Why I'm looking forward to Kanye West's game
So about a year ago, Kanye West said he wanted to make a videogame. Titled Only One and based on his song by the same name, you play as West's deceased mother on her journey to Heaven. Players and journalists alike seemed to immediately latch onto the whole thing, and not just because of West's particular cult of personality -- it just seemed like a heartfelt, totally earnest idea from a guy who loved his mom.
Well, it's real. Kanye West went and made a videogame, and he teased Only One: The Game's first trailer before an audience yesterday, during a livestream for his new album, The Life of Pablo. And let's just take a minute to appreciate how incredible it is that this a) exists and b) looks the way it does. Without West's lead-up, you could as easily see a trailer like this turn up at IndieCade or the Independent Games Festival. This is not what we're used to seeing when we hear about an entertainer from another industry dipping their toes into game design.
But maybe that's the result of our own tunnel vision. I often find that games by complete outsiders are the weirdest, most exciting games you might come across. Which is why I'm infinitely more interested in a game by Kanye West than, say, the next game by Warren Spector or Ken Levine. Outside perspectives don't just bring in talents and skillsets from other industries -- they can 'break' games and what games are supposed to be in unexpected ways. And don't get me wrong, celebrities can put out bad, unplayable games just as easily as anyone else, but even an unsuccessful experiment can sometimes be a fruitful one.
Consider Takeshi's Challenge, an infamously difficult NES game designed by Japanese actor/director Takeshi Kitano. As the story goes, Kitano hated videogames and got together with developer Taito to make something so stuffed full with punitive, ultra-hard minigames that anyone who played it would hate games too. Some challenges required you to sing karaoke into a microphone, or wait a full hour without touching the controller, or hang-glide through a miserably perilous map where one slight collision meant a game over. If you happen to beat the game (which is almost impossible without a walkthrough), Kitano himself will appear on the screen to call you a sucker for wasting your time. Amazing. And this was years before Jeff Goldblum did a similar thing at the end of Lost World: Jurassic Park.
Or take a more recent example, P.T.: the "playable teaser" for Konami's sadly cancelled Silent Hills project, which was supposed to unite the talents of Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima, horror manga artist Junji Ito, and film director Guillermo del Toro. P.T. is barely more than a demo, and who knows whether the full game would have lived up to everyone's expectations -- my bet is that it wouldn't -- but the ideas it plays with are fresh, the execution is top-notch, and that scary fetus thing in the sink? Man, what the hell.
Is Only One going to be a good game? At this point I don't care. Even if it turns out to be a silly, overly sentimental trainwreck, it's surprisingly egoless from a creative mind like Kanye West, whose brand traffics heavily on outspoken self-assurance. More importantly, it offers the general public, the people who don't play games or read websites like this, a different idea of what a game can be: it's not about space marines, or shooting up ambiguously Middle Eastern people in a fictitious warzone, or some overwrought thing with elves and wizards; it's a tenderhearted tribute to a man's beloved mother, with the sort of peaceful imagery you might find on a greeting card from your sweet old aunt. It has a pegasus, even!
For people like you and I, who are already wired in to what's happening in games, the content of Only One doesn't seem to be anything new (though it could still surprise us). But games press coverage of titles like Gone Home or Life is Strange, or even innovative horror fare like Amnesia or P.T., don't reach the mainstream the way Kanye West does. It's not even on the same scale. That's why I think it's worth keeping tabs on this thing and seeing where it goes. Even if it's a failure, it may prove to be an interesting one.
Kris Ligman is the News Editor of ZAM. As an undergrad, the music video for "Stronger" really blew their mind.