Gravitation: portrait of a bipolar world


Gravitation is one of the games that we played in class, but I didn’t give it much thought until I attended a student’s presentation on the source code as a text of literature that can be read for meaning. The creator, Jason Rohrer, released a statement indicating his reasoning behind creating Gravitation: “I needed to make a game about this process that I was going through. About success, and creative leaps, and mania, and mood cycles, and the aftermath.”

This was fascinating to me. The game plays like a simple one, but there’s layers to it that I never considered until this presentation. The presentation was a fascinating one, delving into the different layers the create a game, everything from the code itself to the tools we use to play it, to the audio-visual components we refer to as the “game.” But that’s not all the game is.

Gravitation is not just a cute, pixellated game of ball and stars and ice cubes. It’s an autobiographical tale; but we wouldn’t know that unless we engaged more thoroughly with the creator. I’m sure that we could draw our own interpretations without ever looking at the author’s original (and very much stated) intent. When I first played the game, I thought that the blonde avatar was a  girl who left the boy avatar brokenheartedly after he ignored her for too long; the author reveals to those who seek out the information that the blonde character is the author’s own son Mez, who simply sneaks away from his father, presumably to entertain himself elsewhere.

The widening and closing view of the screen is another interesting point; the further the author gets from that which gives him joy (his family) the smaller his world seems to become. However, spending time with his child elevates his mood (following a complex mathematical set of rules, that were presented quite nicely by the student but which blew right over my head; English major for the win?) to the point that his head catches on fire and he rockets skyward. As someone who goes through my own manic and depressive states, knowing this tidbit about the game, revealed by the source code and the author himself, make the game so much more impactful when I play through it. (Is impactful a word? Well, it is now.)

I completely understand and empathise with the character who finds himself in a perplexing time of creativity but also sadness. He writes, “all of these life-changing events, hitting me at once, elevated my mood to the point of near mania, and I drank deeply of the conglomerate experience.” As we go through these confusing times, cloistering, suffocating sadness and wild throes of delight both attempt to sweep us off our feet. This game is a delightful, condensed portrait of not just the author, but sort of the world at large. And it’s all done in 8-bit. Kudos.

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