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Flower easily won my surrender with its fields and cities -- three hours well spent. In undoing my reluctance to spend time on films, books and video games it reminded me of other commitments I'd like to renew during Advent.
Video games are the product of hope. Bit of a stretch? Bear with me. Whether the work of an individual or the efforts of a team, their existence is often a minor miracle. Right now there are thousands of people toiling away hoping to create the gaming stories of next year.
Flower on the PS3 underlines this. It combines a beautiful landscape and the simple controls of blowing a flower petal to create an experience that is the epitome of hope. It defies what we think a video game is, or should be.
Hope here is biographical, the developer's childhood journey from the countryside to the city and back again is reflected in each level. Hope is memory, it wordlessly says, the memory of the breeze -- what it can carry to us and what it can bring us to.
To share this journey we naturally surrender to the constraints of the game -- after all that's how these things work. For all the openness and being able to choose our own path the game insists we move slowly through its calendar, its seasons.
It's this rigid insistence that we play by their rules that gives video-games their hard and sometimes unforgiving edge. The poetry I read and religion I follow offer a less insistent invitation to share hope. Rather than interaction and exhilaration they work with sympathy, intrigue and often gentleness.
Antonio Machado is a poet I'm getting to know (similar to favourite Rainer Rilke) who wrote about a moment that could easily have been plucked from Flower. It expects us to be ready to surrender to the wind, and to have something to offer it that we've nurtured.
The wind, one brilliant day The wind, one brilliant day, called to my soul with an odor of jasmine. "In return for the odor of my jasmine, I'd like all the odor of your roses." "I have no roses; all the flowers in my garden are dead." "Well then, I'll take the withered petals and the yellow leaves and the waters of the fountain." The wind left. And I wept. And I said "What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?"
But I don't like all this surrender, I'm suspicious of it -- that I will waste my time, or see promises broken. I'm instinctively adverse to surrendering time and effort to read a book or poem, play a game or contemplate faith. I'm not sure why and it's not something I'm proud of.
What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?
Some things are helping though. The church calendar -- that cycle of days and seasons like advent and lent -- has helped me find space to surrender to its stories of hope. Games like (and unlike -- Assassin's Creed Liberation recently) Flower have got me over the initial hump of commitment. Playing other games like Poker has helped too and uncovered my need, and reluctancy, for rigour and discipline. Watching The Wire redefined TV drama as more than suspense driven entertainment for me, to being something substantial and realistic and therapeutic.
Threading through all these things are people. The people with me on my faith journey, the people who make the games I play, the people who have schooled me in Poker and even the people of Baltimore's various economic strata.
Flower on the PS3 brought all these things together in a way that worked for me. Like Machado's poem, it gently invited me to spend time considering the gift of creation while not settling for a sentimental or indulgent perspective.
Flower does all this conveniently in three hours and reduces the hurdle of commitment. Poetry may take days to engage with, a book weeks and faith years. Dipping into any of these experiences without really committing means you may miss the point. Rime well spent, but a one off?
I need Flower's city and its field.
I recently vented my distaste for Advent's victorious sentimental overtones -- messiahs, new babys and mystical gifts, bah humbug. A friend reminded me that this is part of a bigger story. "I think Advent, is about allowing ourselves permission to wonder, and to blur our eyes and marvel, and to anticipate, and to revel. We strip back quite deeply when it comes to Lent, and we allow ourselves to hear the voice of temptation, and we confront our demons, and we go headlong into the blank space from which we may never re-emerge."
This is the point for me, I need both advent and lent in the stories I commit to, Flower's city and its field, Machado's garden and desolation and The Wire's faltering missguided heroes. A story about hope that escapes sentimentality or something, as has been said of Machado, sympathetic yet unindulgent.
More uncertainty in my video-games, complexity in my TV, problematising in my novels and counter testimony in my faith. If I can bring myself to risk committing to some of that perhaps there's still time to save my garden from "withered petals and the yellow leaves".
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: