing Thomas Is Alone and while I find the writing enjoyable it’s a bit frustrating having to solve tedious puzzles to get more of it. I get what it’s trying to do, showing the characters working together, but after the first few puzzles with each character it starts to feel a little arbitrary toward the story. To me, it’s just an obstacle to make the story last longer. 

That’s something that bothers me about a lot of games, really. They seem like very good books, indiscriminately mixed with reflex tests you must complete in order to progress. I remember a few years back one of the Mass Effect writers got a lot of criticism for saying that she wished there was a way people could skip all the combat segments. Her wish kind of makes sense to me, though. I mean, she was a writer. If I made a really nice restaurant and someone put an arbitrary puzzle lock on the door which patrons needed to solve to enter, I’d like a second door without a puzzle lock. I’d just want as many people as possible to get into my restaurant.

I think that really hits at the idea of medium strengths. Few people would argue that there should be, say, a way to skip the puzzles in PortalPortal is a game about being locked in a test chamber with a mad AI obsessed with making tests. Much like an emotional book is designed so people sympathize with the characters and feel emotions alongside them, Portal draws you into the story by putting you into the protagonist’s predicament. GLaDOS has trapped you in a puzzle and you can’t progress until you finish it. What you are experiencing is, emotionally, very close to what Chell is experiencing. It’s worlds away from a combat sequence you have to replay again and again until you get it right, with all failed attempts discarded as noncanon. 

This ability to put players in the protagonist’s shoes is something I wish was brought up more frequently when gamers are defending games as art. I always see people bring up examples of environmental art, character design, or storywriting as evidence that games can be art, which is kind of stupid to me. You wouldn’t defend football as being art by showing how much care went into growing the turf or designing the uniforms; those are just an application of landscaping and design, which are separate arts entirely. That ability to evoke emotions through interactivity, however, is something that makes games themselves unique. Sadly, I feel like a lot of designers don’t even think about that, let alone art critics.

In summary: do weird shit, but do it with a reason. Heck, when you do normal shit, do it with a reason, even if everybody else is doing it for none. I think it pays to think hard about what your chosen medium’s strengths and weaknesses are, and tailor your writing and/or design to play them up. A game needs to do things a movie couldn’t, a poem needs to do things a song can’t, a webcomic needs to do what a print comic could not, and a radio play needs to do things that cannot be done in text alone - as well as all the vice-versas. Anything less and you are working at a penalty, likely to be outshined by those who are willing to play their medium’s strengths.