Being x, doing y, in z.

It is difficult for us the express in words what we are trying to do with our creations at Tale of Tales. We call them video games, but we are well aware of the fact that we are stretching the meaning of the term when we do this. We continue, however, because, for us, the meaning of this term has already been stretched. Perhaps not by the way that video games are being designed, but definitely by the way that they are being played. By people like us.

The medium that is used by games -realtime 3D- is attractive to us as artists because it is a powerful tool for simulation. So far, game technology has been mostly used for simulation of objective factual reality. But we are interested in using it to simulate a subjective reality.

Many of our ideas originate from a question in the form of

“What would it feel like to be creature x, doing activity y, in location z?”

Our designs often start as an attempt to find the answer to this question -although they may outgrow this initial empetus later. Not by showing how it feels to be x, doing y in z, but by creating an environment in which the user can, if not experience the sensation itself, at least contemplate the experience by themselves.

We share this purpose with many artists, throughout the ages. Baroque composers, renaissance painters, romantic poets, all have similar aspirations. But their work relies entirely on the imagination of the viewer to create the effect. The interactivity of computer technology allows us to give the user a more active role in the piece, which we hope will stimulate the imagination more than mere observation. This is how interactivity becomes a crucial part of our work.

We don’t think we are the first designers to use the medium in this way. Many video game designers have and do. But creating the sensation of “being x, doing y in z” is most often of less importance than the fact that the end product needs to be a challenge-based, entertaining game (or a clear plot-driven narrative, for that matter). There are various reasons for this, both economic and artistic. But as players of video games, we have often been disappointed when our experience was interrupted by the requirement to play the game (or progress in the story). As a result, as designers, we try to create games with the tables turned: simulation becomes more important than gameplay, meaning becomes more important than fun (and sensation more important than communication).

We have probably made the mistake in the past of presenting our personal choice as something that the video game design craft as a whole should aspire to. That was wrong. To us, as video game consumers, moving away from challenge-based entertainment-focused gameplay towards poetic and meaningful experiences, feels like progress, simply because this leads to an increase in the offer of games that we enjoy. But is not progress in any absolute sense -unless you consider greater diversity a form of progress.

There is nothing wrong with games that offer fun and entertainment. There is nothing wrong with games that try and evoke meaning through gameplay. Games have been around for ages. They will never become obsolete. It is naive to think that they will ever turn into something else. And it is naive to think that anything threatens their existence. But computer technology was not invented for the sole purpose of creating and playing games. And to consider video games as the ultimate form of interactive entertainment or art, is simply premature and unnecessarily restrictive.

At Tale of Tales, we are not interested in creating challenging skills-teaching gameplay with rigid rules and predetermined goals. We may use these kinds of structures in our work if they contribute to the sensation of “being x, doing y, in z”. Some themes are served by this, some are not. But we feel no obligation whatsoever as designers to include such forms of interaction in our work.

16 thoughts on “Being x, doing y, in z.”

  1. I have just read the various post of today, and of the many things that came to mind, this thought I really want to share with you…

    I believe art is all about sharing an experience (anything !) from one human (the artist) tot another. Everything else is tools to that purpose.

    Sometimes you give the impression that you purposely try to profile yourself on the other end of the spectrum (against conventional designs,…). This is understandable from a social and commercial point of view, but if you really consider it from an artistic point of view -there is no wrong tool-

    Every tool is just that -a tool-, only the use of it (proper or not) to the realization of art’s purpose (sharing something with another human being) makes it good or bad.

    So – if you allow me to be frank :-) – you needn’t worry about linearity, challenges,… . Only whether you need them (or not) to express this particular thing you want to share.

    to me, this thought is helpfull in destinguishing the art itself from the socio-cultural context in which you place it.

  2. You’re right. I guess I’m just sharing my doubts about how to use this tool best. There’s probably no right ways or wrong ways. But there are good ways and bad ways, in terms of the effect you want to achieve.

    Another aspect that we find important is that our work reaches an audience. So it’s not enough that we understand/appreciate the piece ourselves. We want to make sure that other people get something out of it as well. And we’re perfectly willing to add some water to the wine for that.

