Mind Theater

The Quiet Beauty of Eastward (and Games Like It) | Video Essay

August 22, 2022 Ayo Akingbade Episode 73
Mind Theater
The Quiet Beauty of Eastward (and Games Like It) | Video Essay
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Show Notes Transcript

Video Link: https://youtu.be/709Il0RtrdU

Exploring the quiet beauty of Eastward (2021) and my personal history with games like it.

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The Past (Royalty Free) - 8 Bit Lofi Hip Hop: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNjHyUnBYLM

Songs from the Eastward OST: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJTulPeUwtP-dqMI07VK7dQ
Game Over
Island Ester
Iron Carbine

  1. This is an essay about Eastward, but it’s also an essay about video games and my personal history with them. A personal history that begins with the gameboy. Released in 1989 [April 21st, my birthday (text)] by Nintendo the 8bit handheld represented the first foray into gaming for a lot of kids both in my generation and before it, I had the advance tho [switch out original gameboy for gameboy advance and or sp 2001]. And I wasn’t playing tetris i was playing megaman, and pokemon, and legend of zelda, I was dominating Johnny bravo bots in cartoon network speedway, and shattering ring records in Sonic, And something that was clear to me even back then was just how beautiful these games were, not in spite of their simplicity but because of it. [Zoom in, go fullscreen] The colorful pixel dream worlds filled with funky 8bit music, the intense battles on the 6 x 3 fighting arena of megaman battle network, the vast expanse of the worlds in the minish cap both the big and the small. They all revealed to me the quiet beauty that intimate video game worlds had to offer, even when presented in such an unassuming low-fidelity package. And as someone who couldn’t afford or convince their parents to buy them a console at the time, my love for the quirky and fun single player games that defined the gameboy experience over the graphically intense and serious multiplayer sweat fests found on consoles, was born.
  2. These games were as thrilling and dynamic as they were frustrating at times, I wasn’t very good at them. Some of them I didn’t even ever beat until I was much older through PC emulators. And yet I’ve always found myself still mesmerized by that time period. By how the simplicity of these games didn’t hinder the playing experience but added to the nostalgic beauty of the games themselves. They felt retro at the time, a bit unpolished and rough around the edges, but now they felt alive, in a way that modern titles don’t easily accomplish. It’s nearly impossible for lightning to strike the same place twice, which is why in this essay I must give my praises to Eastward [Eastward logo, yellow background], the indie-action adventure RPG from the house of Chucklefish which reignited inside me everything that made the gameboy and handhelds like it so damn fun.
  3. That same kind of dynamism and attention to detail, that nostalgia that gave those gameboy games a rarified place in my mind, Eastward was able to accomplish as well, with its 16 bit pixel graphics imbued with overwhelming charm and sophisticated style, it’s quirky character interactions, from fighting mobs with a frying pan and cooking food in it, to the animation of Sam after a narrowly achieved victory, it’s beautiful environments, from the rough and dusky new dam city to the icey wintery piers of Ester City and let's not forget the hypnotic soundtrack by Joel Corelitz best known for his work in Unfinished Swan, Gorogoa, Death Stranding, and Halo Infinite [Slide up video game posters] constructing a score thats as nostalgic as it is beautiful → transition to [audio interface space clicking between some of the songs of Eastward]
  4. [Retro found arcade footage]
  5. Eastward’s beauty isn’t singular however, it borrows from a number of jrpgs most notably Dragon Quest, made clear in an in-game reference as Earthborn. There’s a simplicity and tactileness to the game and as I mentioned before it embodies the aesthetic of retro video games, even going as far as including a lo-fi CCTV mode in the settings. On a side note there’s always been something about that aesthetic that’s fascinated me. I never grew up playing arcade games [found footage], they were a bit before my time, but there’s something about what they represent, the cramming together in crowds huddled around an arcade cabinet, the grinding in-person leaderboards to become the greatest at bending a few simple pixels to your will. They craft the picture in my mind of games as a community driven experience and showcases how the modern games that borrow from them don’t exist in isolation, but instead hold within them years of gaming history, all of its complexities as well as the fun that can be found through its simplicities. And Eastward beauty comes from that simplicity.
  6. It’s the way Sam approaches you, bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to take on the next quest, it’s John’s calm indifference that reads as aloofness in some scenes, and heavy stoicism in others, it’s the profoundness of a world that has so much depth to offer the player hidden in it’s corners and alleyways and seemingly inconsequential NPC interactions. All a perceptive gamer need do is look for it. Eastward is a game that’s not just filled with little details and moments of beauty, it’s a game that showcases in so many ways how much beauty there is to behold in all the little things.
  7. When it comes to my relationship to art it’s always been the little things and while I didn’t know it back then in my gameboy era, video games truly are an artistic medium like no other, filled with a beauty that the player takes part in creating. My earliest forms of interacting with art were passive, tv watching, going to the theater with family, but video games aided in expanding the scope of that relationship to art, and revealed the wide breadth and forms it can exist as. I won’t deny the profound effect nostalgia has had over my taste in art and my love of Eastward specifically, but it’s that nostalgia that gives us access to memories and experiences beyond the scope of our own lives, a kind of beauty that is eternal. And while that beauty may be quiet or imperceptible to some, for others its impact will ring loud and clear, for generations.
  8. Mind Theater is a solo effort produced and written by me, Ayo Akingbade. For updates on the show as well as my other content follow mind theater pod on twitter instagram and tiktok. If you wanna show monetary support, the ko-fi link is in the shownotes. Thanks for listening, i’ll catch ya next time.