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"Psychonauts" (a slight deviation from this journal's usual fare)

Date: 18-Feb-2008/15:02+3:00

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I'm not sure how the release of the video game "Psychonauts" (2005) evaded my notice. The plot is quite psychedelic--involving psychically proficient people who are able to astrally project themselves into the minds of others to get information, and also to solve the psychological problems of the target. The game is an absolute work of art.
You control a young psychic named "Raz", who is indoctrinated into the ways of being a Psychonaut at a summer camp. Here's a relevant bit of the introduction in which one of the teachers gives the power of Pyrokinesis, and another invites Raz into his very structured mind to learn about what a Psychonaut does. It's 10 minutes but a good introduction to the game's story and mood, so be patient! :)
The most fascinating part of the game is not the minds of the teachers, but when Raz gets to delve into the patients who are still occupying a nearby insane asylum. The first crazy person he meets is a former mall security guard named Boyd--a paranoid schizophrenic who believes himself to be a guard. Despite being a guard, he says only "The Milkman" has keys to enter... it's fantastic:
After you've navigated the maze of his paranoid mind, you discover that the Milkman is his arsonist alter ego (he was sent to the asylum after burning down the mall where he was fired from, which you find out by reading a vault of his memories). The scene when the Milkman is awakened from Boyd's subconscious is fantastic:
In one part, you enter the mind of a genetically modified Lungfish who is under the neural control of a mad scientist. The fish's brain cells perceive you as a giant Godzilla-like intruder who is terrorizing its city-like grid of order and obedience:
Later, some brain cells jump to your aid as the "resistance". They make continued promises of how they're going to help, but as you reach the rendezvous points they make excuses for why they are going to hold back and let you take care of all the fighting. ("for... insurance reasons, Goggalor!")
There's a lot to the game and I watched it pretty much all the way through on YouTube. I'm not so interested in the jumping and collecting, but rather how they portray the subconscious of the subjects--it is creative and unique for each level. You find yourself crawling into the mind of a distant relative of Napoleon, whose genetic memory has an obsession with losing a board game that caused a psychotic break:
While you are in his mind, you keep going into increasing levels of zoom of the game and talking with game pieces. It is very dreamlike in terms of how ordinary spatial relationships just sort of bleed away, and I like seeing that portrayed so seamlessly.
I commend the creators on bringing this very interesting game to life, and fully agree with this critic who feels that gamers should be ashamed for not rewarding that with market success (relative to other games like Halo).
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