In Case of Trouble 2


A few months ago, I final­ly had the chance to set­tle in and give Bastion the good ol’ first playthrough. Which, as it turns out, very hand­i­ly gave way to the sec­ond and third as well. Planning a fourth as we speak.

I had heard tell of the Greatness That Was from the daily Ontological Geek office chat­ter. You know, in between shar­ing our favorite spots to pick up the most expen­sive evening enter­tain­ment while slurp­ing Patron sala­cious­ly through our six-figure grills out of our exclu­sive auto­graphed col­lectible Bob Barker teacups.

Now, when I’m given an admo­ni­tion to Check Something Out by some­one whom I admire, and whose opin­ion I respect, I take it very seri­ous­ly. Read: I very seri­ous­ly avoid even being near the rec­om­mend­ed object. For, like, about a year. Then I’ll ago­nize over how every­one else but me is in the Know, which will man­i­fest in a vari­ety of snarky and sub­ver­sive com­ments, cruel jokes, and touch­ing myself very gen­tly at night while bawl­ing in hideous, despair­ing aban­don.

Anyway, one day in fair­ly recent mem­o­ry, I broke up with my girl­friend of three years. We had been plan­ning on get­ting mar­ried.  I was very close to her par­ents and was, in all, a very major part of her life. Some things had hap­pened ear­li­er that year to both of us, pret­ty bad psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tur­bances, which wound up infect­ing our rela­tion­ship. Drove a wedge. It became evi­dent that our trou­bles wouldn’t cease until we had Moved On quite entire­ly. So, very mature­ly of us, we did. Before we got mar­ried. And even though both of us had seen those omnipresent but shame­ful­ly retrospect-specific Signs, for – well, as long as we’d been togeth­er almost, it was still a shock to the core when the end final­ly came along. All in a day. Just like that.

A cou­ple of weeks after the fact, my ubiq­ui­tous mix of detached bore­dom and intense­ly focused curios­i­ty com­pelled me to sit down, down­load and play Bastion. At first, I was mild­ly resis­tant to its clunky con­trols and rather – at first glance – trite and con­trived inter­face. But the con­ceit of per­sis­tent, dynam­ic nar­ra­tion, and very, very smooth game­play kept me trudg­ing for­ward. In a short time, I began devel­op­ing a very deep, res­o­nant emo­tion­al con­nec­tion with the game. It seemed to strike me on a basal level. Animal, very near­ly. I couldn’t pin­point what it was that kept me play­ing.

The art­work was excel­lent, the story, sub­lime (very lit­er­al­ly, in that it kept me yearn­ing for more, even as it sat­is­fied fun­da­men­tal, sub­con­scious desires). I became deter­mined to parse my reac­tion to it, fig­ure out what it was that made Bastion to spe­cial to me.

(Full dis­clo­sure: I had not felt such a pow­er­ful con­nec­tion to a videogame since Mass Effect 3, which deserves its own arti­cle, and before that, Diablo 2, for psy­cho­log­i­cal rea­sons about which I dare not spec­u­late.)

Imagine my sur­prise and aston­ish­ment, when, while comb­ing through the Ontological Geek archives in my quest to under­stand my reac­tion to Bastion’s nar­ra­tive, I came across our very Editor’s (Bill Coberly’s) pre­ferred inter­pre­ta­tion there­of:“…Bastion can be under­stood at least part­ly as being about how to pick one­self up and move along after a hor­ri­ble per­son­al Calamity.”

Wow.

Now.

We’re talk­ing about video games as art, and there­fore, fre­quent­ly as lit­er­a­ture, so we find our­selves faced with the irk­some task of des­ig­nat­ing the crit­i­cal form we deploy in their respect.

So far as my reac­tion to Bastion (and many other things) is con­cerned, I’m rather a fan of reader-response crit­i­cism. This crit­i­cal the­o­ry holds that the evi­dent mean­ing or truth present in a work of lit­er­a­ture is whol­ly depen­dent on the receiv­er. The player’s (or audience’s, or reader’s) indi­vid­ual reac­tion makes for the cor­ner­stone of any sub­stan­tive thought con­cern­ing the poignan­cy, rel­e­vance, or truth of an artis­tic instance.

I like this because I’m self­ish. Irrevocably so. Although I have grown up, and real­ized that much of the impor­tance I ascribe to myself (and, for that mat­ter, my fel­low humans, in the Grand Scheme of things) is a chas­ing after of the wind, to a cos­mic degree. I think that reminders of human insignif­i­cance have eth­i­cal impor­tance gen­er­al­ly, and so I try to remem­ber my own on a con­sis­tent basis. But I still can’t help feel­ing, espe­cial­ly with videogames, that there is Something there for Me.

In short, I felt such a pro­found con­nec­tion to Bastion because I felt I could iden­ti­fy, on a per­son­al level, with the Kid’s tri­als and tra­vails in the ruins of Caelondia. I felt myself wan­der­ing among the wreck­age, won­der­ing what to do. I saw a path before me, and couldn’t explain its ori­gins or impli­ca­tions. But I fol­lowed it nonethe­less. What I fore­saw was none too promis­ing, at the begin­ning. But as my deter­mi­na­tion per­sist­ed, so did my hope that what lay around the cor­ner was some­thing…grand.

So, I woke up one day. Saw that my whole world had got­ten “all twist­ed.” Floating pieces, every­where. Of me. Of my friends, my for­mer social life (hard won, you see, as at heart I’m a loner). My most trea­sured memen­tos. Sacred relics.

I got up. Set off for the Bastion, the safest place I know. Along the way, I found myself hav­ing to face the rem­nants of my for­mer life. Now, all undone. I heard voic­es, advice of a Stranger, knew that the straight-and-narrow would form under­neath my feet. So long as I kept mov­ing, It’d “point the way.”

