Flower in your hands

Flower song


Flower transports me to a memory of the gamer I used to be. Before consoles, before blogs, before "gamer." When I played only to play. Pure beguilement, first-thought, joyful discovery. The marvel that held me rapt was astonishing: I can live for awhile on this screen. I can move through this world with my hands. The simplicity of it. The small miracle. Flower gave all that back to me, for a time.

Flower brought me home to play, suspending my analysis-mind. I didn't think that was possible. I'm too far gone for such surrender. Critical gaming is the only gaming I know anymore, and that's okay; it's not a burden, nor does it diminish my enjoyment of games.

But Flower intercepted all that, quietly offering a way to play and a way to be with a game that instantly felt both very old and very new. It touched me, and it restored something in me - a sense of wonder beyond conscious thought - that can only be appreciated in retrospect, after you put the controller down and reflect on what just happened; after noticing that goofy smile plastered on your face.

Flower communicates a poignant sense of longing. A poor wilted indoor plant dreams of living in a lush open field, riding the wind, bringing life to other flowers. Longing is an emotion few, if any, video games have meaningfully explored. Flower communicates it gently at first, and then in subsequent dreams it gradually evolves into mourning, desperation, hope, and finally transformation. So it was for me, anyway. Flower may work its magic on you very differently. Such is the evocative power of the experience it delivers.

How a video game can convey such emotions without words or a formal story is one of the most remarkable aspects of Flower's achievement. The player's experience is rooted, from the very moment he or she takes flight, in exploration (with or without urgency) that feels exquisitely liberating, as if the player and the dying plant are both discovering how to fly at the same time. A feeling of oneness with the flower petals, the environments, and the wind is thrillingly conveyed through the player's own discovery. No tutorial, no HUD, no map, no forced objectives, time limits, or death.

The uniqueness of Flower's gameplay is palpable, even as it evokes memories of games like Lost Winds, Ōkami, and NiGHTS. Floating on the wind and whooshing through waves of blades of grass simply cannot be described in words. One feels an exhilarating sensation of controlling the wind while also being subject to its uncontrollable power. The Sixaxis control scheme is a major factor in all this, but that's something I'll talk more about tomorrow.

For now I merely hope to account for the reeling state I found myself in after playing Flower for the first time. As I've said, I didn't scrutinize this game in my initial playthrough. I simply played it, embraced it, and got lost in it. I made no effort to turn off my critical-mind. It just happened that way. I guess you could say I forgot to turn it on. I'm learning it's not easy describing one's experience playing a game (formal analysis has cool anchors like methodology and terminology!), but it seems like the right way to go this time.

Tomorrow I'll return to describe my second playthrough of Flower, and I'll try to provide a more careful consideration of the game and its design elements. Needless to say, if you're able to somehow get your hands on Flower, I strongly encourage you to do so. I guess it's obvious that I feel an earnest sense of gratitude for this lovely game. It arrived just when I needed it, and it hit me right where I used to live. Saying thanks feels fitting, necessary, and somehow insufficient.