Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Life as writer’s block…

I’ve been reading a few random things that have really piqued my interest.  The first is an e-book called, “Permanent Death”, and it’s about a guy’s experiment playing through FarCry 2 (or 1, but I’m pretty sure it’s 2) on normal difficulty, but only having one life; that is, once he dies once, it’s over.  The thesis statement of this book is something I really find fascinating.  It’s about how the introduction to “multiple lives”, or even checkpoints or other forms of error-correction in playing a game serves to decouple the player from his representation (ie., his avatar).  While it’s virtually impossible to create a game that has absolutely no reliance on multiple lives in some way (even if dying to a game-over screen, and then loading the most recent save), the roguelikes are the only games that I can think of that religiously adhere to a one-life character play-model.

The second thing is a blog by a guy who is playing Minecraft, but in a very unconventional way.  He isn’t crafting, or building, or mining.  He gets up every morning, walks east as far as he can, while taking note of the landscape and whatever else he runs into, and then, at sundown, takes refuge in a makeshift shelter, creating and using only the resources absolutely necessary for survival.  He writes each day as a post, and it’s interesting, even if only for its strangeness.

I like things like this, because it highlights something I really enjoy about games.  Also, it makes a distinction between a facet of myself and something I don’t see in any of the people I know who play games.  Most of the people I know, if they don’t exclusively play only multiplayer, competitive games, play single-player games in a much different way than I do.  I play with a faint hearkening back to my childhood days of pretend.  I play with the theory of “creative play” in the back of my mind, and through this form of indulgence, I am fulfilled on an artistic level, in a way.  Also, it seems to help me focus my own artistic endeavors.  But I think it’s largely overlooked when people think of games; especially single-player games.  Games are mainly seen as ways to be competitive, ways to win, ways to accumulate and dominate, to perfect a strategy, to “hone your micro”.  I despise these forms of game-playing, because I believe it is indicative of an undeveloped mind, and indicative of a mind that is imbalanced in that social sense.

So, I like these kinds of strange, idiosyncratic experiments, and sometimes wish I were truly original enough to think of something like it on my own, or at least, to attempt something like it.


  1. I'm more than passingly familiar with both works mentioned here so you won't find any criticism from me on your selection of them for this post - both are worthy reads for anyone interested in games as something more than your average person on the street would consider them. Nor do I disagree with you that game enjoyment can exist well beyond the pursuit of a static goal condition (win a match, get the high score, complete the game).

    But I think you are a little harsh in dismissing the enjoyment to be had from those goals and the associated mental capabilities of those who draw enjoyment from such.

    I think a less contentious position to hold is that we need to acknowledge that games CAN be more than fulfilling the arbitary goals of the game's design team.

    But they don't always have to be. I'd live to cite Far Cry 2 as an example for relevance (incidentally it was the sequel, not the original that was the subject of the permadeath sequel) but the game's strengths actually lay in its combat sandbox nature.

    Thankfully the greater games library is full of examples of games that don't lend themselves well to extended examination or offer up different interpretations of 'play'. Tetris is Tetris... there is no other legitimate goal beyond beating the score and it would be drawing a short string on long bow to suggest there is some message hidden with the metaphor of falling blocks.

    Given part of my professional life is writing about games I'm somewhat given to falling for those titles that do interesting things with the concept of 'gaming' and those that use their medium as a vehicle for communication.

    Yet I'd be lying if I said I have not thrilled to the joy of that perfectly placed bullet in an online game of MW2 or whooped in exhilaration as I drop a group of hellions on my opponents mineral lines in Starcraft 2.

    Enjoying something so base is no sin. It may not be your particular tastes but sometimes it is enough for games to be nothing more than a basic and simple diversion that plugs directly into our reward centres.

    Nor is it a slight against a person’s character that they don’t delve deeper to discover all that gaming can be. Not everyone is as ‘into’ games as others and there is no pedestal fashioned that can raise gaming to the height of being the only ‘true’ intellectual endeavour.
    As such the importance is that people who do not engage with games on that level are aware that they can be. People need to be aware that gaming is a valid and powerful medium that is becoming increasingly relevant in our day to day lives with each passing year and afford it the appropriate respect as a result.
    They just don’t all have to be gamers.

  2. I would agree that it's a little pretentious to think that only the kind of games I'm referring to should be made, or played -- I didn't really mean that. I just meant that people who don't have the ability to appreciate games on that level are lacking in some faculty.

    I love Bad Company 2 because of its mechanics and the feelings you mentioned associated with fast-paced action games. I just meant that it's imperative to also be able to appreciate stories, the literary aspects of games, and being able to 'play pretend' with a cinematic game. It's those deeper things that actually can enrich your life and personal philosophy.

    Like I said, I don't think a person is stupid for -not- playing games like that, but I do think they are lacking somehow if they do not have the level of cognitive ability required to appreciate games on that level, even if they then choose to never do so.

    Thanks for the comment! I think this is the first time I've actually been able to reply to a comment on my blog.