The liner notes to Treasure Adventure Game state, simply, that it’s a love letter to the games that developer Stephen Orlando played as a kid and “the countless hours of joy” that they brought him.
Holy shit. Joy, eh? That’s a word we rarely see. Right!, we say. This shit used to be fun! A comment left by Aaron Jean on Electron Dance says it well:
I’ve been struck lately by just how dark gaming is at the moment….Why can’t we have more genuinely pleasant worlds in our games?..I do wish there were more worlds I felt like saving.
This is Blue Sky In Games stuff, and it’s true: Indie games can be depressing as shit. The existence of Depression Quest–released on Valentine’s Day, for fuck’s sake, and we say the scene doesn’t romanticize depression!–seems like it’s almost satirical, like the sad indie hipster equivalent of a sitcom kid pining for Super Murder Death Kill 3000 IV.
I’d extend this a little further to not just be videogames–there’s a general view out there that sad shit is deeper than happy shit. Let’s face it: When I was 17 I was listening to Nirvana and Alice in Chains while classmates were listening to Britney Spears and N’Sync. The associations of depression with introspection and intelligence, and bliss as a condition of ignorance–they’ve been associations I’ve never been able to quite slough off. Most of us can’t.
Things are somewhat different now than when Blue Sky was written–the rise of pixel games had yet to occur, and gaming was in a funny spot where it desperately wanted to avoid any perception that it was “kiddie” in any way. What can I say: I guess we all wanted to appear more mature so we made everything brown and violent.
Games are uncomfortable with themselves: Whether we’re deconstructing mechanics by calling them stupid while at the same time making a game about them a la Bioshock or The Line, or adding interaction to self-excoriating prose poems in order to attempt to say something profound, I feel we’re very reticent to let games be Games.
Look at Mass Effect 2: It’s one of my favorite games because it does not see anything shameful in telling a blockbuster starship captain story. You have a group of characters, all with their own shady pasts; an evil enemy, with a dark secret; some great pew pew shootemup action–Mass Effect 2 does not think that a videogame is a bad thing to be, and so instead of trying–and failing–to be Art (and by the way, one thing we all seem to miss about Games As Art is that “Art” is an expression of intent, rather than of quality…), Mass Effect 2 succeeds in being a Great Videogame.
Treasure Adventure Game sees nothing wrong with being a fun challenging platformer; the couple hours I’ve spent with it are demonstrating that by attempting to be a great version of something simple, it almost transcends its genre.
It’s really nice to play a game made in a state of joy.