Parallax View

Casual Game: Rhythm Heaven

Parallax View

Sounds like the name of a bad 80s movie, right? This theory actually belongs to Slavoj Zizek and is mentioned in Ian Bogost’s How to do things with Videogames. According to Zizek, “The common definition of parallax is: the apparent displacement of an object (the shift of its position against a background), caused by a change in observational position that provides a new line of sight.” Zizek goes on to establish a philosophical twist on the term, but that does not apply to video games as much as it does to life.

Bogost uses the term, parallax view, to describe the experience of playing Rhythm Heaven. According to Bogost, the term represents, “a shifting perspective between two points without synthesis.” This is true, because as mentioned in an earlier post, Rhythm Heaven allows the player to experience music simultaneously as actor (characters) and instrument (DS stick). This game makes music operational through distorted abstractions with bizarre characters and strange character movements that align to a specific rhythm in a song. The character and the song may not necessarily go together, but the player must connect the character’s actions and the rhythm in order to successfully complete a level. Sometimes the distortion becomes too much and it’s easier to close your eyes and tap along to the rhythm instead.

Strangely, it isn’t always easier to play the game without the visuals. Although some can play the game without looking at the visuals, the visuals do help in cueing the player when a beat is about to drop or change.  For example, Karate Joe is typically seen hitting pots like the one below.

However, when that pot changes into a barrel, the player knows to expect a change in rhythm and prepare his or her wrist to flick the screen differently. Without this visual cue, it’s almost impossible to know what’s coming up. The visuals and the music sometimes work against each other since the player must pay attention to both simultaneously, which can be confusing! The overlap of senses – sight and sound – can sometimes be overstimulating since there is no synthesis between the two. The player must focus on both the character and the music in order to survive.

A Parallax View by Slavoj Zizek


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