[-empyre-] The Playsthetics of Experimental Digital Games: Week 2

Lynn Hughes Lynn.Hughes at concordia.ca
Thu Mar 13 12:51:54 EST 2014

Hello hello,

Still having to catch up with the posts via the archives so I hope I am not hopelessly out of synch!

Sebastian's suggestion that  "games like any aesthetic form are always already experimental, as designers are always deviating from existing conventions" is interestingly in tension with Matt's earlier comments that experimental and indie games "On the one hand… strive for the enabling of new gaming experiences, while on the other, they often employ what are downright old-fashioned mechanics"

While I appreciate Sebastian's very high level comment, Matt’s observation relates to some of my current feelings of frustration. I can appreciate why, classic games, precursors and just other good games might be referenced in a newer game. But, too often, the tired reuse of tried and true genre, mechanics, aesthetics etc is really disappointing – and surprisingly prevalent in a community that thinks of itself as making alternatives to big industry games. It indicates a failure to see games as a much broader playing field.

There is also a related confusion/conflation between commercial and "artistic" goals. Putting aside for the moment exactly where “indie” begins and ends, the independent games basket still seems more confused than many other creative sectors. Perhaps one of the reasons that there is now increasing resistance to using the term indie is because it has been used too often to talk about 2 very different things: essentially commercial games and essentially non commercial ones. (This doesn’t always have much to do in the end with which games actually make money.)  Games which try to maximize "fun" -and to appeal to as many people as possible by deliberately remixing (or just piling on) look and feel and play from a number of other successful games are still being confused with the much fewer games that are trying to do something more interesting. If we look at contemporary advertising versus visual / media art  –while the once relatively distinct practices of art and design now get very promiscuous and the overlap is sometimes interesting and provocative, there is still a distinction to be made between productions designed with clients and money as the main framework and those looking to evolve a form and its content expressively, formally, intellectually…. whatever.

This seems almost too obvious to write down but I think that, in fact, using the same word for productions with such different sets of values continues to cause confusion beyond the terminological. These confusions are pretty basic but they are also really operating.

In the end my interest doesn’t lie with, for example, just “observing the *proliferation* of ways in which games get functionalized and functionalizations get normalized” for example, but in figuring out a way that I can act, can make choices about what, and what not, to produce within the communities available to me and in the broader games arena. I'm not saying acting is divorced from thinking and theory but that there is perhaps a kind of urgency attached to having to produce one thing rather than another in a given time frame.

I hope this make some sense?


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