modern culture since 1991

Wings Over Sealand

In your electronic arms

Posted on January 21, 2010 by RevStu

Alert WoS viewers will have seen this a while ago, but as it's my all-time favourite piece of videogames-related art it's worth repeating for the hundreds of new readers of WoSblog. Once you've grasped what it is you won't expect that you're going to watch all nine minutes of it. But you will.

Using videogames to make art isn't the same as videogames being art, of course. I still stick by my long-held view that videogames in themselves fundamentally cannot be art due to the degree of user interactivity and control. (I think people get confused because they're artistic, which isn't the same thing.)

But The Longest Life (the clip's rarely-used actual title) has certainly used a videogame to create art, and that's probably enough italics for now. Watching the video is a bizarrely moving experience, and it's not just down to the song – for proof of that, watch the song's actual video, which is mostly just cringingly of-its-time.

Ironically, it's trying far too hard to be "arty", with neither direction nor technology that's up to the job (although the wave goodbye at the very end is funny). But the Snake version subtly and poignantly depicts an entire life, from infancy to death (it reminds me in several ways of the extraordinary Deus Ex Machina), and in doing so it magnifies the song's emotional power many times and turns it into something completely new.

From the blank slate of seemingly-infinite possibility at the beginning, the snake collects baggage as it marches unceasingly towards what we slowly realise is an inescapable death, and dragging that accumulated weight of consumption around restricts it more and more, as time pushes on inexorably with the song's every heartbeat/breath. The snake contorts itself into ever more-twisted shapes, at first out of creative free will but increasingly out of necessity.

It's not hard to interpret your own meaning about various stages of life in individual segments of the clip, particularly in conjunction with the words of the song. Different parts of the song may have their own resonance for you, but you can easily, if you choose to, see childhood, adolescence, independence, work ("neither snow nor rain….") and even a mid-life crisis at the 5-minute mark, where the snake seems to undergo a short-lived burst of nostalgia, replaying the crazy days of its youth as a relief from its monotonous labours.

From that midpoint onwards there's no more of the first half's casual squandering of time, where the snake rushes impatiently through parts of its life or carelessly shuts off whole areas unused. After the central "memories" sequence, the snake's inevitable fate becomes more starkly imminent, and we see it clinging desperately to every moment. But every year (here represented by the food morsels) passes more quickly than the last, options get fewer and fewer, and eventually there's nowhere left to run. The approaching end (which in this case is literal as well as metaphorical) is both triumphant and tragic.

It's entirely possible the artist never intended any of this, of course. (EDIT: Though as it happens they did, and kindly emailed to tell me so some time after this piece was published.) They might have just thought that the rhythm of the song was a suitable backing to show off their perfect game and I might just be seeing that other stuff in it because I'm getting old. But then, room for interpretation is the whole point of art, and it's also the reason why most videogames, with their regimented paths and set goals, miss it by a million miles.

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  1. 07 02 10 09:00

    Game Retail Store » GameSetLinks: Rock On Out, With Might & Magic

  2. 07 07 16 22:23

    Wings Over Scotland | The suicide note

4 to “In your electronic arms”

  1. And that’s your best post to date. Excellent stuff, Stu.

  2. matt says:

    Great work Stu, thanks for letting us know about the video.

  3. Bear or bust says:

    Oh man, I remember putting that up on the WOS Youtube thread ages ago.
    Good to see it again, and that was a great post too.

  4. Malc says:

    Um, wow, My girlfriend just mentioned this song to me yesterday, we can’t remember why we were talking about it, but she’d asked me if I remembered it, and sang me a bit of the beginning, I didn’t at the time, but then when I watched this, it sent shivers down my spine!

    I also remember it being posted on WOS, it’s a very clever video…


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