Despite suffering from the Unimaginative Title Syndrome (UTS) that plagues most flash games, Psychout is pretty interesting, and it has a refreshing spirit.
As the Jonathan Blow age of the subversive platformer reluctantly draws to a close, Psychout (a savagely subversive platformer) takes a bunch of hackneyed videogame verbs and references and cleverly, unceremoniously throws them at you. The tone that emerges is downright gleeful. With its straight-jacketed protagonist, Psychout is funny, wondrous, puzzlingly fresh and pretty much completely devoid of “meaning.” And it incorporates a Pong clone.
I’ve only made one game, and it was a text-adventure type thing about working in a coffee shop and not getting tipped. Yesterday, I attempted to create my own Pong clone in Stencyl. It took me forever to even get the ball and paddles to show up on the screen, and then I had to get them to move around. God I felt stupid. The task wasn’t monumental. I wasn’t even trying to learn to code. Someone with real, practical knowledge had created a tool to make this easier for me, but it was still hard. But the resulting humility was refreshing, even exhilarating: I know nothing of games. I am a child.
And when ball and paddle finally collided for the first time, it was ecstasy. Alone in my apartment, I shouted with a stupid exuberance. I made something happen. I made something work. I felt such a significant, pure joy, it left me feeling slightly embarrassed afterwards. I tried to remember the last time a game made me feel like that. Why did I fall in love with these things? It was because of the stories, right? Yeah, because of those and that sense of losing myself in another world. But there was something else underneath: something more primal. It was the comfort of action and the satisfying immediacy of feedback. It was a verbal joy.
The princess is in another castle.
In my own efforts to squeeze every ounce of significance out of the hordes of short-form games I submit to my amateurish scrutiny, as I struggle to play even a minimal role in inching my love towards legitimacy in the eyes of Culture (and in my own eyes, admittedly), I had forgotten that joy and its source. It’s so easy to forget.
Psychout offers no grand, sweeping statements. Just tricks that you’ve seen before, remixed and rearranged: mushrooms and spikes and blocks and pipes and pong clones and a silly title, all thrown together in a stew, the poor man’s entrée. Maybe this is all the platformer has left to give us. I think I’m OK with that. Here’s to verbs.