Excuse a moment of indie fux0rism: I spent the other night playing two indie games. First, I broke in my new PlayStation 3 by downloading the much-praised title flOw – a game about being an amoeba. It’s possibly the most relaxing game I’ve ever played: hours can slip by as you let yourself float in ever-deeper waters, eating creatures or letting them be, and intuiting your way through the gameplay without feeling much of a rush to reach the end. The ambient electronic music is sublime. The experience was fantastic.
Next up: holy beJeezoid, Noitu Love 2. A breakneck all-action side-scroller filled with a ridiculous pastiche of sci-fi cowboy movies, aliens and cyborgs, tanks and bosses and a giant sign that blares “GO!” every other screen while insane 8-bit music spurs you on. My kind of game. I’m not an action nut, but I’m an activity nut: I like games that come from the school of “It would be so awesome if … ” – and Noitu Love 2 may be my Jets ‘N’ Guns GOLD of 2008.
The two games couldn’t be farther apart in mood, pace or frenzy. But what I realized as I went from one to the other is that these are my most natural settings: too fast, or too slow. Take music. I love glacial, ambient music that murmers and sucks all the sound out of the air. For one example, I love Supersilent. Yet I also love jittery, hyper music – XTC, Dirty Projectors. Guillemots are more moderate, but they’re also over-the-top – the needle goes to the red, and it hits all my buttons. On the other hand, I don’t like music that sticks to the middle. I have trouble truly enjoying soul music, blues, and most mid-tempo pop. The classic pop single usually has no effect on me: a nice catchy song is nice, but if the artists don’t sound like they’re getting totally ahead of themselves, I start to tune out.
I really believe this isn’t a matter of taste or intellectual preference so much as hardwiring. This kind of music just feels best on my nervous system, when I need to clear my head or get over a bad day at work. And in the same way, many games hold my attention, but flOw and Noitu Love 2 had me rivited. That’s just how I’m wired. And my reaction to the games might have had a lot to do with the soundtracks: both titles treat music as their real secret weapon, and its effect on my nerves sealed my engagement.