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Where beggars can be choosers

india Updated: Aug 08, 2009 21:58 IST
Gopal Sathe
Gopal Sathe
Hindustan Times
Where beggars can be choosers

The sound of chainmail clinks in your ears, drowning out the merrymaking behind you. A gauntlet covered hand digs hard into your arm, and you stifle a whimper. You stammer and plead, your pencil thin legs pumping wildly, your eyes darting back and forth for a kindly soul to come to your aid. Despite your pleas, the guard hauls you towards the gate and tosses you to the cold hard ground. Thus begins this experimental art game from Scott Brodie, The Beggar.

Much of what makes The Beggar a worthwhile experience is exploration. Not necessarily exploring the world itself — the entire map of the game is only a handful of screenshots long — instead, you must explore the mechanics of Brodie’s pixelated world. It’s up to you to discover the ins and outs of The Beggar, though just about everything can be done with the [arrow] keys and the [Z] key.

Beyond that, you must carve your life out for yourself. You must learn the laws of the land the hard way, and you must discover the nuances of interacting with the people you pass by on the street.

If you’ve ever had the misfortune to live without a roof over your head, you will know that survival is often a gift bestowed upon you by the kindness of others. You must learn to subsist on the charity of strangers, lest you fade and wither away to nothingness.

The Beggar distills a complex and difficult concept into a small package that sloughs off the white noise of everyday life. Brodie then takes this simplicity and combines it with the sense of serendipity found in games like The Majesty of
Colors, to create something that is at once simple and complex.

The anonymity provided by the simple graphics works well here, as it highlights the actions of the characters, and frees the player to attribute emotions and feelings to them.

Though the graphics are simple, Brodie is masterful in expressing complexity and making points with visual cues. Pay attention to how your beggar fades and withers as he goes without food, or how people throw their money on the ground for you. A careful eye may even detect the shrinking of bread as you carefully ration out a loaf as long as you can.

But these are all sideshows for the main focus of the game — interaction with other humans. Further, you find that over time your relationships with others can change, evolving from your own choices and actions.

The Beggar’s greatest success as a piece of art is that it doesn’t preach. It never drags you by the nose or forces the message down your throat. In fact, perhaps there is no central message to the game. Whatever moral you take from The Beggar is one that you have arrived at yourself.

Gopal Sathe runs the gaming forum, split-screen.com