Steps to a Painting: Ico

Ico is kind of the golden boy of the gaming world. Whenever people on the internet want to get into an intense discussion arguing for the legitimacy of games as art, Ico is often the first to be mentioned. And it’s no surprise, given that this is how it looks:


                                 Ico and Yorda

The story, gameplay, and music are elegantly simple. You play as Ico, a young boy who is taken from his village to be (sacrificed? at least imprisoned) in a strange, huge castle. Why? He was born with horns.  The setting is deliberately non-specific, existing in some kind of nethertime, and the sparse dialogue is in a made-up language. Once the player helps Ico escape from his imprisoned state, he is free to explore the castle, where he quickly encounters a young girl named Yorda, who is being pursued by a group of shadow-monsters. Armed only with a stick and simple swinging motions, the player must fight more of these monsters as they guide both Yorda and Ico in an escape from the castle.

That’s basically it, as far as the story goes. But,that isn’t really it, because there’s a magic to the experience of playing Ico that is very emotionally moving to any who play it. Small details in the game, like how the player can make Ico take Yorda’s hand to lead her around the environment, create a sense of attachment to her. Many players say that in playing Ico they wouldn’t run while holding hands with Yorda, and instead chose to walk with her because they felt bad jerking her around. I did. It’s a pretty big deal when a game can make a player stop and deliberately slow down because they feel bad about jerking a character about that doesn’t even exist. And the impact is that much deeper when we’re the one in control of moving through a narrative, as opposed to watching one play out, as in, say, a movie.

So,long story short, I love Ico and around the time I was playing it, I painted this:

                          Pointe Du Hoc

I can immediately notice the similar use of color and lighting: the bright greens and intense,glowing whites in the landscape. However, not so obvious is my use of one of the chief experiences of the game: feeling very small. In playing Ico, the camera frequently zooms far away from Ico, to where you’re overwhelmed by the enormity of the world that you’re exploring, something that games from the PS2 era frequently shied away from, adding to the unprecedented sense of atmosphere and vastness that Ico provided.

Far away

In looking for screenshots to use in this post, I even came across one that shows a striking similarity in general composition to my painting:

The gates

So, I’m not saying that Ico was the only impetus for this painting; it definitely wasn’t. However, I can identify the subconscious influence that that gaming experience had on what I decided to paint, and how I tend to like to depict landscapes in general. I don’t think that a painting is ever the product of a single observation/experience/etc. It’s always an amalgamation of things collected from different times, places, and experiences. And I know that a definite influence on how I treat landscape in my work  has been my experience in the rich, vast world of Ico.

‘Steps to…’ will be an ongoing series of posts in which I focus on a single painting of mine and explore a single (unexpected) influence on said work.

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