When Games Matter is a weekly exploration by Drew Dixon of meaningful moments in games. Operating under the assumption that games do in fact matter, Drew seeks to highlight those moments that have much to say about who we are and the world we live in.
While Roger Ebert was responsible for stirring the videogaming blogosphere into an uproar on the issue, “Cave Paintings,” an article by the editors of N+1 Magazine is well regarded as the most persuasive argument against recognizing videogames as art. Their argument was based largely on the assumption that art teaches people to sympathize–something videogames are supposedly incapable of. Tom Bissel wrote a letter to the editors of N+1 that that magazine published in which he said:
The video games I am most interested in allow me a way out of myself, just as portraying a character or writing a poem or working on a short story allows the actor, poet, and fiction writer a way out of him- or herself. This is the basis of the artistic experience, at least as I understand it, and it is why I cannot agree with the author of “Cave Painting” that video games “encourage you to identify rather than sympathize.” The video games I love allow me to observe and control fictional characters, and when I am at the helm, I try to make these characters behave not as how I would but how I feel they want to—a strange sympathetic process for which there is, as of now, no good name. While I frequently wish video games were better written and more multifarious in their subject matter, this observation-while-in-partial-fictive-control is wholly unique to games. None of which, of course, automatically makes video games into art, much less those who play them into artists, but it does suggest that video games are bringing civilians within range of an interactively transformative experience previously available only to artists. Perhaps, if video games truly aren’t art, it’s only because art has yet to catch up to them.
This is precisely what makes Krystian Majewski’s Trauma a fascinating game. The game tells the story of a woman who lost her parents in a car crash and is processing her memories and the events of her life with the help of a psychologist. Playing Trauma is pretty simple–the puzzles are not mentally grueling and the entire game can be easily completed in one sitting and yet its a game that deeply moved me. I never felt as if I were the young woman or even the psychologist trying to help her but I did feel for her. I felt for her loss, I felt I understood her pain and wanted to help her. What made Trauma a meaningful experience, was not so much it challenge with regard to gameplay but its challenge with regard to understanding the mind of this young woman.
Trauma is a game about loss and perception. It challenges you, the player, to care for someone processing the loss of her parents. While the player may or may not have experienced similar loss, the interactive experience of exploring the young woman’s dreams helps you to understand her unique struggle and more importantly to sympathize with her in it.