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essay on the value of Freedom in ICO by Bruno de Figueiredo
One of the genuine virtues of ICO lies in the fact that the game can be interpreted in so
many different ways that one can only complain about not having the time or the intellectual resources to debate them all. Where a whole community of gamers displays an aggravated concern for the number of hours a videogame experience provides, Fumito Ueda’s game stands as substantiation that the truly important games exceed the threshold of their playing time. The characters, places and distinct emotions remain in our minds as constantly renewed memories, in the light of each new moment lived or lesson learned. Freedom is not without its cost, and so also seems to be quite true within this videogame’s universe. The character we control here is, by definition, a victim of ostracism in a society that excommunicates those of his unique kind. The cold, solitary space of the cocoon in which our character is enclosed isn’t but an exaggerated perception of the modern day prisons, hospices and sanatoriums. All these represent real confinement spaces that can commonly be found throughout the present world.
- The Carceri d'Invenzione (Imaginary Prisons) are a series of prints designed by Italian artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi, often mentioned as a precursor to surrealism due to the distorted nature of these drawings. They were a great influence in the creation of the Castle in ICO, as seen in the large rooms and tall arches, as well as many other architectural solutions -
Yet even in these tight spaces. The first videogame to have a story was 1976’s BREAKOUT. the imagination of Man reaches out far beyond the walls that delimit the space. cells.which is to say there is no prison for the emancipated mind. Although that little description and artwork seem to have become lost in time. . Somehow that main theme was lost and forgotten in time.The pursuit of Freedom in videogames - . designed by Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs in just four days. rooms. the original arcade cabinet for the game offered a full description of what the on-screen symbols meant: while drawn in elemental shapes such as squares and rectangles. individuals who are forced to dissolve the constant feeling of loneliness by means of imagination and distraction . . the block-hitting action represented a convict breaking a wall with a hammer. especially because of its successive remakes that reinterpreted the symbolic nature of the original version. The desire for liberty turns captives into dreamers.The arcade game flyer for BREAKOUT - Videogames do have an awkward relationship with the concept of imprisonment.
.The first screen of Prince of Persia. Nintendo’s game was also a pioneer. the girl. The main goal. Our character begins his solitary quest when thrown into the pits. but to save the princess from the ruthless villain. The gameplay itself was essentially an entr’acte between the kidnapping of the fragile plot element. Set in the ancient lands of the orient. Ironically. At this point we may once again return to the early 80’s. a complex maze of corridors and closed rooms from which he must evade. where Shigeru Miyamoto inaugurated the videogame concept of hero to the rescue: the year was 1981 and DONKEY KONG was the hit arcade game of the season. this exoticthemed game delved into the tragedy of a kingdom lost due to the tyranny of one evil vizier. as it was the first arcade title to present a story within the very game environment. where the character is thrown into a dungeon while hearing the sound of metal bars closing - A little more than ten years after this game’s release. The ticking clock is a permanent reminder that a greater. and the rescue performed by the heroic icon. altruistic mission is yet to be completed. is not only to preserve our own physical integrity.. however. by then known as Jumpman. Jordan Mechner authored his magnum opus: Prince of Persia.
Lester.. a young French visual artist and programmer ventured into a single-handed project which would originate on of history’s greatest videogames: Another World is a 1991 game by Eric Chahi that narrates the story of Lester.Arrested by an evil alien force. - Following Mechner’s footsteps. though not at all alone. is thrown into a hanging cage where he meets another captive. the main character in Another World. also an extra-terrestrial who helps us escape. The lack of a shared language between the two effectively indicates the desire to create a coherent ambience where the player felt out of place. a sympathetic native alien who will become our friend and companion through the process of escaping. being sucked through the computer screen into a whole new world. a physicist who mysteriously vanishes into another planet while performing an experiment with a particle accelerator. we must escape their domain. the game is also known for being a solitary adventure of a stranger in a strange land. After being captured by a hostile alien species. Apart from an introspective exercise on the very condition of the lone videogame player. . For that we can count on the help of an inmate.
