Braid’s Jonathan Blow On Art, High Standards, And Games As ‘Shitty Action Movies’

Braid’s Jonathan Blow On Art, High Standards, And Games As ‘Shitty Action Movies’

Game creator Jonathan Blow is best known for developing 2008 indie hit Braid, and perhaps second-best known for his prickly views on games and the game industry. He aims to be profound with his games, and hopes that his next project, The Witness, can proudly stand in the “games are art” column.

The May, 2012 issue of The Atlantic, available online, features a lengthy profile of Blow from writer Taylor Clark. In it, Blow discusses what he accomplished with Braid, what he plans to do with The Witness, and how he feels about the state of the modern video game in general (not positively). “As harsh as Blow can be toward his industry,” Clark writes, “he applies even stricter standards to his own work.” He continues:

With The Witness, produced with about $US2 million of his own money, [Blow] plans to do nothing less than establish the video game as an art form-a medium capable of producing something far richer and more meaningful than the brain-dead digital toys currently on offer. Blow envisions future games that deliver experiences as poignant and sublime as those found through literature and film, but expressed in ways distinctive to games.

“If the video game is going to be used for art purposes, then it has to take advantage of its form in some way particular to that medium, right?” he told me. “A film and a novel can both do linear storytelling, but novels are very strong at internal mental machinations – which movies suck at – and movies are great at doing certain visual things. So the question is: Where are games on that same map?” It’s a question Blow intends to answer.

He later adds:

“The de facto reference for a video game is a shitty action movie,” Blow said during a conversation in Chris Hecker’s dining room one sunny afternoon. “You’re not trying to make a game like Citizen Kane; you’re trying to make Bad Boys 2.” But questions of movie taste notwithstanding, the notion that gaming would even attempt to ape film troubles Blow. As Hecker explained it: “Look, film didn’t get to be film by trying to be theatre. First, they had to figure out the things they could do that theatre couldn’t, like moving the camera around and editing out of sequence-and only then did film come into its own.”

Whether Braid is the only authored, intelligent work of video game art worth consuming out there, as Clark repeatedly asserts, is up for debate. (Personally, I disagree.) But it is true that many games produced and sold every year have a kind of sameness to them. Jonathan Blow is trying to do something different with The Witness, as he did once before, and every game that adds more variety to what we consider the world of gaming to be is a good thing.

Whether or not The Witness ends up being a masterpiece, Blow eloquently summarised the indie and experimental game design he and others do:

People like us who are doing something a little different from the mainstream have each picked one direction that we strike out in into the desert, but we’re still not very far from camp. There’s just a huge amount of territory to explore out there-and until you have a map of that, nobody can say what games can do.

The Most Dangerous Gamer [The Atlantic]


  • People can bag out Blow for being pretentious all they want, he is 100% correct in this regard.

    Each medium has things it does better than any other. Games have interaction. That should be what they focus on.
    Unfortunately, the state of the industry is such that almost every major studio is focused more on pumping out the equivalent of a Michael Bay film to appeal to the the masses who know no better.

    The ‘graphic novel’ medium (comic books) was in a similar situation as little as 30 years ago. Then Alan Moore and his ilk showed up, with the belief that you had to play to the mediums strengths rather than impersonating other mediums, and they changed the industry for the better

    If Blow is trying to do that, I support him 100%, even if he fails.

    • “If Blow is trying to do that, I support him 100%, even if he fails.”

      If he is adament in producing gmaes to fit a certain bill but fails, that just says to me he is all talk with no beef, much like figure head game designer Peter Molyneux.

      And as evidence, I thought his previous hit title ‘Braid’ didn’t meet any of the supposed praise, the game play was done before and completely out of phase with what was suppose to be an emotional ride, which ironically was neither conveyed in either video game conventions nor movie conventions but with blocks and blocks of text which one could almost liken it to a book: which simply leaves me the message:

      Look, games didn’t get to be games by trying to be novels.

  • Blow does seem pretentious at times, but we need people like that who try to think a little deeper about the potential for games as an artistic medium. Braid was an awesome game, where the arty-farty pseudo-narrative never got in the way of great gameplay puzzles. If he can walk the walk then I support him.

  • I agree that games need to find their own niche and communicate things that can only be done through video games. At the same time I think big budget games have their strong points and shouldn’t be disregarded. In fact sometimes I feel like branding a game as indie/artisitc can sometimes create false emotional outcomes where the player questions his/her experience for example if I play an indie/artsy game and feel nothing, do I question myself?

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!