[-empyre-] Week 4: Playsthetics of Experimental Digital Games: game design praxis

mez breeze netwurker at gmail.com
Wed Mar 26 17:06:08 EST 2014

On Wed, Mar 26, 2014 at 2:01 AM, Sandra Danilovic <
s.danilovic at mail.utoronto.ca> wrote:

> 2.     How are experimental games vehicles for creative self-expression,
> storytelling?
>  3.     What does it mean to design 'unplayable' games, difficult-to-play
> games, etc in relation to creative experimentation?
Hi All,

I just wanted to quickly address these questions regarding experimental
games as "self-expression vehicles" with intentionally unplayable/difficult
aspects, especially in relation to some game-based projects I've
co-created. These "Games" [or as I like to term them, Synthetic Game
Environments] include The Dead Tower<http://labs.dreamingmethods.com/tower/>,
#PRISOM <http://prisom.me> and
in development]. All three of these projects act to subvert
traditional game dynamics [and mechanics] in various ways. In The Dead
Tower, the player needs to navigate a dream-like arena, where snippets of
words hang suspended in air, and text coats various discarded objects in an
environment centred on a huge stone castle. As the catalogue from "Chercher
le texte" 2013 describes it: *"Like the proverbial moth, the reader's
attention is drawn towards the brightest things around: white words float
in the air, static or rotating. And the lines of mezangelle
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mezangelle> verse both heighten the dread by
telling fragments of a ghostly narrative prefigured by the bus crash site
the reader finds herself in, and soften the tone with hints about the
interface that nudge the fourth wall." *In the Dead Tower, a player is
given only the smallest of instructions, with some of the navigation
instructions actually embedded directly into the game text [very meta].

#PRISOM explores, and in part emulates, the increasing unveiling of covert
surveillance on a global scale [such as the PRISM
and the increasing monitoring of individual's private data/lives - in fact,
the neologism title was produced by merging the terms "PRISM" and "prison".
#PRISOM is a synthetic reality game that's set in a 3D space in true First
Person Shooter style, but that removes a player's ability to engage within
the space as they typically would in a standard FPS by controlling the game
through weapons, health-packs, and standard stable controls. When a player
enters #PRISOM, initially the navigation seems to mirror FPS conventions
[space bar to jump, arrow keys and "adws" to move, c to crouch, help
screens etc]. But as a player begins to move around the prison-like
environment, it becomes apparent that function and
slightly-irritating-almost-unplayable-function are woven tightly together
[like the difficulty level of some of the travel platforms being *almost*
too annoying to jump on, or finding yourself running into an area that you
think is safe passage but is actually an explosive glass wall]. During
dev/beta testing, I always knew we were onto something if I pushed past
that delicious [mostly FPS] game adrenalin-flow into irritation/frustration
territory [which is exactly appropriate for #PRISOM inmates, especially
considering the dystopic ending(s)].

One #PRISOM review sums up the delicate process of juggling this game and
"anti-game" orientation: "*"Thanks to #PRISOM, I am now successfully
indoctrinated and prepared for the total loss of my civil and personal
rights and a life of continual subservience. Seriously, this took a bit of
navigation...but the payoff is definitely worth it. The environment is easy
to get into, especially with the supporting audio, and once I got into the
hang of what I was supposed to do, and where to find the test stations, all
went smoothly. I was actually entranced by the whole experience, and felt
that I just HAD to get to the end. This is [a] most ambitious work...with a
piece that delivers a political message within the framework of a game that
is actually no game at all - it's the serious business of where do we all
go from here."*

It's an interesting idea to short-cut [or at least heavily modify] many of
the conventions or muscle-memory based habits that traditional game players
have come to expect as part of their gaming experience, but also a risky
one. On the one hand, you risk alienating players who have had no, or
little, traditional gaming experience [newbies] with slippery
"unplayability", and on the other, you risk frustration from expert gamers
who might bristle at the reduced, or inverted, functionality.


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