. several examples of freeing experiences in videogames arose. apart from a massive amount of platforming. to a point where we may discriminate different kinds of motivations behind each character’s subjective quest for liberty. a meat plant who’s turning them into canned food.Foretaste Incorporating some elements from these previous games. ICO focused on the confinement of two characters. and the monumental barrier placed in their way: an oppressive castle. Abe. strangers to each other. is to save all of the employees belonging to his species who work at Rupture Farms. . are the key elements to this outlandish adventure. . The hero. he must also provide safe conduct to his fellow workers who are scattered around the vicinities - From then on.Abe's outlandish odyssey begins after he learned that the factory where he works is using his brethen as raw material for canned meat. isolated in a remote island. Yet the depth in which the inner dimension of the characters was explored surpassed all which was seen so far in the videogame medium. Oddworld Abe’s Odyssey is a distinct example of comradeship in a hostile environment. While escaping. Cooperation and communication.
to a point where she dares to defy the imposed order of a castle she seems to know. Despite the great ambiguity concerning the true stimulus that drives Yorda – free will or maybe plain conformity with a new situation she is also unable to control . however. as opposed to the thought of a pre-ordained scheme or. she is indeed eloping from the natural order imposed by a third character. the very fact that it was loose .In 1958. There is a very intimate relationship between this character and the spatial dimension of the castle. Destiny. often mentioned as freedom to.Ico gazing the vicinity of the castle before freeing Yorda - It is indeed interesting to apply Berlin’s model of dichotomist freedoms to the interpretation of this virtual model. same word: Freedom. Also entrapped. Even if one is reluctant to accept that there is a larger force at work when the capsule falls from the wall for no evident reason. he discerned between positive and negative freedom. presented in Oxford in 1958.there is certainty in the fact that from the occasion she holds hands with Ico and roams the castle. Negative freedom is that which is based on the lack of constraints. . the Queen: the fear of stepping over the line is clearly seen in the slow. much like some domestic bird. implying a past restrictive force of an individual over another. In his essay. Ico’s escape from the dark-stoned cocoon is the origin of all the commotion. Yorda follows Ico with noticeable trust. for instance when one is freed from an oppressive agent: hence known as freedom from. in an attempt to better understand the character’s motivations. hesitant manner she gives her first step out of the open cage. as it is most commonly known. as indicated by her tendency to point the way when the player feels lost. consists of the liberty to realize one’s will. two sides of a well-known and debated concept whose full meaning is still ambiguous and elusive. The positive kind. Kept in a hanging cage of conformism. philosopher Isaac Berlin suggested two different types of that one.
Jacques Becker offered a splendorous example which can easily be compared with this specific case. the creators sought to provide constant reminders of the importance that the concept of being free has in this narrative. seen in the distant background. Becker’s work depicts the prisoner’s daily routine of digging a hole through a thick wall. by tradition. He has distanced himself from the first confining element – the very first example of freedom from seen in ICO. so. covered in the late-night mist.defies any presumption that it was a plain accident. Le Trou. the outside world. But the fact that it is an open road makes it the most memorable of landscapes. It is a dirty back-alley of some sort. In his 1960 film. the absence of walls. As they lift the cover for a manhole in the sewers of some back alley. There is a slight notion of guilt arising. . fragile children. But due to Yorda’s lack of strength or unwillingness to leave. We cheer for their safe conduct to the realm of random possibilities: in other words. there is no plausible reason to assume they didn’t earn their status as captives. those forests we see at a distance from the open vicinities of the castle are the unreachable object of our desire. There is a specific moment in the game when the children find the gates to the exterior of the castle widely open. Not knowing the precise background for each of the characters. they observe a night scene of a street with a passing car. This is the first moment where the player is led to believe he has the chance to leave the island behind. we hastily infer they are good characters. From this moment on the player can roam freely about the castle. unlocking the way to new ones as he progresses. visiting locations as he wishes. Ico feels compelled to remain with her instead of exiting by himself. In the last night of the digging. In a naturalist and obsessive fashion. We hold them as innocent. We control them. Every obstacle is a setback and in this game. The film tells the story of five inmates who have a plan to escape prison by digging a hole through the cemented wall on the sewer network which is preventing them from reaching the streets. That precise shot can easily be considered the climax of the movie: the scent of fresh air. every closed door bears significant weight and is meant to dissuade or discourage the player. Even for the most distracted player. and the sheer possibility of running away to any place in the world creates a feeling which words cannot describe. Those lands. for we know the act of fleeing is so evidently forbidden. two of the characters that exited the cell in order to access the digging spot manage to finish the escaping tunnel and escalate the stairs in order to see if their path was indeed clear.
