Bastion Gameplay Analysis


Let's Jam

Of all the qualities that I would’ve imagined being impressed by going into this text, repetition certainly wasn’t one of them- at least to the degree that it most definitely has. In all honesty repetitive data was one of my biggest concerns going into this project, as I feared the possibility of ending up with boring, unrevealing data after all my work. After all, repetitive motions in video games are an all too frequent characteristic of gameplay for many games (at least the way I play). And having completed the exploration of the game input as a text, I can't honestly say there was anything about the raw results that I couldn't have predicted. I've played enough games now to be very familiar with my own tendencies, especially within particular genres, and the fact that I relied far more heavily on spamming my melee weapon than my ranged weapon when I had the choice wasn't very revelatory for me- at least initially. Once I began to process and organize my data though, the revelatory qualities and significance of all that repetition and disorganized patterns as embodiment of a subconscious flow, guided by the careful-yet-open design of the developers, hit me above all else.

There was something entrancing about the flow of events the data was describing for me from the moment I started to process it for Voyant onward. It seemed to be an oddly nostalgic little journal of my personal journey through Bastion, and seeing my qualities as an individual agent who plays videogames laid out before me was a haunting affirmation of something I’d known- but had never been quantified like this. This Key Recording Software’s cold, algorithmic reading of nothing more than the buttons I was reflexively pushing was describing a very warm and personal experience for me, one that was especially fresh in my mind nonetheless. It was like seeing a list of all the neurons and nerve endings that had fired as I did something with my body, be it brushing my teeth or making love, cryptically yet familiarly arranged for me to peruse. Suddenly the repetition of instinctively mashing left click in the heat of virtual combat became less about a monotonous mechanical chore and more about a subconscious extension of my body to the body of the character the developers had created- and that’s what made it so telling. The text I was reading did not tell the story of one source of input, be it the game or the recording software. The text I had created was a story of intimate connection between my brain and the world and prosthetic, digital extensions the developers had laid out for me, facilitated by an innate familiarity with my keyboard and mouse. As I read my data on Voyant and saw that a great portion of my button presses were W, A, S and D for movement, instead of being bored by the representation of predictable data I was excitedly connecting the frequent use of those buttons to the frequency with which I use my own legs. In a simple sense it was highlighting for me the essential quality of video games that make them such a unique experience- they allow us to extend mechanically into our immersion with fantastical worlds and, as we familiarize with the controls, blur the lines between our bodies and those we control as a transcendental vehicle. Voyant did a wonderful job of capturing this subconscious flow that had so rarely been articulated for me, as the fluidity and ease with which I could view the qualities of my text once I translated it for Voyant’s use allowed me to feel like I had physically frozen those moments of time for me to sift through from many angles- be they the comparative or chronological proportions of my gameplay. The embedded SoundHound link for the musical manifestation of my text, which I will talk about more in the next paragraph, actually achieved something similar by showing me the progression of the sound waves in the song. That being said, each action represented a moment of urgency in which I felt compelled to act- be it a frantic gesture to restore my health or an invigoration from close combat that compelled me to whip out a secret skill every now and again. The dominance of certain actions only spoke more to the significance of the other button presses, other mechanical functions of my prosthetic digital body, that mattered to me circa immersion.

And it was precisely this notion that I was physically manifesting the machinations and patterns of my own thought that struck me so hard when I translated that text into music. I’m not entirely sure I could tell you what I was expecting, but I can certainly tell you that the eerie cadence that my repetitive in-game motions had generated- once again, all through cold, algorithmic processes- hit me as incredibly haunting and enchanting. The melody seemed almost sorrowful and, speaking directly to my feelings upon engaging with the text for the first time, bittersweetly nostalgic. It breathed new life into the remnants of my subconscious output, and created Frankenstein sound waves that seemed to cry out in the way I imagine someone would when trapped in a limited, unsustainable artificial body such as an audio file, or a text document. At times it also spoke out to intimacy of my connection with the world of Bastion- joyful for the moment of connection between myself and this beautiful simulacra of a purely simulated world collectively imagined by the dev team, but sorrowful for the limited ways my digital, prosthetic limbs would allow me to explore this world and the ephemeral opportunity I had to engage with it. It’s hard to say precisely what makes this collection of sounds so intensely sentimental for me, yet it feels like an accurate reflection when I describe it as an echo of the parts of me that I left behind in the game, now reverberating in the cold, limited, alien space of the digital.

Ultimately this was a very human, meditative, self-reflective reading for me that I could not have anticipated. As an individual who has been greedily diving into one virtual world after another from his first moment of exposure to immersive exploration of fantastical worlds and onward, this description of my intimate engagement with these worlds summons a sentimental connection to much of my life as it has developed in this contemporary, digitally tethered world. That being said, I am reminded now more than ever how much I fucking love video games.