Sponsored By: Aaron “DJ Dostoyevsky” D
Time Tricked: 44 Minutes
Take a long look, folks, because this is what Art looks like!
The debate over whether video games are Art is as old as it is tiresome. I’ve long been of the opinion that the only people who truly care whether video games get the coveted Art With A Capital A label are people who are trying to prove to their parents why it’s perfectly acceptable to play video games and watch cartoons into their forties, but aren’t secure enough in themselves to make that argument without an appeal to the authority of a capital letter. The rest of us are too busy enjoying video games to write long-form essays that attempt to convince people who read Andy Rooney books that video games are legitimate.
But those straw-people I just constructed for the purpose of a humorous takedown (or “humorous” takedown, if you want to be mean right back at me) are right about one thing: Video games can be art. The trouble is, the games that are Art are not the games that people who argue that Games are Art want to acknowledge. We usually turn to games like Bioshock or Flower or Limbo when we want to talk about games being Works of Art, but in reality those games are Works Of Craft, which is harder to do and more impressive but doesn’t have the cachet.
Art needs to be transcendent to be Art, and that doesn’t often happen when a team of people can polish something to a mirror shine. Being really good at something doesn’t make it art; it has to have a piece of you in it. I mean that figuratively, unless you’re KISS or Thomas Kinkade, in which case you’re allowed to use the word literally, but only this once. For a game to be Art it has to say something about the Artist, and I don’t mean “we didn’t sleep for two months during crunch time to make sure this game didn’t crash every time you save while doing a barrell roll.” It has to come from their core, and be true to their vision and nobody else's.
Candice DeBébé's Incredibly Trick Lifestyle is such a game. It has, as far as I can tell, one developer, one voice actor, one musician and one writer, and I suspect they’re all the same person, though details on Havishamone Games online are sparse to say the least. This is the game you get when someone has a vision, and almost has the skill to pull it off. Every character model is hand-crafted, in Sculptris if I had to guess, and all of the dialog appears to have been voice-acted by the same person, or the same two or three people. The animations are minimal, but serviceable, and the user-interface doesn’t transcend “Unity Default Font” on the creativity scale. Nothing about the game is particularly well executed.
So why the praise from yours truly?
Because it isn’t trying to be anything other than what it is. It’s not a game that’s trying to win over the sort of people who determine exactly what counts as an “indie darling.” It’s not even trying to win over the players. It represents videogame development shorn of any commercial or critical consideration at all, and as such it represents the artist’s vision completely.
But what is that vision? It’s an RPG about a woman on a quest to save her best friend’s tanning business from an evil pop-singer and an army of “sexy ghost minions.” To do it, she has to go on a quest ‘round the world to beef up her magic powers and fill up her inventory slots.
If that sounds ridiculous, try describing Super Mario Brothers in the same terms sometime. “Mario is a plumber who must rescue a princess from a fire-breathing horny-toad and an army of walking mushrooms. To do it, he must eat flowers and shoot fireballs while jumping on floating platforms.”
“You play as a man who travels to an undersea city and fights a horde of drug-addled people in bunny masks, on his way to defeat a giant statue. To do it, you have to rescue – or murder, it’s your choice – little girls who are guarded by hulking robotic diving suits, and drink potions made of sea-slugs that give you superpowers.”
All video games are insane, in other words. What makes them Art is when that insanity mirrors exactly the insanity of the person who made it. Candice Debebe's Incredibly Trick Lifestyle is exactly that game. It isn’t a good game, but it represents artistic freedom in a way that you don’t often think about.
Good on Havishamone Games for making it.
Will I Keep Playing
What am I, an Art Critic? I can appreciate that art is fascinating and be happy that it exists without actually wanting to look at it. I’m just happy to let it be an inspiration to other artists, and maybe to myself.
You do you, Candice, and don’t let anybody else tell you different.
But I’ll tell you this: If I ever go all-in on streaming, this might be the game I start with.
Is it the Dark Souls of Art?
Of the many amazing things Candice Debebe's Incredibly Trick Lifestyle has going for it, complex gameplay isn’t one of them. You point your mouse at enemies and hold down the left button until something dies. And by “dies” I mean “disappears” because nobody bothered to make death animations.
If you’re looking to be challenged with gameplay, this is not the game for you. If you’re looking to be challenged with Art, then yes, Candice Debebe's Incredibly Trick Lifestyle is definitely the Dark Souls of it’s kind.