  3. Ah! I just found your company (?) looking for experimental & free computer games… Reading your blog, or what you want to call it, I see that you might be the answer to my prayers as “gamer”! Since I was young I was always more interested in the subjective feeling – poetic sensation perhaps – the atmosphere of the games I played. From Shadowgate on NES through Doom & Quake (I was probably one of the few who played those games not for the sake of action but experiencing the ambience & aesthetic of the storyline and graphics) to later-day wonders like Shenmue on the DC (the snowfall! the surroundings!) and The Dark Eye. Of course Myst and similar games appeals to that idea, but are unfortunately hampered by the never-ending & (il)logical puzzles that I’m too restless to solve (I prefer walkthroughs and looking around). Anyway, your ambition to create games/simulations on an artistic ground rather than traditional gameplay makes me very happy, so you know. You should make a winter night simulator. Walking about a park or something. Perhaps a rodent or cat simulator. A game set in a train where you can open fellow traveller’s heads (not literally) and see what they think. Something based on dreams? Anything. I do much hope that you will/can keep doing this and explore the possibilities – video gaming need visionaries, especially now when the medium is expanding rapidly with ads on TV every day etc. Uhm… yeah, thanks. Now I’ll look around a bit more. Cheers from Sweden.

  4. I’m glad that you guys realize that you might need to add something to the games to reach a broader audience.

    I’m a new game designer myself and I respect your work to a great degree. I find, however, that there is something lacking for me when we call it a ‘game’ rather than an ‘experience.’ As a gamer, I don’t want to be an old lady, for example. As a gamer I want to be a hero saving the world. As an artist and lover of said art, I want to have an experience; the kind I would have from interpreting a painting or watching a classic play. The kind from being in an old lady’s shoes, for example.

    As a game designer, I want to create experiences that gamers and artists can both appreciate.

    I feel that what you are trying to do is ambitious; in trying to ‘crack’ the seal between expected ‘hero’ experiences and new age ‘artsy’ experiences. An example of one that already exists: In Call of Duty 4, there was a moment where you are shot down out of a helicopter when a nuclear device goes off in their fictional reality. The next moments, when it fades from black, you are the soldier you always were crawling out of the wreckage, slowly dying from radiation poising. The last sight you see is the remnants of the city you were in, with a dissipating mushroom cloud in the distance. That was powerful. Why? The magic word is ‘context.’ You were with this soldier. You were fighting a war. You are now dying; dead just as quick as you were alive. A relationship was established, and now you understand the horrors of war instantly.

    That experience had two things to note:
    The first is that it was a very harsh and interesting situation to be in.
    The second is that it had context. The player built a relationship with the avatar that came to his untimely, yet inevitable fate.

    Another example of building a relationship before something happens is another independent game called ‘Passage.’

    I just wanted to share that with you, in the event you had not been exposed to it already and wish all the best in your team’s endeavors.

    Keep up the good work!

    – B

  5. Thank you, Andreas, we hope we can make your dreams come true! 😉

    You bring up a good point, Brian. Context is indeed very important. But I have this -I guess, rather artsy- expectation that at least part of the context of our work is the player’s own life and surroundings. Our games never start from a blank slate, but always from an assumed cultural and social context. A direct result of this is that our work may be meaningless to some people. But that’s ok. Hopefully there will be other artists who make work for them.

    I personally feel that the hero-mythos is damaging for the human soul. So you will never catch us doing that. I find the lives of the innocent victims always much more interesting that the lives of the soldiers executing the orders that cause the damage.

  6. Andreas, thanks for sharing your excitement. Maybe I can help explore these possibilities along with Tale of Tales. Your mention of a “winter night simulator” helped bring me back to the original feeling behind one game idea I had, which I had been drifting away from. On the subject of rodent simulators, I’ve been thinking that a social playground MMO along the lines of The Endless Forest would work very well with squirrels… :)

    Brian, that’s a very interesting point about building a relationship to set up context – I hadn’t thought about that before.

    To reply to the original blog post, yes, totally – make a game to help the player experience what it is like to be x, doing y, in z. One place to start could be in simulating the experience of various animals, like aphids, for example. Plenty of good material there, and it would probably be more typically game-like than something involving complex human lives. :p

  7. “we try to create games with the tables turned: simulation becomes more important than gameplay, meaning becomes more important than fun (and sensation more important than communication)”.

    i’m a die hard, hardcore video game player. labeled as such, play all the “hit” games–gears of war, gta, call of duty, etc–and love them! i look for graphics( i’m a whore when it comes to them), gameplay, and such. but what i remember most is the story and innovation in the games i play. they are what i like to see in games, though a lot of games don’t have them that i play…still love em for other reasons. story and experience and memories. i’d give examples of the best games i’ve played with story and innovation, but i’m too tired right now. maybe some i guess: bioshock, beyond good and evil, syberia, crush, the longest journey, gabriel knight, indigo prophecy, ico, shadow of the colossus… these have been my favorite games. ever try Facade or cloud? great games as well!

