Ludographies – Biographical reading of video games

The other day I saw the new episode of Campster’s Errant Signal about the evolution of Blendo Games’ First Person titles. While he rejects auteur-theory-motivated analyses of big studio productions he considers it a legitimate, if experimental, way of looking at the creative output of individuals or a small and consistent group forming a studio. Coincidentally I recently debated the legitimacy of such an approach myself. When I was working on a paper on “Hotline Miami” earlier this year, I had an investigative, but by no means complete, look at the immense ludology of Jonatan “Cactus” Söderström.

Suddenly the crass violence, flashing colours and bizarre dialogue didn’t seem crass at all. Instead, had I played Cactus’s games before, I would have rejoiced that he maintained his style on a grand scale. Not that Hotline Miami is necessarily the only game to logically follow his previous releases, but the relationship is close, and many stylistic elements are reminiscent of his earlier titles.

There are even recurring themes in his works, of which the one that stuck out the most for me was the unleashing of inner desires / the desire for transformation. Whether turning into a violent, pink wolf in Fucking Werewolf, gradually becoming a car in Hot Throttle or indeed, putting on a rubber animal mask and becoming a mass murderer in Hotline Miami. I have yet to dig deeper into Catus’ Ludology to trace this motif even further but it seems fair to assume that the reason for this recurring theme is the main developer using his craft to express and explore transformations.

Would critics have acess to cactus’ biography, they would surely identify events and influences that shaped his interest and thereby his work in this way as they do with the great artists in other media. As it is, we can be content to play cactus games and speculate on the internal drive that fuels his work.

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