Published on June 22nd, 2016 | by Cactus
Fez: Is Gomez Neo?
Games are an incredible medium; it should come as no surprise to anyone reading gaming articles online. You dear reader, seek out interesting articles about gaming because something about it amazes you! Games are our societies newest form of media, and as such, have been evolving slowly over the past decades. It has transformed from simple digitised versions of older physical games, into the plethora of experiences at our fingertips today. Much like how film started as an interesting gimmick and transformed into something so magical that almost all of cultures most popular stories are either represented with it, or down right created for it, as time progresses, the same will be even truer with games. Many games have stories that inspire us, and can affect us the same way a great story can. Games like Bioshock and Metal Gear Solid have plot lines that reflect society, much like how film can. But games have an advantage over films that we have only just now begun to see used to its fullest; using gameplay to convey a message or idea.
Video Games: Now featuring 3000 year old philosophy
One such example is the indie hit of 2012: Fez. Fez is a simple game about exploration, which is accomplished by platforming and puzzles. The twist that makes it so much different from other similar platformers is that in Fez, the world you inhabit exists in 3 dimensions, but Gomez (the player character), can only interact with it in a 2 dimensional sense. Furthermore, Gomez can manipulate the way he sees the world by rotating it on its axis. It is incredibly hard to explain how this works without playing the game, which in a way, is the point. See, early on in Fez, Gomez discovers that his simple 2D world has ‘other places’ that he hasn’t been able to see or interact with, even in his own house! The idea of an ‘unknown world’ is nothing new to story telling, and a classic example of this philosophical idea is in the movie, The Matrix. Of course, The Matrix follows a similar structure. Neo, an everyday computer programmer and illegal software developer (you know, the normal stuff), discovers that he is in fact, living in a simulated reality called ‘The Matrix’, and has been trapped in there all his life. He is freed and learns the truth about the world and this gives him particular powers over it. The character Morpheus states, as time progresses and Neo understands The Matrix more and more, he will be able to manipulate is as he sees fit. Both the game and the movie share a lot of common ideas, but also differ from each other greatly. Neo tries to use his powers to free humanity. The story of Fez is a lot more confusing, and hidden behind secret languages and hidden levels. Fez, after all, is about exploring, and Gomez knows all that the player does. From my basic understanding, the world of Fez is also inside a computer system, but Gomez and is fellow pixel people are AI that inhabit the computer. The world needs to do a system reboot, and when it bugs out and crashes, Gomez has to reassemble the pieces to put everything together again. But essentially, the two represent the same idea; what if you found out the world wasn’t real?
Man, look at those graphics! Wait, this is a movie?
At surface level, we have seen this a lot, and The Matrix does a great job at trying to represent a very simple way to express this thought, which originated with Plato in Ancient Greece. The philosopher suggested the following idea; imagine three prisoners all chained up in a cave, which have been there all their lives. All they can see is a rock face ahead of them. Unbeknownst to them, behind them is a bridge leading through the cave, and behind that, a fire. The fire cast the shadows of those who cross on the cave wall, which the prisoners stare at all day. As the prisoners know nothing else of the world, their world becomes the shadows, and to them the world would be 2D. One day, one of the prisoners finds his chains unlocked, and decides to escape. He runs out of the cave and behold! He sees the sun, he sees the colour of the grass, and he sees other people. All of these things would be brand new to him! Not only that, but the shape of the people explain how the shadows are shaped. He is so excited with his discovery that he rushes back to tell the others, only for them to say he’s gone mad. In fact, because his friends have only ever seen the shadows on the wall, their minds would be completely unable to comprehend the ‘madness’ that the escape is saying. The fundamental idea of Plato’s Cave is that not only may our current world be an illusion, but also the reality may be so abstracted from what we know that we lack the worlds to describe it. This is exactly what Fez conveys with its mechanics! Gomez discovers the truth about the world, but all of his villager friends are unable to comprehend it. More so, Gomez’ limited understanding of the world majorly affects how he can interact with it. Even though Gomez knows the world is 3 dimensional (and can learn to see it after enough New Game+ clears), he is limited to interacting with the world in a 2D sense. We also know in the world of Fez, the incident that sparks off the game has happened at least once before in Gomez’ village. Gomez receives the Fez (which grants him his newfound knowledge) from the ‘crazy old man’ who lives at the top of the village. This man also wears a fez, an indication that he serves the same role as Morpheus in The Matrix, escaped prisoner. They serve to show the protagonist, show us, that the ‘truth’ of the world is false, even though the true ‘truth’ can be perceived as madness.
Yes, in Fez Plato’s Cave would be purple with floaty things…
Fez is a brilliant example to how games can grow and change over the coming years. That which in the past was a simple ‘toy’, can now use something that it alone has, its mechanics, to convey deep and interesting ideas that humanity has been discussing for over two thousand years. Where Fez succeeds over The Matrix, and too an extent, Plato’s allegory of the cave, is that for the first time we get to become the escaped prisoner. The game never tells you what it means, or that it is attempting to convey that maybe, our own world is false. It puts you right in the shoes of the protagonist, and allows the nature of the world to unravel itself before you. While at first, the strange way the world contorts may confuse you, cause you to reconsider your quest, ultimately you learn so much about the world that you keep going. Fez is a game about exploring an ever-expanding world. How apt it is, that true to Plato, in Fez the more you discover, the more you wonder what more there is. After all, maybe we never escape the cave, maybe we just move into a bigger one, with thicker shadows.
For more interesting insights into the fabulous world of video games, make GameBug the place to go.