What the games Ico and Shadow of the Colossus taught me about writing
The back story is completely optional to this post. If you’d like to skip ahead to the writing-listy portion, go on. I have it marked accordingly, but I must warn you. You’re missing a magical tale of love, nostalgia, and the renewal of my inner-child. You have been warned.
Not too far back I went out with my boyfriend and we went out to check the used game hoard at our favorite GameStop. It’s a regular outing for us, as both of our usual off days are on Monday. It’s become a major staple in my life, and I tend to never spend a dime. I go just to look, to reminisce over games of my childhood that sometimes pass by on the shelves, because I gave up games for my writing. I play every once in awhile, but nothing like I used to. I would’ve classified myself as a “hardcore gamer,” two years ago. Now? I’m more of a casual, passer-by in the gaming scene.
Well, on this particular outing, I was checking out the Playstation 2 unit, segregated from the rest of the games in a tiny bin at the corner of the room. Most games run from $10.00 to under a penny, and most of them already make up a core of my dusty gaming collection at the top of closet. But it’s always fun to check out a few older one, or some that I might have missed along my path to professional writer-dom.
Digging through the stacks, I came across a familiar cover. Beyond familiar. It was the first game I ever played on my Playstation 2, which came with the Playstation my dad brought home the day the system came out. I was beyond excited, having exhausted my Nintendo 64, Playstation, and Gameboy Advance while I awaited its arrival, and I drooled over the never-ending possibilities this new toy had built up in my mind.
The game I found, and played for hours upon hours, sum fourteen years ago, was Ico.
While the game itself already had me rolling on the dirty carpet of that Gamestop with a piercing shrill of fangirl giggles, the price tag had me beyond shocked.
The game is beyond a classic: it is a work of art. But that game was $39.99, used. I still had my copy, so I wasn’t shelling any money out for it, but it had me wishing. I wished I could play the game again, but my PS2 had conked out not long after I picked up the PS3, so my game was basically unplayable no matter the disc’s state.
In my fit of fangirly-ness, I had called the attention of my boyfriend, his stack of first-person shooters abandoned back over near the wracks of “New Releases.” He came over without a word, plucking the game out of my hands and studying the name and case with interest. His eyes glanced up at the price, bugged for only an instant, then shifted back to the title. He had bought games brand new at $60, but a used, outdated game for a little over half that was still a shocker.
He never said a word during his scan, and eventually did hand it back with a half-hearted discussion on the artistic integrity of the game, which I can sum up as a snarky, “The graphics were shitty.” I begged to differ, but that’s another tale for another day. Then, he drifted back to his ever-growing stack of games, plucking one more off and adding it to the pile before lifting and cradling them to his chest to then dutifully carry them over to the checkout counter. I never bought anything, so I never brought my wallet. He would usually check out, then come see what I had scavenged or found interesting. He’d talk to me for awhile, about it all, then we’d carry our conversation, plus his gaming loot, back to the car and debate back and forth all the way home.
He used to ask me if I wanted him to buy me something, but I would always tell him no. If I didn’t have the money to get it myself, then I didn’t need it at all. At least, that was my usual answer, but as we left the store, I found myself drifting back the Ico game in that used gaming bin. It fouled my mood enough to keep me from speaking most of the way home.
Finally home, we went back to our bedroom and went to sorting the games out. It’s a beautiful thing. I love making lists, spreadsheets, and organized stacks. It’s all like a puzzle, which is much of the reason I fell in the love with the game Ico. It was a never-ending, beautiful puzzle. We would each take half the stack, and I would start marking them down. My boyfriend dreams of one day writing game reviews, which I encourage whole-heartedly. He is just as much dedicated to writing and organizing as I am. I usually passed out the stacks, but he made sure to purposefully half and pass me my stack. It was odd, but we are an odd couple, so I didn’t put too much thought in it.
I went through my stack fairly quickly, taking down every title and making sure to ask whether or not it had a Game of The Year/Platinum edition coming out anytime soon. I wasn’t as much into the gaming world anymore, so I wasn’t as aware of things as I usually was. He would nod or shake his head accordingly, and I would mark it down accordingly. My lack of current gaming information was probably why I was so surprised to find the game at the bottom of my stack. I had already started to ask,
“Is this going to have a Platinum release?”
When I stopped and reread the title.
The Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection. It was a PS3, remastered, re-release of Ico, plus its unofficial “spiritual sequel.” Needless to say, I was beyond ecstatic, and when my boyfriend told me he had bought it for me, you can only imagine the love and happiness I was emitting towards him, and though he only smiled and told me not to thank him, I knew he was just as happy as I was.
THE WRITERLY PORTION – ONWARD TO THE LIST
After the large, huge, ginormous amount of back story happened, I played the game. It is simple in mechanics, which allows for thought, patience, and immersion to completely take hold of the player. It tells a story without dialog, but I’ll explain more of that in my bullet pointed explanations. Enjoy!
- YOU DON’T NEED DIALOG TO TELL A STORY
In Ico, there is probably ten lines, total, of dialog. All of which is in an entirely different language, with subtitles that consist of symbols, reminiscent of the Word font Wingdings. The game relies on the gameplay and setting to progress the story, just as writers can/should use constant action and detailed setting to push along the mood and story. The game made me cry, and I never understood a single word said, if any words were said at all. There’s a reason this game is hailed as an art form, a classic, and will probably be remastered time and time again *fingers crossed.*
- AN ACTION CAN EVOKE JUST AS MUCH EMOTION
In Ico, there is a simple hand-holding mechanic, which you use to guide Yorda, Ico’s charge, to move her from area to area because she will run off or get lost, otherwise. Every time Ico must turn back to grip Yorda’s hand and pull her up what seems to be a never-ending spiral of staircases, or when he must fight off shadows to reach Yorda before she is sucked into a large, dark shadow and her only hope is Ico’s out-reaching hand, that creates a bond. It creates an emotion. Sure, the added intensity of the fighting mechanic adds its own part, but even the simple holding her hand to cross a rickety bridge, or lifting her into his arms because she’s growing weaker as time passes creates this beautiful relationship. And not a word passes between either of them. Simple actions and interactions between characters is enough to evoke the emotion you want. You just have to find the action.
- DETAILED DESCRIPTIONS OF SURROUNDINGS AND OTHER CHARACTERS CAN HELP EVOKE EMOTION OR FURTHER PLOT
Like I’ve said before, Ico relies heavily on its surroundings, especially where the puzzles are concerned. When you have to look out for Yorda, who is frail, weak, and unable to perform most of the tasks Ico can, sometimes the path isn’t always clear. A dark shadow may hide something. An unlit torch may be the key to finding the hidden path. A misplaced brick may lead to blocked door. Or an overly-ornate chandelier in a dim, destroyed ballroom, may indicate an action is required before being able to continue on through the doors, which are locked, at the other side of the room. Create places that will either help or hinder your characters. Put shadows where mystery may hide. Make your main character’s shadow resemble something from his nightmare, or, in Ico’s case, his reality. A well-placed detail can create a whole new flow or progression in your work. Create a puzzle and see if your characters can solve it.
While I would love to talk more about the wonderful world of Ico and SOTC, this blog post is running much longer than my usual go-around, so I’ll be cutting it off here. Now, for my favorite part, questions. Have you played either of these games? Do you agree with my points? Do you use them? Need help with any of them? Wanna know more about my nostalgic gaming collection? Let me know, and comment below!
Thanks for reading.
Have a request for a blog post topic? Just wanna ask a question? Go to my About and Contact page, fill out the contact sheet, and shoot me an email! I look forward to hearing from you.