Cultural Artifact – Crush Game Review

I’ve been absent for a while doing a whole bunch of things.  I started learning to program (I made a dice rolling game in Flash), starting a new job, ramping up my work out schedule, and writing this article for Gamers Against Bigotry.  As well, I’ve been working on my writing (even though I haven’t posted anything).  I wanted to start writing game reviews (something I’ve done a couple times in the past), but I didn’t want to write just some plain old review about graphics, sounds, or anything standard.

I came up with this idea: Cultural Artifact.  Cultural Artifact will be the header for all my game reviews where I look at not just gameplay, graphics, or music for their own sake, but looking at the whole of these things and how they work with culture, create culture, and/or are a byproduct of culture.  So here we go, the first Cultural Artifact Post: Crush Game Review.

SPOILER ALERT: Cultural Artifact focuses on games as a whole and their relation to culture (which culture depends on the game and its focus).  Cultural artifact will invariably contain spoilers for games.  I recommend playing through a game before reading Cultural Artifact if you worry about having a game spoiled for your.  

Crush focuses on approaching someone you have a crush on, and the visceral response of anxiety that follows.  The character moves slowly, nervousness obviously apparent.  Your crush, the only blue cube in a sea of gray, is highlighted in a spot light.  As you walk closer your anxiety builds, the screen pulsating faster and faster.  The gray cubes often stop you to talk, short bursts of conversation interrupting and derailing your goal.  These short bursts of conversation do little for your anxiety.  Once in a while a gray cube will engage you in conversation just long enough to lower your anxiety by focusing your attention on something else, but this rare.  With your anxiety high approaching your crush will end in you fleeing far away from your crush, unable to muster the courage to talk to them.  But if you can find a way to get to your crush with your anxiety only mildly high, you can muster the courage to talk to them.

Crush is a game about shared experience.  That familiar feeling we all get when we approach someone that we have a crush on.  The anxiety that builds, the quickened heart-beat, and that fear of rejection nagging at you.  We all can relate to that feeling and this game captures the moments leading up to talking to your crush very well.

The game uses abstract representations of people as cubes.  There is a certain amount of imagination that is utilized when immersing one’s self into the game.  This abstraction leads to two very strong aspects of the game.

1)   The player is immersed as the character, rather than playing the character

2)   It enables people to relate to the experience represented in the game

Being the character, as opposed to playing the character, is a subtle but important distinction when a game deals with a shared experience. It helps the player become immersed and facilitates introspection with regards to the experience the game portrays.  The player then connects a bit stronger with the actions going on and is able to think of the gameplay in terms of “me” instead of the character.

The other great thing about Crush is that it is widely open to interpretation.  Depending on where a person comes from personally each event in the game can be interpreted differently.  Being interrupted during your quest to the blue cube (your crush), might be seen as an annoyance.  It could also be interpreted as a saving grace – an interruption or procrastination that can help you reduce anxiety & build up further courage before approaching your crush.

One aspect about the games development is that the game originated as a way to explore one of the developer’s own feelings and experiences.  Crush was developed by Trouble Impact a two person development team – Cat Musgrove and Issam Khalil.  When asked about the game Cat Musgrove told the PA Report “When I tried coming up with ways to explore my boy-craziness in gameplay, my idea was to specifically explore the heart-in-your-mouth sensation of actually trying to talk to said crush.”    The words “my boy-craziness” are important because it shows that she was attempting to distill her own feelings into a game.  Even though the game draws on personal experience it turned into a game that represents shared experience – reminding us that the things we often think as something that only we experience, are things that everyone has probably gone through at some point.

This game, for me, is a piece of art (even if it wasn’t intended to be).  The art comes in the form of its abstract representation & its wide scope of interpretability.  The game is something that can be understood and played by anyone because of the simple gameplay interface.  The game prompts the player, through gameplay, to be introspective about their own approaches to interacting with a crush.  More than that it also leads to thinking externally from one’s self about a personal experience.  Because of our naturally self-centric point of view we think of situations like these as based entirely around us (even though our anxiety is rooted in the opinion of another).  This game provides us the opportunity to see the situation outside of ourselves.

For a 5 minute game Crush ends up packing a pretty good punch, especially in terms of artistic gameplay.  Unfortunately the game doesn’t really offer itself up for expansion on the concept of social interaction.  Expanding the length of the game would probably end up in a dating simulator.  While dating simulators are not bad, per se, dating simulators don’t offer up the wide range of possible interpretations that make Crush so good.

The environment could definitely be expanded upon and the graphics refined to look a bit smoother.  One addition that I think could have improved the game would have been a utilization of sound.  I think that if the game had focused a little more on using sound, in addition to the visuals, to create that feeling of anxiety this game could have been even better.  Something as simple as a heart beat slowly coming to the foreground as your anxiety builds or background music fading with increasing anxiousness would have done more for the game’s efficacy in portraying the experience it seeks to recreate.

In addition the game ends rather abruptly.  Upon successfully talking to your crush the game ends with your crush having a speech bubble with a heart in it.  It cuts and there the game ends.  It does leave a feeling of wanting more from your success, but maybe that’s just a successful attempt to portray the idea that talking to your crush, despite racking you with anxiety and requiring far more courage that it should take, yields actually very little in the way of actually creating a relationship (I say relationship in the loosest sense of the word).  While talking to your crush is the first step, actually creating a relationship (even a friendly one) doesn’t start until end of a conversation.

Hopefully we will see more games that attempt to connect with us on a human level like Crush does, rather than giving us something made for pure entertainment.  Thanks Global Game Jam for inspiring Trouble Impact to make this game.  I can’t wait to see what else comes out of the wood work.

You can play the game online or you can download it.

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