    what you guys are doing amazes me. i can’t wait to play The Path (you guys have been my background on my pc for months now). what troubles me though is that i have a feeling it won’t be really noticed or advertised. and people won’t understand it like they don’t understand the garveyard or the endless forest. saddens me. your games and the Love game will be phenomenal i’m sure, but the masses are too watered down with the mainstream games. hopefully people and other developers will be courageous enough to follow suit or take some pointers. i don’t always need a “goal” or awesome gameplay. sometimes just want to EXPERIENCE like endless forest, graveyard, flow, flower(when it comes out), facade, cloud. can’t i play a game where it doesn’t end but maybe countless experiences keep coming with downloads, patches, upgrades of new experiences and not goals?

    by the way the song in endless forrest is awesome and i put it on for background alot. you should make it a ringtone and ringback for cell phones. and make a cd of that and similar music. geniouses!

    p.s. and i believe story can be told through experience not just words and cg movies (ico and shadow of the colossus had game play but it was the experience and minimal dialog that told the story), so you guys have it right…

  8. oh and you guys over the last year or more have been my favorite developers of games. not just art, i mean games. you have your own genre of games, way ahead of our times. you will be a part of a book on games in an intro to a chapter of a turn in video games…

  9. sorry, also had to say you should expand on the graveyard either as the grandma or other such characters so i can do nothing. sit down walk feed ducks, look at traffic, watch ants under my feet, look at the clouds, sunsets and rises, a couple in love, homeless people sleepin and begging, giving them change or food, etc… not as goals, but just something that happens like sitting on a bench. or not. that would be lovely :)

  10. You make some good points, sir. I’m glad we can start up a discussion. :)

    I must agree with your point on having a player put their own context into the game. When one can base their own back story around something, the experience is much more fulfilling. As with any artistic work, some might be touched and others bored, but all will gaze upon a brilliant work no matter the outcome. If only for a moment…

    However, I try your comment on the Hero Mythos. You say ‘innocent’ lives. I’m not one for war, sir, but some soldiers are the most innocent of all. Do you not find the sweet irony in how they don’t want the war to be there, so they try and do what they think is right… Only to fall into despair when they realize they are part of the problem? Exposing a soldier’s dying moments with the message of ‘War is Wrong’ written all over it rather than ‘War is Glorious’ is a powerful statement.

    Outside of that point, I’m curious as to why you find it damaging. There are many sides of this particular coin ( that would be one crazy coin to see materialized 😛 ) but I am interested.

  11. I’m afraid I am a hardcore pacifist. When I see a soldier, I think “murderer”. I can’t help myself.

    As for the hero-thing, it’s kind of personal. I think I was raised with the typical Western idea that “everyone can be a star”, and should aspire to be one, etc. But at some point in my life, I realised that I could not live up to these expectations. I became seriously depressed. Until I realized that this hero-thing was a stupid idea. That it is fine for people to just be human, with their good sides and their bad sides. That you are not a monster just because you are not perfect.

    On a larger scale, I think the world would be better served with a bit more attention for practicalities instead of always waving the flags of ideologies.

  12. You are a star Micheal :-).

    In a sense when you recognized that it’s “fine for people to just be human” you became one of the best kind of people! There is a minister next door to the school I went too, and he’s a fantastic person, very popular and somewhat of a celebrity in certain circles. The reason is, as I told a friend of mine, that he is what I like to call a “human being.” He DOES things, he’s not just a minister, he’s a comedian and he writes mystery novels in his spare time. By just doing things that interest him whether or not it’s cool to write mystery novels or be a minister, he’s experienced life at a level many of us don’t. We become to worried that if we aren’t a rock star we can’t play music.

    Anyway, I think that’s one of the reasons i’m drawn to this site and your “games.” They are being made by human beings simply because the people making them ARE human beings. Human beings create for the sake of it, what a miracle is that! and when people do create for that sake, they provide that x doing y in z without even trying! I’ve seen some very moving still life paintings and figure drawings simply because I’m not just looking at a picture I’m looking at a span of time through someone else’s eyes. Interactive art even more so has the opportunity of putting one in that position. And in my view, it’s an absolute miracle. Nothing in the world is like art for opening our eyes, nothing in the world is like art for putting us in someone else’s mind. And the vast opportunities we have today to access art allow human beings to have a far greater collective experience than any previous generation, and with interactive art that experience becomes even greater!

    so…good post, lol.

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