By Kieron Gillen on August 24th, 2009 at 10:33 am.
Rationalization is, as far as I can work out, pure art game. There is, as far as I can work out, not much game actually there. If you’ve no interest in this kind of thing, don’t follow the link, as it’s totally not for you. It’s also not, as far as I can work out, particularly great. I link to provide something for those of a certain mindset to chew over as they start the week. Go give it a shot, think about your interpretation. You’ll find mine beneath the cut, but don’t cheat. The one clue: according to the creator he made it to “to help me think through some philosophical ideas of Ayn Rand”.
Okay. The aim of the game is to collect all the items. Two are possible, the third is separated by a divide which you can’t cross by any discernible normal method. You can give up at any time and leave through the door, where you’re told that “You Live On Earth” and it’s the first of two endings.
But there’s something else going on. There’s someone else in the area with you, who you can approach. If you do so, he spouts a series of pro-community/rationality cliches (“United we stand, divided we fall”, “Justice is fairness”. The sort of thing Rand is 100% against, basically) and advises you try a special move. When you do this, an overlay of other paths fades into view, which move as you move, but – as you eventually realise – you can’t interact with whatever. The advice has no meaningful effect in the world.
Eventually, you submit and go and end the game. The point being, that there is no second ending. The world is the world and we have to live in it, and anyone saying anything contrary to that is full of the proverbial shit. 1=1 and all that. It’s point is hammered home by small things like the identity of the person you’re trapped with’s identity changing on re-play – on time an artist, the next a medicine-man. Point being, that anyone who says this kind of thing is full of shit.
That’s my take anyway. It’s strength is that it actually uses the medium – in that it’s reliant on that final leap from yourself. You need someone to play it and think about it. It’s a philosophical argument you interact with. The final leap isn’t in the game – it’s in your head.
The problem is that I think the game actually holds its contrary thesis. Yeah, there almost certainly isn’t a way to get that third item… but we don’t know for sure. I’m writing this half expecting someone to say “no, you have to do this”. I know that’s clearly anti-Objectivist, but it’s there. Even in a simulation reduced as far down to the basics as Rationalization is, to try and show you this is how the world is it doesn’t prove it. In fact, the opposite. It just makes you feel there must be a way through, in defiance of all logic. Without actually having some knowledge of Rand, I suspect that’s the message I’d have taken from it. John – who doesn’t – gave it a shot and just left immediately thinking it an annoying webgame. In other words, it lacks clarity unless you’re already talking to the converted (or, at least, those like me who are aware of what the converted think).
It’s simplification hits on its other problem – one which Rand shares. In cutting to these fundamentals, the opposition is reduced to a pure straw man.
EDIT: Oh, be sure to read the comments here. It’s kind of proving my point.