Mind: Path to Thalamus is a staggeringly beautiful game.
Let’s set aside its silly name and its wince-inducing narration. We’ll pretend the game was made as it should have been, as a series of evocative vignettes that trust the player to put together the pieces without forced explanation. The waves scene is a great example of how the beautiful imagery of the game, created by Carlos Coronado, serves its narrative purpose.
Take a moment to click on the picture above and view it at full size. As a screenshot, it’s pretty, but you must understand that the wave in that screenshot is still, frozen, even in the game. Take a look at it in motion (or lack thereof) in the below video, accompanied by some awed profanity in a rich, lovely accent:
The evocative imagery in this game is simply sublime. It’s one of the best examples I’ve seen of true multimedia sculpture. Let’s look at this level in depth.
Years ago I wrote a piece on the original mod version of The Stanley Parable.1 It’s since been remade and released as a for-sale title with very high production values, which I got just after release.
I’ve played a few remakes of old games or overhauls of mods, and it’s always an uncomfortable experience. Everything in the game is familiar but different, and I constantly find myself wondering, “Did this happen in the original and I’m just forgetting? Is it totally new? Is it similar to an old bit but different enough that I don’t recognize it? Did I just miss it the first time?” Stanley weaponizes this feeling, even for new players who didn’t experience the original.
With The Stanley Parable, you never know what to expect.
I’m usually a kind video game player. I choose non-lethal options when available, act morally, and generally roleplay as a responsible (if sometimes abrupt) character when given the option. The character I played in Skyrim was an ambitious but magnanimous barbarian-mage, seeking the power to rule and protect. I didn’t seek to kill anyone unprovoked… until I met Maven Black-Briar.
Maven1 is the rich de-facto ruler of the city of Riften. She is rude, cruel, and entitled. In a world of racist Vikings and execution-happy Imperials, she stands out to me as the most loathsome humanoid character. Sure, there are strange avian hags that eat people and vampiric assassins, but she is just a brewery owner who’s happy to kill and torture and extort for personal wealth and power. She mirrors her city, a place that represents corruption and villainy, and in doing so says a lot about Skyrim‘s attitude toward morality.
Sparky’s Den, in the Memorial Union at Arizona State University, is a bowling alley and arcade where I spent many of my summer late afternoons as a young teenager. I can’t find any photos of their arcade online, so I don’t know if they still have the old Dungeons and Dragons or Alien vs. Predator beat-em-ups, the Gauntlet Legends machine, the copy of Silent Scope.
The Marvel vs. Capcom machine.
I don’t have the same love of fighting games and arcades that a lot of video game folks seem to. I was never good at split-second reflexes, and my arcade time was limited to short spans after a summer program for gifted kids that was held at the university. Fighting games were weird curiosities: colorful characters equipped with secret moves in fanciful stages. The fighting games I remember are odd ones: Battle Beast, from a PC Gamer demo disk, or the inexplicable Golden Axe: The Duel. And I definitely remember Marvel vs. Capcom.