Posted by: bracehare | August 23, 2011

Why I am interested in game design

Games have been a part of my life for essentially as long as I can remember.  From educational games like Treasure Cove and Oregon Trail, which featured in my early childhood development, to my teenage infatuation with Dance Dance Revolution and Pump it Up, games have been a significant source of entertainment, catharsis, growth, and even socialization and exercise.  I have learned important lessons from games.  Metal Gear Solid 1 and 2 familiarized me with pacifism, with the philosophical problem of determinism, and perhaps most amusingly with the notion that DNA does not equal destiny.  The idea that a person’s choices establish who they are even if the consequences of these choices don’t pan out is a lesson I learned first from a video game; even if subsequent lessons on the subject would later prove to be of greater depth and significance.

I believe in the didactic power of video games, and I dream of the medium being used effectively for this purpose.  However, I have a fairly critical view of the current state of the medium.  It appears to be stuck in limbo, imitating the techniques of film-makers (through cut scenes) and of novelists (through dialog boxes).  In doing so, the great strength which could most enable video games as a didactic medium is not only neglected but negated.  Unlike film or novels, video games offer choice; this simple truth makes them a kind of mirror of reality.  As an existentialist, I believe meaning is not something which is innate to this world but rather something which is constructed through our choices.  In film and in novels, choices can be shown, but they cannot be made.  These media allow the viewer to see the significance of actions from a distance.  Depending on the nature of the individual work, this significance may be personal to the character, or it may be portrayed as extrinsically meaningful.

With video games, the oscillation between play and cut scenes undermines the strength of both.  When playing, the player is responsible for attributing meaning to the actions they take in the game world.  However, when cut scenes are triggered, the authors of the video game are effectively imposing an external narrative upon the player, contextualizing their actions; what’s more, it is understood that this external narrative is official; that is, it is more real than the self-created meaning of the player.  This does a severe disservice to video games, turning them into a fundamentally inauthentic experience.  To watch another and infer meaning is valid.  To watch yourself and receive meaning would be incoherent, except in the context of a video game.  In real life, the individual is always responsible for their actions, and hence for the meaning they assign to them.  If games made a point of not intervening with a player’s agency, they may not be able to tell stories in a traditional way, but the resulting interactions between the player and the game would be uniquely personal and significant.

I would like very much to learn enough about game design to eventually create games which overcome the crass and inauthentic juxtaposition of narrative techniques from other media.  I would like to help video games grow beyond their present stage, which I believe to be fundamentally immature.  These I consider primary reasons for my interest in game design.  I have secondary interests in it for more simplistic reasons; I am intensely fond of music games, to this day, and would like to make them as well.  However, such games have no narrative, nor do they need a narrative.  They are more like sport, to me, and my love of them stems from the same sort of place as any athlete’s love of their game.  The only difference is that music games are constantly growing, being constructed by their fans.  Between these reasons, I have my motivation for undertaking the study and analysis of games and game design.  I have done so in the past, perhaps a bit too ostentatiously.  The name of this blog is, in fact, a tribute to an earlier blog which was used to articulate some of my ideas about video games.  Hopefully I can endeavor to be more accessible and engaging in this iteration.

– Jessica Evans

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