Entry 19 A Slow Year

Ian Bogost’s “A Slow Year” is next up on the list of assigned titles. It is made up of four “game poems”, programmed to run on the Atari VCS, perhaps better known as the 2600.

As the title implies, “A Slow Year” is meant to be experienced slowly. I must admit to only having spent a few minutes with each title, and having read only the first part of the accompanying booklet. I must further admit to not having read any of the booklet’s “machined haikus”, though I’m likely to give them a glance out of curiosity alone. I will likely revisit this “game” in a later entry, once I’ve had a chance to spend a bit more time with it.

I am frankly not entirely sure what to make of these “Game Poems”. Having read the booklet, I can certainly respect Bogost’s intent. In fact, I’d call the whole collection an unqualified success as an interactive artifact. The images and interactions of the four seasons are wonderfully represented in a minimalist yet evocative way; each set of imagery is powerful enough to engender feeling and encourage the “player” to bring his own emotions and memories into the play space. This is especially impressive given the extreme limitations of the VCS/2600; I recently studied the system for another assignment and was fascinated and horrified to learn about its lack of a frame buffer and other constraints. Like Bogost says, it’s definitely “programming to the metal”, and here the designer has managed to create images that not only serve to depict an item, but also engender real feeling.

I am unsure if they can truly be called games, however. They each have a “win” condition and a set of “rules”, so they are formally games; I am not sure if this enhances them as an artifact in any way. Ironically, I think that what may happen is the very thing the author criticizes about the PSN title “Flower”; that “game” might get in the way of enjoying the interactive artifact. Still, I have not spent as much time with it as the author clearly intended; I have not truly upheld my part of the bargain. So far my impression is that I wish I didn’t care about finding the “game” inside each season/vignette, so I could simply sit and enjoy the experience. As it is, I think it adds a level of tension that goes counter to the other goals of producing slow, enjoyable interactive art/poetry. Still, the designer claims that the key to succeeding at the games is to slow down and enjoy the scenery; if so, then it would succeed brilliantly as a game. That has not been my experience, but my experience has been brief and the possibility is fairly tantalizing. The quality of the work, the elegance of the programming and obvious investment in time and passion by the designer all compel me to return and give it a second look sometime later, when I can better afford to slow down to the pace of “A Slow Year”.

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