Video Games Inspired by Italo Calvino
From Levi Buchanan on Dan Benmergui’s game I Wish I Were the Moon — “an experimental game that deals in real abstracts: unspoken narrative, love, and the yearning heart. It’s based on Italian writer Italo Calvino’s story ‘The Distance of the Moon,’ about a time when the moon passed close enough to the earth that people could row across the ocean and climb up to it with a ladder… Depending on the sequences you choose, you can find nine different ‘endings’– and not all of them are happy.”
From Chris Dahlen’s review of Jonathan Blow’s game Braid — “By the time you reach the final castle, the fragments of text that introduce the levels — inspired by Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities — put the whole experience in sharp relief. Your journey isn’t about the girl, it’s about your understanding — and misunderstanding — of yourself. This isn’t a game about time, it’s about memories, and how they can be repeated and eventually rewritten. And understanding this isn’t meant to make you feel like a hero, so much as a liar.”
How beautiful, if a game can really deliver that kind of understanding! It’s fun thinking of reasons Calvino might be a good inspiration for game designers — such as his essential playfulness, use of powerful fairy-tale imagery, and penchant for alternative forking plotlines, stark premises from which endless possiblities proliferate. Like a game designer, Calvino creates grotesque worlds where people nonetheless have practical tasks to perform — worlds rather like our own.
In Six Memos for the Next Millennium, Calvino based an aesthetic programme on the qualities of lightness, quickness, multiplicity, exactitude, visibility and consistency — I can imagine a creator of computer games finding inspiration here. I’m not saying that playing such games could ever substitute for the experience of reading Calvino, but I can imagine it complementing the experience.
Now why not go further, and suggest that reading Calvino can teach us how to experience gameplaying? My daughter sometimes insists I play Skywire with her, a game where three ebullient children take a cable car ride through a world inhabited by murderous, monstrous toy animals. When I find myself imaging the story Calvino might have written set in this world, the experience takes on unexpected additional resonances.