Playing as experience

In computer games, the focus of the experience often shifts from the purpose of an action to the action itself.

Older games tend to be highly symbolic. Any move you make on the board, if not entirely abstract, represents an event in an often highly abstracted manner. As a result, you make the move for the purpose of advancing in the game somewhat. Sliding a pawn over a board isn’t the world’s most exciting experience. Contemporary computer games tend to add a layer of simulation to “making a move” that can be a source of pleasure in and of itself, disregarding the outcome of the move as a result of the game’s rules.

Historically, these simulations have been nothing more than ways to dress up the game (either visually or narratively). But the technology and skills of the creators (and possibly the expectations of the audience) have evolved so much that the simulation layer is quickly becoming the thing that many people enjoy most in a computer game. Game rules design as such has not evolved much. As pure games, computer games have not delivered greater masterpieces than board games. But they have delivered something else, a new type of experience.

What I long to see is a computer game that is nothing but simulation. Not the sterile spreadsheet-based simulation of Sim City or Tycoon games. But a simulation painted by an artist: an sensual, expressive environment that focusses entirely on the (inter)action for its own sake, with no purpose other than pure experience.

6 thoughts on “Playing as experience”

  1. I spent some time in a Barnes and Noble the other day, browsing the magazine section. As a teenager I use to enjoy looking through the gaming, design, and music mags for hours on end (without purchasing a damn thing). However, as I flipped through the pages of the latest gaming mag, I began to notice that at least every other page featured a game in which the player kills enemies from the “first-person” perspective. I’m only 24, so the current trends in commercial gaming must have had their roots in my adolescent years, but was I really part of such a violent culture? I used to love these types of games (to a degree, not as much as a Blade Runner or a Baldur’s Gate), but in the last few years I’ve lost all interest in gaming. Mostly because of the complete lack of imagination or maturation in the larger gaming culture (by culture, I mean industry). I like what I’m seeing on this site because it substantiates my own vision of what the interactive medium can become. It shows me that there really is a community that craves the same freedom of experience that I’m looking for. I’m not a visual artist or a programmer, but as a musician I want to be able to contribute my creations to a worthy environment; to an experience that challenges people to explore their boundaries and needs. Has anyone heard of “the Room” ? It’s a great foundation for maximizing the available technology to support the exploratory nature of the mind. Although it’s a dead project, something like this with people (social interaction) would be amazing. I know it’s unnecessary to pump the Endless Forest here, but right now it’s the closest available experience to what we’re all thinking is possible, and it’s the farthest from the glum creations that are being sold on game store shelves.

  2. Thank you. You’r making us blush. šŸ˜‰

    I feel the same about gaming, I must admit, even though I’m quite a bit older than you and I never really liked gaming. It started with disappointing sequels to my favorite games. Black & White, Ico, Silent Hill all went for a more traditionally structured game design in Black & White 2, Shadow of the Colossus and Silent Hill 4. And it went downhill from there.
    I’m still hoping this is a momentary lapse in creativity caused by the transition between console hardware and OS on the PC.

    The Room is indeed a striking experiment. I’m not sure how flexible the technology is to allow us to play with such a concept fluently (though Little Big Planet seems to go in that direction a bit). The social interaction that you mention in passing would indeed make a huge difference, though. I don’t think we need to solve the problem of AI as we seem to have solved the problem of physics simulation. But the experience needs to be about people, about life. And for that, you need artists at the helm…

    Tim Rogers has a great article that includes a review of Chrono Trigger. He uses his review to springboard into a discussion of what makes an RPG. Literally we’re looking for the experience of playing a “role”. Widening an RPG to that term “Gears of War” is an RPG as are “Shadow of the Colossus” and “Ico”.

    The latest reviews for “Eternal Sonata” were released last week and I almost wanted to cry. They were so positive. All of my friends think this game will be a wellmade, beautiful RPG experience. All I see however are the restrictions and formulas of a board game created over three decades ago. The world your viewing is beautiful yes but it’s all just a glossy coating. There is no interaction with the space no details to discover. Only empty rpg walkways surrounded by tons pastel artifacts and flowers.

    I’m interested more in viewing a space but also visually touching it, manipulating the elements. I want the role I play to grow with exploration rather then move foward thanks to elaborate cut scenes. Poly collisions be damned. I want to climb trees and swim in lakes. Start fires and set up tents.

  4. Me too Noah. I want to be able to touch these environments, and all that.

    I think the best way to introduce that to games in general is to start small – to start by creating little interactive pieces where all you do is touch or manipulate a limited but expressive environment. Then once people, and developers, understand what that’s about, maybe the idea will work its way into normal games. I’ll try to show you what I mean, once I finish making the first one. :)

  5. What project is next for your team?

    Whose team?
    If ours, then I’d say the main project is The Path. But since that is a rather large project, it will probably not be the first one that will be released. There’s a smaller project in the works that hasn’t been disclosed yet. And there’s some additions to The Endless Forest that will start happening as of October 11th, when the Velocity festival opens in Lancaster, UK. There will be Halloween in the Forest first, and later Carnival.

Comments are closed.