Less Talk; More Rock!

SuperBrothers take on Zelda

Superbrothers, who have been getting some attention for their up-coming iPhone game Sword & Scorcery, posted a special feature on Boing Boing section that has the unintended ring of a manifesto for artful use of video gaming as a medium. The title sums up their call, less talk, more rock; but where it gets interesting is in the definition of these terms as it ends up becoming an opposition between semantics and phenomenology.

Written and spoken communication is a beautiful thing in and of itself. However, with videogames — a primarily audiovisual style of communication — talk can be disruptive, it can undermine.

Talk in this formulation is shorthand for, obviously, written and spoken communication. It is opposed by “rock,” a short hand for audiovisual communication that Superbrothers are arguing takes place in game. Rock is an undivided phenomena, engaged with the entire mind, as image, behavior, interaction, and understanding manifest simultaneously.

That’s the genius of this thing. It didn’t need to talk much at all, it was pure rock. This was the native language of videogames: synesthetic audiovisual expressing a meaning, where sound and image and logic come together and feel right, where the communication is nonverbal but nonetheless articulate, where you understand what’s going on the same way you ‘get’ the communication of a song, the same way you can be blown away by a painting or a piece of sculpture.

Rock doesn’t need to be explained, doesn’t require a tutorial, or endless exposition. It is understood through the convergence layers composing game. I am reminded here of Galloway’s argument about games as an undivided activity where meaning and doing transpire in the same gamic gesture” [Gaming, 104] as well as Bogost’s claim that “video games are a mess“. This is what I think is so interesting about this formulation that opposes Rock to Talk rather than, say, narrative. Rather than pitting the properties of gaming as a media against narrative, which is basically what the ludology/narratology argument was all about, the Super Brothers simply want the gaming media to speak for itself. If it speaks a narrative, that’s fine, great, even; just as long as it is achieved through a synergy of sound, image, logic, interaction, all the component aspects of gaming. In reference to the original Zelda:

It is dangerous to go alone.” Here’s another one from back in the day by Miyamoto, it had you poking around this place called Hyrule. This one had little bit of talk — a sprinkling of dialogue, a bit of a story. And that’s fine, because a little bit of talk is ok, so long as there is proportionally more rock going on, so long as the bulk of the experience is communicated in the native language of videogames with as little disuption as possible.

Its clear from this perspective how Talk can gets in the way, “talk” over the experience, or even take its place. I think it is particularly interesting that this argument appears now, when just as we see the release of Mass Effect 2 and Heavy Rain. These two major releases represent, from my persepective, a recent trend toward highly authored game experiences that try to explain everything, in which play rarely speaks for itself and, when it does, for the most part has little to say. An interesting test case here, as is mentioned in the comments to their piece, is Uncharted 2. Though it is highly authored, heavily cinematic, and not extremely original in its game mechanics, there are still parts of the game that I would consider more Rock than Talk.

What do you think? Are there games or moments in games that define Rock or Talk for you?