It\’s been 10 years since Shadow of the Colossus was released for PS2. It is, probably, my favorite video game of all time. But Team Ico don\’t make games, they make experiences, and I\’m going to have to buy a PS4 to play The Last Guardian assuming it will actually be released. Anyways, Shadow changed the way I view at gaming and art en masse. It tells a mysterious story with practically no dialogue and no action, save for sixteen \’boss fights\’ in which you, a young warrior, defeat unimaginably huge nemeses in a quest to resurrect the love of your life. My wife thought it would be good for me to write about the game, now 10 years passed, that was so special to me. My wife is full of good ideas.
In beginning this entry I feel as if I\’m stepping back over that lonesome, cyclopean bridge into the land where the dead rise.
That place…began from the resonance of intersecting points…They are memories replaced by ens and naught and etched into stone. Blood, young sprouts, sky – and the one with the ability to control beings created from light…In that world, it is said that if one should wish it, one can bring back the souls of the dead. But to trespass upon that land is strictly forbidden…
This all we\’re given when we cross over, a mysterious edict from a more mysterious prophet. Soon we meet a strange god, Dormin, and shadowy creatures that haunt the hero from start to finish, crushing his soul and ultimately possessing him as his quest to resurrect his love closes. No real explanations are provided; we\’re handed a mute myth and asked to fill in the holes ourselves.
That kind of minimalism and intrigue, the unanswered questions and blurry borders, are what make the game so magical. Just so with Tolkien\’s writing and LOST and the other works of art I love, the gray spaces and vagaries are what stir my heart. They\’re like boundaries for the imagination, a playground for speculation within the confines of a clearly developed world.
The world in question, the Forbidden Land, is paradisical; the nemeses horrifying. They lay in wait, unobtrusive to the land but haunting it nonetheless, eidolons of broken life (Dormin\’s, Wander\’s, and ours) to be reclaimed. Simultaneously they are benign and catastrophic. Wretched mountains to be climbed, bruising and maiming as they go.
Feelings like this are what I injected into the game. I was in a stage of great transition; starting my first proper career, getting married, learning to be a grown up. The tectonic shifts in my person unearthed things I didn\’t like about myself, things that were uncomfortable and not easily dealt with. The colossi became for me what they were in the game. Mute idols, figures that had been dormant in the temple within, come to life in the wild lands outside. When I could not decide how to defeat them, my strength was broken, my confidence and strength gone. I was the little wanderer squaring off in an impossible battle against beings whose feet were more than enough to squash me.
Besting Valus, the first colossi, was as emotional as it was cerebral. Suddenly I could do this. I could crack the code, move on, and purge the land. And this is what good art offers us, a padded scope into our souls.
I\’d like to say that completing the game (and enjoying every second of it) was a completely cathartic experience, emotionally and psychologically, but it wasn\’t. After the first colossi, while the symbolism and pathos remained, the game part caught up with the emotion. And yet it was a step beyond the threshold to a place where art can be more than just something appealing or interesting and interpretation is a self-important ride to be taken. In this new place art transmutes into experience coupled with aesthetic and imagination. It is a place where less is more, where every blurred line, every tale without an ending, every enigma is not a dead end but an open field in which we might find a tiny piece of ourselves.