The end of maximalism.

Michaël Samyn, August 11, 2012

With Bientôt l’été I have shifted towards a different design practice. Instead of including as much as possible in every design, I am moving towards a method of scarcity. Now I try to reduce the amount of elements to the smallest number possible. It’s a shift from glorifying the ambiguity that the interactive medium enables to seeking a sort of purity.

Ironically, this purity may help achieve a much greater emotional effect. In the past we were happy to let our players figure out for themselves how they want to play our games or how to feel about them. But as a result many people could not get anything out of them at all. Too much was open, too much mental activity was required. In a medium that excels in the visceral.

I abhor the vacuum of modernism. So I will be the last to embrace a motto like “less is more.” If only because our goal remains “more”. The goal is not to simplify things as such, but to increase their impact. And the fewer things there are, the more attention both creator and player can give them.

This attitude potentially conflicts with our “make the game first, then design it” method were it not for that other discovery: that it is ok for computer simulations to be imperfect, for computer characters to behave differently than real humans.

This may be the ultimate key to making this medium work, artistically. Theoretically it may be possible to achieve absolute realism with videogames technology. But to what end? We will never really believe that the synthetic character on the screen is an actual human (just like we don’t believe that a novel narrates things that actually happened or that an actor really feels pain when he is bitten by a monster on the screen). We have, however, another opportunity with computers, one that is lacking in all other media. Our characters can respond to the viewer!

What matters is not so much the way in which a creature can convince us that it is something else, as the power of this creature to demonstrate to us that it is, in fact, alive, really alive. When confronted with another living creature, it matters little if that creature looks and behaves like us or not. What matters is our relationship with that creature.

Videogames need not be a pictorial medium. Videogames do not need to reflect life. They can become part of it. Videogames are things that we do. Not just things that we see. Likewise, the characters in them are creatures that we meet, not just depictions of fictional characters that we can ponder. If we dare to sit there and ponder them, they should respond in protest and tell us Don’t you dare to ponder us! Talk to us instead! Play with us instead! We may not be human. But we are here, with you!

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