Immediately after walking into the EMP’s indie game revolution exhibit I found my self in a strange dichotomy. I wanted to see and play the games. But I also felt the need to examine the the exhibit from a critical gaming class perspective. It caused a rend in me. I felt that I need to see everything there was in the interviews. Anybody that was mentioned in class had to of course be poured over in detail. I had my notebook to take notes and reference the interviews properly.
I had to make sure I kept in my Ludic Phonesis, Actionism, Diegetic versus Nondiegetic, Multimodal Vies of Gameplay, Embedded versus Emergent Narratives and more. Remember, damn it, to be looking at everything with this critical eye. And this led me into one off they pitfalls that I feel occurs when we attempt to examine games. You stopping playing just for the love of the game. The stark contrast between playing a game and examining it became very clear to me in this one moment.
The part of me that just wanted to play felt stifled by the part of me that felt a need to be a good student of games. I must say it was quite a strange sensation. A ludic killer if you will. My guest I took looked at the video of the game by Fernardo Ramallo, Panoramical, and said “This would go great with weed.” She is not even a stoner but her mind immediately went to what would make the game more “fun”. I was translating that into possible play styles to optimize the arbitrary concept of fun and think how much more important it was that it was originally designed to be controlled with dials, and what a revolutionary idea it was, and how that could have future impacts by opening up MIDI boards for viable game inputs.
So what was my solution? I must admit logic and regimentation won out. I did play most all of the games but I did so in an efficient businesslike manner. Another aspect of the exhibit that compounded this is my own personal style. I am a bit of a completionist. No a total one. I call myself a continuity facist. There is no way I am going to read Batman 271 without reading 270 first if they are in the same story ark and even if they are not it still rubs me wrong. And there were a lot of kids there. I simply did not have the time and control over the space to play the way I like to.
So what I bring you is my highlights of the really idea messages the creators had in the interviews, followed by a short list of games that impacted me (to be downloaded and played at home where I was in control), and a brief summary.Not of the quotes should be taken as exact even though I think I got them right. Just don’t take it to the bank.
Some really brilliant or inspirational lines:
“We are in a moment of Identity crisis not about what games are but what it means to be a gamer.” – Tracy Fullerton
“Game is a shitty word.” – Banny Barnowsky.
“Video game music is nothing in itself.” – also Banny Barnowsky.
“You don’t need a computer science degree to make games. You can learn on the internet. The gates are open.” -Ian Synder.
The two great insights for me were came from the following two sets of interviewees:
The first was the guys who made Torchlight as indie game in competition to Diablo by using its own style. They chose one of cartoony steam-punk and that gave diablo its Torchlight its own “voice”. They had a great line, “Realism dates games”. I thought to myself, “Oh how true”, I had never thought about it like that before. I think it is one of the reasons for the love of pixel style right now. Abstraction and caricatures avoid the uncanny valley. They also had another great one-liner. “Everyone loves Pets”. It this made me think again on intrinsic fun. I had stated previously “Balls are just plain fun”. I stand by my conjecture that there are things that are simply fun because we are mammals with thumbs. Or a least “more” fun. Call it best practices to make a good fun thing. Some games have it some don’t. It is like the “it” factor when it comes to play.
The second was by Kate Edwards. She is “geographer, writer and content culturalization strategist, most active in information-based cartography and video game content.” She deal the culturalization of content of video games. She helps as a consultant when people are designing game worlds. She takes into account everything from faiths, beliefs, to physical layout.
She checks to make sure that everything from clan symbols, to gestures, to mannerisms will not offend certain people. Obviously Blizzard has not hired her or has ignored her advice.
Where this has huge ramifications in game design as well as in how people experience in when we look at intention. When something is included or omitted in a game there is a huge difference between how people look at details when in game play as opposed to when designing. I am paraphrasing here a bit but not to much.
“Often time these (details) just find their way into games from the background a designer might have or things they just picked up somewhere by osmosis. and are not include purposefully. But 99% of the time the recipient believes the designer meant to put these details in on purpose.” This has a great deal of impact when we look at designers, like Jonathan Blow who is purported to be very intentional of what details make it into his games. It also can have impacts when a designer or designers are not purposeful.
A “small” example Edwards used was a group that used Tibetan prayer flags as a design element. in there game. She brought up the flags in the wrong order and hung wrong. They asked her does this really matter? Her answer,If you are Buddhist it does. Take away intention is very important in game design and can be the difference between a game that is just a “game” and one that is in Ian Bogost’s words, earnest.
My Games of Interest List (To be played my way in my room):
Lovers in a Dangerous Space-time
Ori in the blind forest – Notice that even ask they were talking about changes in the game world the could not resist calling this one “Ghibli-esk Metro-Vania” stock terminology
This plaque was the money shot at the heart of the whole exhibit for me:
For me I walked away from the exhibit feeling inspired by the creators and more knowledgable but I never had a ludic moment. I guess I am okay with that. Besides I got a better rig at home…