Saturday, October 27, 2012

Interview with Edmund McMillen of Team Meat

Due to some very busy weeks here at Georgetown, I wasn't able to upload an interview last weekend, but this weekend, we have a very special one: an interview with Edmund McMillen, the creator of games like Aether and The Binding of Isaac, as well as the co-creator and developer of the critical and commercial indie darling, Super Meat Boy.  Edmund is truly a man who knows what video games can do artistically and emotionally.  In the recent documentary, Indie Game: the Movie, Edmund himself admits that he is always trying to push the boundaries of what can be done in games.  But this does not just mean he just makes games that are obscene or absurd (although, with games like Spewer, where players try to solve puzzles by vomiting), but also games that deal with the emotional struggles and traumas we all have.  

Let's take the example of one of Edmund's past projects, Aether.  The game follows a young child as he explores space with a strange, octopus-like creature.  As the boy explores the various planets and stars, he meets many of the various planets denizens, most of whom have problems or fears that the boy must solve.  But, as the boy solves more and more the creatures’ problems, the smaller the Earth becomes until he tries returning at the end of the game, and the earth shatters under his weight.  This concept might seem bizarre to the outsider, but to Edmund, the game had deep artistic and psychological meaning.  According to Edmund, the game itself is a commentary on the dangers of isolation and obsession, for the boy is so focused on solving the creatures’ problems (which are the same problems Edmund experienced as a child, including painful stomach aches and extreme loneliness) that he forgets, and eventually destroys, his connection to Earth and the real world.  In many ways, this reflected Edmund’s experiences as a child, when he lived with his grandmother due to a poor relationship with his stepfather, and often felt isolated within himself and his graphic artwork.  To truly convey how much this game means to Edmund, the filmmakers of Indie Game: the Movie often compare the gameplay of Aether to some of Edmund’s childhood drawings, with one particular drawing of young Edmund imagining himself in space eerily resembling the game as a whole, as if the young Edmund knew he was going to make a game about this exact topic in the future.
Even the game focused on in the film, Super Meat Boy, has a large significance to Edmund.  The filmmakers focus on Edmund’s face, and also use clips from the game where the eponymous character dies over and over in the game’s death traps.  Solemnly, Edmund admits that the character is not supposed to be a light-hearted character.  With no skin and constant resurrections from grisly deaths, Meat Boy feels only pain and dread of his next demise.  But, there is more to it than that.  The objective of the game is to rescue Meat Boy’s girlfriend, who is made of bandages.  As Edmund explains how Band Aid Girl completes Meat boy and takes away his pain, the filmmakers drop heavy hints of this having a double meaning to Edmund, as we see a woman’s hands sewing plush toys of the two characters.  It is only after this explanation that we see Edmund’s wife, who is his moral support, and the relief to the pain and suffering that comes with his artistic mind and pursuits and the constant work that comes with game development.  In many ways, the game presents itself as a love letter to Edmund’s wife and all that she does for him.  When Super Meat Boy is eventually a massive success and critically praised, this is not only a victory for Edmund on a financial basis.  As Edmund tearfully admits, the idea that a child would stay home from school to play his game and be inspired by his life’s work – just as old games were an inspiration to him as a child – is the ultimate victory.  He was able to put himself out in the world, and was not only accepted, but also praised and even adored. For a person who suffered all his life with isolation and escapism, this acceptance means everything to Edmund.
And these are just two examples of Edmund's brilliance.  Another would be The Binding of Isaac, Edmund's commentary on religious extremism and the dangers of imagination, as well as a love letter to games like The Legend of Zelda.  Or Team Meat's next game, Mew-Genics, which does not, as of yet, have many details released about it, but will sure to be an interesting, and maybe even twisted, experience.

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