rescue his friend. the player also has a chance to meet a personification of all evil in the context of this space. Despite her tyrannical power display and her harsh words. After activating the proper mechanisms. but to realize his own power: we now enter the phase where the character expresses his freedom to realize his will or.. the player finds the gates open once more to. Ico is left powerless in some crude. presence a similar situation.An assortment of various moments from one of the final scenes in Jacques Becker's movie "Le Trou" (The Hole) - At this precise point of the game. his intention is to go back to the castle. this scene marks the beginning of a new stage of liberty seeking in the game. If one is to infer anything from this unselfish act is that at a certain point. the so-called third agent or Queen. now that he is no longer inside the castle. As Yorda is taken away. Instead of looking for his way out. what déjà vu. hanging cages outside the castle’s vicinity. . in this case. at the risk of losing his own life. Ico is less concerned about freeing himself from the Castle which moments ago encircled him. which mocks at our attempt to run away.
Their feathers are just too bright. is constantly providing a way so that events can occur in a predetermined fashion. Another motive for Ico’s final quest may be the shocking sight of comprehending. throwing him on a boat that reaches shore. the game ends here and so does the player’s ability to control the characters. We may interpret this Destiny force as the very design of the game or the player’s actions following it. As an uncanny twist of fate. it would seem appropriate to underline the almost evident Destiny theme implied here. Much like the space itself or the view of the open sea that swallowed the overwhelming island as it cracked. the reason why his species was being sacrificed. After waking up. the open nature of this narrative leaves the strong impression that the character’s story will go on. there is no method of avoiding the regular progression of the game: there is only one possible path and not a great amount of variety when it comes to cross it. even if at times. In effect. in loco. but only when in the company of that other girl whose awkward manners and charms have blown him away." Shawshank Redemption .Go the distance Many reasons can be suggested as to why the young boy feels challenged to perform such a task. Whereas the game allows the player to control the characters as he wishes. Hence the long-lasting impression ICO has had in so many players around the world. the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice. compromising his well-being for the sake of another character which he met so recently.. However. it is sure to involve reciprocal feelings between both characters. Notwithstanding. as well as the pitiable state of apathy he finds Yorda in. so many aspects of our lives seem to place themselves beyond our grasp. larger than the characters themselves. "I have to remind myself that some birds aren't meant to be caged. this story bears an exceptional amount of ambiguity. as if from a long slumber. Though Destiny has played an exceptional part in this episode of their lives. And this path dictates that Ico. Whatever the possibility the player comes up with. as a lesson of the true value of being able to decide our course. the role of saviour switches to Yorda. even after the player switches the console off: he has breathed life into them. so the player is comfortable to suggest his own point of view over various. envisions his true freedom not as a single being. when all seems to be lost for Ico. somewhere along the way. And when they fly away. Ico and Yorda meet once again on that oneiric setting in the form of a beach. the fates of these characters are now in their own hands. That may be accounted as an additional reason behind the brave act of confronting the authoritative Queen in a final battle. unanswered questions and unexplained issues. somehow. where a force. Ico and Yorda have attained the freedom to realize their own will.