Recap: The State of Musement

Our conversations about Dear Esther (DE) over the recent sessions have hopefully put an emphasis on how an uncritical acceptance of the popular concepts of gameplay may inhibit our ability to see and value interesting design strategies and expressive goals . What we’ve attempted to do is hold in abeyance our judgments about whether Dear Esther is a game, or whether aspects of its design match concepts of “good” or “fun” design, and instead foregrounded questions of significance and and poetics: How can I understand the game as expression? How does it organize information and mediate experience of that expression? The difficulty in this has to do, at least in part, with the unlikelihood that we take a game experience seriously as expression given the game culture we have inherited. Historically it has not occurred to many that games might serve as tools not just for amusement, but also thinking – as media to think with (and not just about).

The interpretation of DE I offered was by no means the only one sustainable by close analysis of both the poetics of the game and the experience of the narrative is generates, but it does foreground an approach to the significance of both the diegetic and ergodic design. The notion that the game is designed to facilitate a state of musement – a counter-experience to amusement – is not a description of what you actually experience, mainly because this depends on the very attitude you take toward the gameplay experience (interested, bored, curious, inquiring, critical, etc.), but rather a claim about how to understand what the game is doing with its various expressive elements we can identify upon close analysis.

Next week we’ll be moving on to Papers, Please, a very different game with very difference expressive goals. As we play on consider how the various elements you notice in the game work to facilitate not just effective or “fun” action, but also thought and feeling: what does this game ask you to think about, feel, and how does it do so? Start with your own experience and work outward rather than from concepts of games or fun…

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