There are some games you are expected to like, especially if you fall into the games as art camp. Braid, Shadow of the Colossus, Flower, even some more mainstream titles like Half Life 2. Not liking them is seen as a sort of crime, akin to thinking The Godfather or Lawrence of Arabia is a bad film.
And I can stomach most of these games. Thereís only one, one small, significant game, that I cannot stomach. That I respect, but I cannot, for the life of me, play for more than an hour before I give up on it in rage.
That game is Ico.
And itís difficult because Ico is pretty much *the* game. Every time I look at screenshots of it, or watch videos of it, I am compelled to play it. Even though I have tried to play it at least a dozen times, and each time I give up, for different, insignificant reasons. Writing this article is difficult, because it is, in some way, an admission of failure. Look at me, Iím not good enough to get Ico. I might as well just pack up my bags and find another hobby.
The worst part is, I donít even know what I donít get. Itís very atmospheric and minimalistic, but I love atmosphere and minimalism. Any game that has, at any point, been compared to Ico I love almost unquestioningly. Independent platformers shy on mechanics and high on design are my favorite games. I love loose narrative. I adore that the characters canít really talk. I think the shadows are frightening, and made more frightening because you donít have a proper weapon to fight them off with. Iíve always compared it, aesthetically, with Breath of Fire V, which is one of my absolute favorite games. And Ico, in an objective analysis, is both more playable and more exciting than that game.
Really, I love everything about Ico, but I donít get it. It is like some esoteric puzzle that is not meant for me to solve. I am trapped in it, but I canít solve it. But even as my tormentor, I am happy Ico exists. I am happy because I know it is a fantastic, fascinating game, and that it has gone on to influence, even make possible, many of my favorite games. Itís one of the first games that really stops and asks us what a video game could do if it was made not for millions of dollars but instead for the love of gaming, and the love of making games. It may not be something I can play, but it is a game that I want other people to play.
And I know Iíll feel like an absolute fool, too, one day, when I fire it up for the seventeenth time, and fall in love with it, as Iíve been fated to do. Itíll happen much like my experience with Shadow of the Colossus: one day, very quietly, very peacefully, I will play it, and I will love it. I have never been more sure of anything in my life.
But that time is not now, and for now I can only appreciate Ico the way one appreciates a painting, or the way Roger Ebert appreciates video games: by looking at pictures.