Hiatus? No!


Wow. Three whole weeks have passed since my last blog post. Have I been on Hiatus? Resting on my laurels, p'raps?

No!

In fact the game itself is coming together quite nicely. I don't want to talk too much about what I've been up to, just that I'm blazing through this sucker at this point. Next task: implement CHICKENS.

Musing: Meaning in Games

Lately the question in games is how do we elevate beyond the status of "toy" to that of respect in the eyes of the culture. I don't have an answer, but it's certainly something I've been pondering on.

Movies, novels, etc. are all respected as being able to teach us something as humans, or to provide us in some sense with a spiritual experience. I think some games can provide us with a spiritual experience. Don't smack me, but sections of Mario 64 and Chrono Trigger were really amazing.

However, games don't do as well at reflecting the human experience. Why?

Musing: Novelists have it EASY!

A novel or movie can twist together a plot that, when we engage it, can be very revealing of human nature. Even "fun adventure" books such as Treasure Island can teach us something about ourselves.

They do this, I would argue, because they have the ability to trace through time a specific chain of events. The control of the novelist isn't absolute (if the actions of characters are not well-justified, we won't engage) but it's still very great. A writer can string together events ingeniously so that, just at the right time, we go: aha!

A game developer has a much harder time of this. Games so far have managed to attach stories, or broader context, sometimes with great results. But it rarely feels closely harmonized with what we'd call the "gameplay" of the game. Mainly it serves to make us want to keep playing.

So what makes the "gameplay" part of the game?

Musing: Cause and Effect

We talk about interaction but in fact, it's the ability to change things in the game world that really make games what they are. We are brought into a game because our own actions control it, and this fascinates us.

But this doesn't really hold for stories in games. Even if we are given choices that affect the outcomes and direction of the game, that usually still isn't what we consider to be the game itself.

For example, even if you play an RPG with extensive dialogue, the most interactive or "affectable" part of the game is still not the story. It's probably the combat system, where you get to really mess around with things and see the monsters go pop as a result.

But this is our whole problem!

What I realized is that the cause and effect part of games, which is truly what differentiates them from other art forms, has really so far just been limited to physics.

Physics?

Yes, physics. The basics of hitting things, moving around, bouncing, that sort of physical interaction, is as far as we have really taken it. For the most part we haven't yet elevated our sense of cause and effect in games to the higher, "human" level.

And until we do manage it, we're just creating toys with context tacked on. The argument that the meaningful part of our creation could as well have been a movie is sometimes accurate.

I don't know how to elevate cause and effect to a higher level. For example, how does one create a game whose primary purpose is to experiment with relationships, and to experience "cheating" or "betrayal" the way a movie or a book can?

Well I do intend to try to figure this out.

2009-11-22


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