Thoughts on Shadow of the Colossus and the Spirituality of Simplicity

Shadow of the Colossus, Journey, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild have a lot more in common than I could have ever imagined. I say this because I devoured Shadow of the Colossus over the past week, and it’s really opened my eyes about the pervasiveness of simplicity and spirituality that I hadn’t realized was so present in modern video games. I never played the original game on the PlayStation 2, and I never got around to picking up the remaster for the PlayStation 3, so this is my first time experiencing the sheer epic-ness of Shadow of the Colossus. But I realize that I’m smitten partly because this is a thirteen-year-old game that feels practically brand new, and mostly because of how similar its themes are to other games I’ve come to regard as my all-time favorites.

I realized while galloping through Shadow of the Colossus’s open fields and baron deserts that its simplicity—and the nostalgic sense of spirituality that come with it—is something that many of my favorite games have in common. Thatgamecompany’s Journey, for example, is all about keeping things simple and ambiguous so that the players can have their own spiritual experience, draw their own conclusions, and develop their own theories. But Journey came seven years after Shadow of the Colossus, and now that I’ve finally witness the game for myself I can definitively say that it owes a lot to Wander and Argo’s epic tragedy.

The concept of spirituality in video games is something I’m personally very interested in, especially because of the way it defies the earliest roots of video games as a medium. For instance, how did we get from arcade shoot-em-ups like Space Invaders and Pac Man, which used to be all about making a high score and seeing how many levels you can beat, to artistic experiences like Journey and Abzû, which aim instead to tell us stories and encourage us to have powerful emotional experiences? I believe the answer lies in the fact that video games are no longer a niche market that exist only in arcades, but in our livings rooms, for anyone and everyone to enjoy. Like books and movies before it, there’s no argument about whether or not video games are now engrained into the mainstream, but what’s still being debated is whether or not it can have a high and low culture all its own. I think that Shadow of the Colossus proves that it can; that video game have already developed a high and low culture, both of which future generations study and adapt.

The divine beasts in Breath of the Wild’s post-Calamity world, and the giant flying machines in Journey’s sandy barren underbrush, are just two examples of the ways in which Shadow of the Colossus has extended its influence beyond its own lifetime. The feeling of spirituality it communicates through the simplicity of its quiet, empty world is powerful and therefore popular because defeating an enemy to restore stillness is a motivation that doesn’t need to be explained or communicated, just felt. Recognizing the connections between this setting and other games—not to mention countless volumes of classic literature—only intensifies the spirituality of it all. It makes me feel humbled and grateful to be a part of this ever-evolving medium of story-telling and human experience, and I can’t wait to see what other connections, what other takes on classic video game trope, lie in wait for the future.

What do you think about the Shadow of the Colossus remake? What has is got you feeling? Let me know in the comments below, or connect with me on Twitter or Instagram.

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