Pastoral thoughts

There’s a really good review of Arcadia: A Pastoral Tale over at Jay is Games. There’s also a brief mention of the game at a place called Superlevel, which warns readers that some of them might find the game “too kitschy”. That set me thinking about a couple of things, but I’d like to ask you to play Arcadia before you read on.

“Kitschy” is a word that’s always annoyed me, I must confess. There are certainly cases where it’s appropriate, but I feel that it’s become one of the ways in which our increasingly cynical and misanthropic culture defends its own degradation. Has human culture ever before gotten to the point where beauty was considered a bad thing? Not where standards of beauty were different, but where we actually preferred grit and ugliness and reflexively denounced any attempt at beauty or poetry as kitsch?

I’m thinking about this is in general, not just because of this (otherwise positive and friendly and fine) review. I don’t feel the need to defend myself – Arcadia has done much better than I expected and I’m immensely pleased – but I do feel the need to defend the, shall we say, mode in which the game was created. Why do we so easily dismiss art that is hopeful or even just aware of the pleasures of being in the world as kitsch, but so readily applaud art which celebrates selfishness, despair and the feeling that life is and must be miserable? Why do we react with a kind of paranoia to the sight of a beautiful landscape but immediately classify any kind of gritty violence as “realistic”? Is that really our everyday experience, or is it no more than the world-weary posing of overgrown wannabe-adults?

To get back to Arcadia, however, I find the comment particularly weird because it seems to only apply to the surface of the game. If the game was only a superficial celebration of an idealized Disney-esque pastoral setting, sure, I could see why some people would be put off by that. I would be. But it isn’t! It does genuinely celebrate the beauty of nature, but there’s quite a lot more to it than that. The setting is not at all what it appears to be. Which leads me to the question I initially wanted to ask: what did you make of the setting? Not in the sense of “Did you like it?” (I know people liked it, and I wouldn’t care if others didn’t) but as in “What is this game actually about? What is Mount Lycidas?” All of the reviewers so far have been kind enough not to post any spoilers, but that also makes me wonder how much exactly people got of what’s going on in the story.

I’m not upset or anything. Just curious.

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