I fina­gled my way through all of my emo­tion­al entan­gle­ments, back to the place from whence I came. Even before arriv­ing, I knew that things wouldn’t be the same there, either. Many things had come apart. Even then, I saw a hint of won­der, true adven­ture. Exploration, the poten­tial for some­thing beau­ti­ful to rise from the ashes of my total eman­ci­pa­tion from every­thing I once held to be con­stant and immutable.

I made new friends. Upgraded my inven­to­ry. Drank a bit. All of the self-medicating pro­ce­dures the Kid employs to get through, and to do what needs to be done.

In the end, I chose to Evacuate. Created for myself a New Life by aban­don­ing the old one. Gathered my sur­vivors – those things and peo­ple, mem­o­ries I chose to keep around. Detonated the cores – those heady per­son­al com­mit­ments keep­ing me bound to my for­mer sense of self. Attached sails to the Bastion – gave my life a sense of mobil­i­ty and unde­ter­mined free­dom, so that I could see where the winds might take me.

So far, the jour­ney has been worth it. I don’t regret it. I don’t know if I could do any­thing about it if I did.

I con­fess that I’m a dread­ful­ly sen­ti­men­tal fel­low, at heart. But Bastion helped get me through one of the more dif­fi­cult peri­ods of my exis­tence to date. I ascribe this to my own reader-response.

Partially.

Because a read­er has to have some­thing to respond to.  The devel­op­ers of Bastion knew that their work would be open to man­i­fold inter­pre­ta­tions, respons­es, and crit­i­cisms, praise and, pos­si­bly, vehe­ment repu­di­a­tion. In so doing, they opened up the pos­si­bil­i­ty for peo­ple to dis­cov­er it, and find it life-changing, action-inducing.

I know I did. In fact, I’d even go so far as to offer a rec­om­men­da­tion: if you, dear read­er, have found your­self faced with the prospect of hav­ing to deal with pick­ing up the pieces of your life, your very world, do me a favor. Give Bastion a try. Treat it as a sort of sur­vival guide, an Aesop and intro­duc­tion to that bootstrap-tugging we all must do from time to time, no mat­ter what besets us. It worked for me.

One thing’s for sure. Calamities do come along, and when they do, we’ll only have our­selves to rely on, for a time.

But there’s always anoth­er adven­ture. Whether we chose to save or destroy, restore or aban­don.

And it just might be bet­ter than any­thing you could have imag­ined.


Aaron Gotzon

About Aaron Gotzon

Aaron Paul Gotzon is a beguiling ne’er-do-well, prancing about the stage by night, and hawking shrimp and cheap alcohol by day. He’s about as qualified to write about games as the average squashed cockroach. He does, however, run an extremely successful male escort service and bait shop out of his grandmother’s basement. If you’d like to send him a message, put it on a piece of paper, and throw it away.

  • Jim Ralph

    I real­ly enjoyed this Aaron, thanks for writ­ing so unabashed­ly on such a per­son­al sub­ject. I haven’t picked up Bastion yet myself, hav­ing read this per­haps I’ll save it for an emer­gency!

    Something I’d be inter­est­ed to hear is how you find your­self react­ing to the game now. You say very early in the piece that you’ve com­plet­ed your 3rd play-through and are already plan­ning a 4th. If that orig­i­nal expe­ri­ence of Bastion was so cathar­tic, what are you tak­ing from it now? Like smells and tastes, I find that works of art can absorb my thoughts and feel­ings at the time I expe­ri­ence them, re-conjuring them later with a jolt of mem­o­ry. There are, for exam­ple, songs that I still can’t lis­ten to for fear of find­ing myself back in the midst of my last break up! That’s a peri­od of my life I’ve left behind, but a few chords and a melody and I’m right back there again. Does Bastion per­haps remind you of your sense of putting your life back togeth­er each time you play it? Or is there some­thing new there each play-through?

  • Hi, Jim!

    Thanks very much for your ques­tion.

    In fact, works of art (as you men­tioned, like cer­tain scents or types of food) do serve as mnemon­ic kick­starters for me (as I imag­ine they do with just about every­one). I deploy music prag­mat­i­cal­ly, for that express pur­pose. When I wish to revis­it a mem­o­ry, or just get myself into a cer­tain gen­er­al frame of mind or emo­tion­al state asso­ci­at­ed with a peri­od of the past, I know which songs to go to.

    Video games do serve that pur­pose, and you’re right in that my cur­rent, ongo­ing response to Bastion is still very much bound up with mem­o­ries of the recent past. There are other impor­tant aspects to my reac­tion as well, how­ev­er.

    First, I am able to take a step back from my per­son­al entan­gle­ment with the game’s sym­bol­ism, and see it as a larg­er sym­bol for the Getting Up and Moving On which we all must do, to one extent or anoth­er, every day of our lives. No one goes a day with­out see­ing some kind of Destruction or Disorder, and choos­es (Restore or Evacuate) to try and fix it, or to live with it and keep on keepin’ on. From the big things (breakups, death, tragedy), to the small (mess­es, argu­ments, work­place drama), we have to sum­mon what­ev­er courage is nec­es­sary and tus­sle it out. With this per­spec­tive applied, Bastion is beau­ti­ful aes­thet­i­cal­ly and teach­es good lessons.

    Second, video games are fun. Bastion’s rolly-rolly-stab-stab game­play is fluid, reac­tive, and enjoy­able to look at. So…there’s that.

    There might also be a small thing to be said for the fact that I’ve an addic­tive per­son­al­i­ty, and am gen­er­al­ly unwill­ing to do some­thing I enjoy just once.