Initial Covetous Exploration

For our upcoming analytic paper, i have already made the decision to do a critical study on the flash game Covetous. While this blogpost is not the most in-depth analysis, it is a creative outlet in order for me to explore the not-so-organized ideas in my mind and maybe figure out a few things to have a veritable direction in which to disseminate and succinctly argue.

Screenshot of which the entire game takes place.

At first glance, the picture above might give the impression this flash is a happy–albeit with a visceral twist–game. We see green bile as a portion of this body of a smiling person that has clearly been ebbed away maybe in a Operation board game style. As a white blob in the center can be seen as your avatar within the game. You might even be saving this man from something.

Hardly the case at all.

Newgrounds has infamously been around for quite some time after Tom Fulp embarked on creating a website dedicated to flash of which i am sure he never intended to become the ever-evolving beast it is today.

While the site began as a place more commonly known for hyper violent and over-the-top games, over time the site and its users have matured. Much like video games, flash entries have been created with the intent of making art. Indeed, Newgrounds is still a haven for ridiculous and perverse flash to be exposed to the Internet, but the site has expanded to include not only flash games but movies, user-created music, an art portal, forums, and a site of free exchange of ideas. Every now and then something more artful and thought provoking will appear, quite shockingly when compared to the majority of muck one can find on a daily basis.

The author, programmer, and overall creator of Covetous is Austin Breed. He has posted several pixelated flash and flash games that tend to err on the side of art. Covetous made its debut on July 18th, 2010. His brief and only description of Covetous is that he quickly made the work in 48 hours for “Ludum Mini-Dare 20, with the theme ‘Greed.'”

Ludum Dare is, as the sub-heading says, a “Rapid Game Creation Community” of which to share and display ideas. Clearly after playing Covetous there is more to Austin’s simple Newgrounds quick explanation. Our main insight are the tags Austin has posted the game with (thank you, Professor Whalen!): “cancer; creepy; greed; chestburster.” Austin did directly say the primary theme of Covetous is the topic of greed, but only until a few days ago did Professor Whalen point me toward the tag of “cancer.” Creepy, greed, and chestburster i understood, but cancer–wow, that changes the whole ballgame up rather quickly.

There is very much an existential vibe to this ominous game; much like Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, we’re immediately put into a grotesque out-of-the-blue situation having no full idea of how or why the situation starts the way it does. En media res we are put into an absolutely strange circumstance of genuine absurdity. Again, like Nikolai Gogol’s The Nose, we are found in an insane position with no explanation and no justification but to simply push forward in existence.

The fact that this game is made using the most basic of digital art, the pixel, makes the work all the more creepy, as Austin puts it. Surely, had the game been drawn using a more hand-drawn style, the overall feel may have been even more disturbing.

Oh, God, why?! -- Courtesy of UrbanLyra

But something about this truly basic computerized art style gives this unsettling aura of something much more primal. Even the music is a disturbing lo-fi de-rezzed 8-bit spine grabber. Everything about Covetous just exudes and oozes gruesomeness. Considering the short length of the game and the most simple of control schemes, the game can be a stimulus-overload with sound, sights, and nasty ending despite the simplicity and the rock-the-one-level aesthetic.

The brother-to-be somehow given a second chance at life is clearly quite and angry and selfish and misunderstood. It’s even more eerie to note that this…thing is not quite human:  beginning as a single cell somehow simply born it becomes human shaped; it has a human-like intellect; it has a human-like affect and spectrum of emotions; but it is not fully human. i always refer to the movie Jacob’s Ladder or the Silent Hill series (of which was directly inspired by the movie) when discussing relatability to monsters. Silent Hill’s Masahiro Ito fully intended to make human-like aberrations that were not so much beasts as deformed parts of bodies with a human base. Somehow this sort of vibe is ingrained into Covetous and it makes you downright uncomfortable to play as this growing cancer while having a certain level of knowledge at the injustice of the circumstances.

As a cancer, things move slowly. You as a cell start small and work your way of infecting or taking in other parts as a manner in which to grow. As you grow, you notice your brother/kin/host’s smile start to fade; clearly something is amiss with pain. But you begin to take form as a pixelated fetus that goes more and more. No longer is the music the same drudgery but a sirens call showing how anxious you are to have life. The whole situation is only more complicated as the cell admits an affection for the host, but ultimately and with ferocious anger demands death of its host and in the fashion of Ridley Scott’s Alien, chestbursts to life as this bipedal monstrosity.

Chestburst is another tag there. Pop culture was really given that gift with the movie Alien, which thrives on twisted sexual imagery and distorted births and deaths. Your covetous life is the death of another with this second birth. Not so much a child as a parasitic invader whose parental relationship is disgustingly tangled. Suffice to say with Covetous there’s this underlying asexual yet incestuous goings-on setting.

The final part i have to figure out for this upcoming analysis is whether or not this work falls into the category of art. Indeed, Newgrounds did not start as a creative outlet for intellectual gratification. But as the site evolved, an actual collection of art games has been established. Reading Ian Bogost‘s articles and regular postings on Gamastura sheds some light on my direction, as well as taking into account Roger Ebert’s aphorism that video games cannot be art. There are a lot of conflicting views but it also presents to me and other players a dilemma: how do we perceive art? What is our subjective definition of art?

Such a vague notion of art and what is and is not and everything going on in Covetous, i have a lot to work with but am trying to not hang myself given all the facets of this work with which to focus. i think ultimately it will come down to defending this unsettling work as whether or not it’s art and have to describe more in-depth the allusions and ideas floating around in the game and my jarred head. Thankfully i have Professor Whalen’s guidance and direction and having done this blog has provided a little more introspective insight into where i want to go and what angles i want to focus on.

It’s all there, jumbled but there. Now to organize, formalize, and wreck shop in the literary sense. Go team.

  2 comments for “Initial Covetous Exploration

  1. April 30, 2012 at 9:28 am

    pixelated flash and flash games that tend to err on the side of art.

    This is a great blog entry, but I just was struck by your phrasing here. I think we should all do well to “err on the side of art.” I love that phrase. Somebody should put that on a t-shirt.

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