The Reading Of Isaac
Our latest Special Topics In Gameology series rolled on this week with an essay from Patrick Lee about The Binding Of Isaac. Patrick was interested in the ways the game used Isaac’s body—and its mutilation—to tell a story about abuse, religion, and empowerment. Reading the game’s visuals and events at face value is just one way of looking at it. nzmccorm offered another interpretation:
It seems clear that Isaac hid in the empty toy chest, and that the events of the game were an elaborate fantasy based on the abuse that he faced. His mom, I think, only dies in a drawing/fantasy of his where he imagines God saving him.
The endings that take place in the real world tend to depict Isaac internalizing his mother’s view of him as corrupt and hiding in the toy chest, while the others are usually about him finding some inappropriate object in it as a goofy joke, exactly how he might’ve found a needle or a quarter in his room and played with it in the absence of toys.
Stepped Pyramids points out that the horrible monstrosities Isaac fights are also meant to look just like him and also like Isaac, become more deformed as the game goes on:
The enemies in Isaac were originally intended to all somehow resemble Isaac, and a lot of them still do (with obvious exceptions like spiders, the stationary sacks, Mom, Satan, etc.). As you progress through the game, your enemies start to become more decayed and twisted as well. Most bosses have “posthumous” versions, like The Husk is to Duke of Flies or Carrion Queen is to Chub. The infested Mulligan enemies, which resemble Isaac quite closely, become increasingly bloated and infested until eventually becoming the Swarmer, just a hive of flies with a disembodied face. Fatties are replaced by their pale and eyeless versions, which themselves collapse into independently walking legs that spurt blood from where the torso should be.
The only enemy type that gets bigger and heartier is the Gurdy family of bosses, which might be because the original design for Gurdy was a pile of dead Isaacs.
And leaving cat town made mention of another enemy that, with a little consideration, is a really tragic manifestation:
My favorite enemy is Lust. It appears as a diseased Isaac who only attacks by running at you. Isaac is so deprived that his interpretation of the deadly sin of lust is the desire for human contact, and he sees himself as impure/sinful because of it.
Bagna the Irate Supervillain added a nice kicker to that interpretation:
Plus with the high chance of dropping the Virus, Lust is the enemy that most literally turns you into what you fight.
Elsewhere, BuddhaBox pointed us to an interview where Edmund McMillen, Binding Of Isaac’s designer, talked about the childhood experiences that influenced the game’s themes—and a McMillen game that’s a little more pleasant than his most famous projects:
There’s an interesting episode of Roguelike Radio where they interview McMillen, and he talks about how this was sort of a reflection of his early life as this quiet, imaginative kid who had to deal with his father’s super-religious family and their views on the human body, sin, etc.
I really like his personal games. In Indie Game: The Movie, he talks about making Aether, which is also a game about being lonely and exploring as a kid, to connect with his niece. It’s a pretty, peaceful game that, while never exactly fun, is quite nice. It’s hard to believe that the person who made that also created what’s basically David Cronenberg Presents: Majora’s Mask.
A Mind Of Their Own
In a Great Job, Internet! post, Eric Lindvall linked to a Kotaku article in which Patricia Hernandez did some investigation into how and why women’s breasts came to look and move the way they do in video games. She talked to a couple of animators about the way ludicrous breast physics work and the possible thought processes behind them. kthejoker extrapolated one of those reasons:
I think the article’s most valid point is the one about artists wanting their work noticed and the “in for a penny, in for a pound” theory. You’re not going to put springs in there and set them to .001 percent. When Pixar worked out hair physics for Monsters Inc., they threw in a bunch of unnecessary shots of Sully running his hands through his hair and an entire scene set in a blizzard with two hairy monsters—the kind of things that let them show off to other animation studios.
To use an example from my own line of work, I’m a data guy, so when somebody asks me to do something simple like fix a chart’s data to filter out two bad rows (i.e. put a sports bra on the ladies), I almost always end up creating a more aesthetically pleasing chart that does a better job of addressing the question the chart’s trying to answer (i.e. Dead Or Alive). There is no other way to put it: It’s my ego and my eagerness to show off my skills that makes this happen.
And Fluka weighed in on some issues below the article’s surface:
While this article is really fascinating, it still made me deeply, deeply furrow my brow. So much time and effort spent estimating jiggle—it’s actual, literal objectification, the female body as soft condensed-matter-physics problem. Not female bellies, not squishy female arms, and thighs. those are all taut and toned. (At least it looks like there’s a guy in Street Fighter who might have a jiggly belly.) [That guy is Rufus, and yes, his belly is jiggly.—ed.]
I’m also vaguely bemused by the suggestion that people get distracted when the breasts don’t move at all. Honestly, if a female character is running around and doing athletic stuff and there’s crazy breast physics, I’m probably wincing. It’s supremely uncomfortable to have your tatas unsupported, much less ragdolling around like the antigravity water balloons in the article’s GIFs. Hell, just walking seems like it would give some of these ladies intense sweater puppy pain. This is why women wear sports bras and other stuff that make their boobs not move. But, like the article admits, we’re dealing with a fantasy her, a fantasy for a very specific percentage of the population.
And that’ll do it for this week, Gameologeteers. Thanks for reading and commenting. We’ll see you all next week!