I’m a relatively new fan of Leigh Alexander’s thoughtful writing. I caught a few of her works outside of SVGL, checked out her blog, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Considering I just finished playing Flower last night, I was interested to see what her latest posts made of the game.
Surprisingly, she seemed almost scathing in her criticism, although she clarifies it as more of a criticism of the audience as opposed to game itself. I’ll admit I haven’t really followed the critiques of the game out there – mostly because I wanted to play it for myself first. Now that I’ve finished playing the game, I can conclude that I agree with a lot of Alexander’s post. Flower is, indeed a simple, well-crafted game that executes on a very solid design. And, as I did with Braid, I didn’t feel it was necessary to ascribe any particularly lofty interpretation to it via some quasi-narrative (as tempting as it was to try). The brilliance was there in the simplicity and elegance of its play and its presentation. The beauty was to be found moment-to-moment, and not in some big-picture, hippie message of becoming one with nature or something like that.
But like a good number of the commenters, I can’t help but object to some of the criticisms Alexander presented. For one thing, I don’t see any problem with an intention to create emotion. In her example, an amateur actress fails to stir an audience because of her focus on the intent rather than the act. But there doesn’t have to be mutual exclusivity between the intent and the act, as a professional actress can surely harbor the intent without breaking character. It’s hard to pick out a good game at all (by one’s own standards) that didn’t have such a design deliberately “manufactured” to convey or communicate a specific intent. It’s an integral part of the craft – one that I don’t believe can or should really be criticized. I think a lot of the commenters on Alexander’s post expressed the same thing.
Furthermore, I disagree with the statement that Flower “so obviously adheres to what has been done before, and in many cases, done to death”. Maybe I’m taking the quote out of context, as Alexander seems to be referring to Flower’s “gamey-ness”, but I think one of the unique things that allows Flower to impart a sense of peace and freedom is that it actually gives the player the opportunity to play the resolution. The truth is that the majority of mainstream games consist of an escalating series of challenges that end with passive resolutions – generally, a cutscene. Flower, by its design, puts the player into the resolution. The game’s levels progressively add more obstacles and limitations to the player’s freedom of motion, until it concludes with a final level of freedom. There aren’t many games that give you that final level of freedom. Most of them get harder and harder, building up to some big boss fight, after which you get a cutscene and some credits. Sure, Flower’s “active resolution” isn’t at all anything new, but it is rare.
Anyway, if you’ve played Flower, give Alexander’s post a read. It’s an interesting one, and her writing is always eloquent. You can also read her followup post: I’d Rather Let The Flowers Keep Doing What They Do Best.