After much delay I have at last made real an idea that has for too long occupied a small, half-remembered partition in my brain. I wanted to make fun of “post-apocalyptic” settings. So many video games have hopped on the pessimistic-gray-brown-kill-or-be-killed-nuclear-wasteland band-wagon that I thought it deserved some critique.
How severe a critique my offering is, I cannot say, because I honestly don’t know. I’ll leave to you, the player, the task of determining what this game has to say.
You can download it here.
I just played Sister’s Little Helper, after having seen it on Anna Anthropy’s blog. Anna says:
games, as a form ordered by rules and performed by their audience, have a unique capacity to use repetition as a form of characterization.
Certainly Sister’s Little Helper demonstrates said capacity for characterization through repetition. However, when I played the game, I noticed another thing that games could express in interesting ways: characterization through confusion.
In the breakfast scene of the game, it took me a moment to figure out what I was looking at and what to do with the items on the table. In that moment, I felt like a person who had just woken up way too early from a terrible night’s sleep. For that brief moment, I assumed that the scene before me had been designed to make me look like an idiot for not knowing how to eat breakfast. I felt self-conscious because Amy was sitting next to me watching me struggle to eat, and I still don’t know what the brown stuff in the bowl is. Suddenly the ritual of breakfast has become a puzzle that I have solve.
As it turns out, there was some vague order to the clicking that I stumbled upon moments after my initial confusion. If I designed that puzzle however, I would have allowed the player to eat the jelly straight, eat the bread without the butter, poor the orange juice in the bowl, dip the bread in the bowl, or perform any other combination of clicks.
If your narrative involves a person whose mental faculties have been compromised, then confusing the player might strengthen the player’s empathy for the characters. That goes against game-design “best practices”, but who cares?
As this is my personal blog (mostly), I don’t typically post links to other people’s games. I’ve decided though, that it might be a good idea to start linking to games that I find interesting. My reasons for this are numerous and varied, but I might say in general that linking to games I find interesting will help me understand myself a little better.
Run is a game about a place where the sun is extinguished by darkness and a ludologist comes and makes an artificial sun, but it is not a perfect replica as the villagers eventually realize.
It is an interesting collage of mechanics framed in a narrative that addresses the transient nature of artificial worlds. As small as this game is, there is a lot of depth in its gameplay and narrative and might warrant further study.
The game can be played (and purchased) here.
Johan Huizinga, a Dutch historian and author of “Homo Ludens: A study of the play element of culture”, wrote:
All play moves and has its being within a play-ground marked off beforehand either materially or ideally, deliberately or as a matter of course. Just as there is no formal difference between play and ritual, so the “consecrated spot” cannot be formally distinguished from the play-ground. The arena, the card table, the magic circle, the temple, the stage, the screen, the tennis court, the court of justice, etc., are all in form and function play-grounds, i.e. forbidden spots, isolated, hedged round, hallowed, within which special rules obtain. All are temporary worlds within the ordinary world, dedicated to the performance of an act apart.
Huizinga argues that “play is not ‘ordinary’ or ‘real’ life. It is rather a stepping out of “real” life into a temporary sphere of activity with a disposition all of its own.” Continue reading
Anna Anthropy’s new book, RISE OF THE VIDEOGAME ZINESTERS, is about to be released and she says:
it’s about a new narrative of videogames, and a new model for what they can be: small, personal, meaningful experiences from a diverse chorus of creators.
Her games certainly reflect this notion, and she also understands the importance of telling the story through gameplay, just as a painting might have its meaning in the interaction between the various characteristics of the paint and the canvas, and in the resulting textures or colors. A game ought to express its meaning through gameplay.
From Raph Koster’s GDC takeaways:
There’s a little bit of an identity crisis. Some of this is from debates over terms (“is Dear Esther a game?” was a constant thread), which some feel to be exclusionary. Now that interactive art is burgeoning, it is either growing out of the rubric of “game” or expanding the definition.
Recently, I’ve been comparing a lot of games against my definition of “game”, and some of those games are forcing me to refine my theories. I’ve begun to contemplate the nature of decisions in games:
In my Fundamentals Expanded post I defined objective as a game state reached by optimal decision-making.
Decisions that reduce the discrepancy between the current game state and the game state described by an objective are considered optimal.
Non-optimal decisions are certainly not bad decisions. Non-optimal decisions can serve as indicators of player agency.
A long time ago, when I was maybe 12 or 13 years old my friend offered me a piece of advice: Judge a game for what it is, not what it is not. I doubt he was aware of his own wisdom back then.
Steven Conway, in his 2010 article entitled Hyper-Ludicity, Contra-Ludicity, and the Digital Game, for the Journal for Computer Game Culture, establishes a dichotomy that separates ludus into “hyper-ludic” and “contra-ludic”, where the former refers to a game state that encourages the player, and the latter refers to a game state that resists the player.
I’ll be keeping notes on the design of our latest project, and this post is the first note.
The original idea for this game was wildly different than its current state. I came up with the idea while on my way to a fast food place with Bryan. My idea was to create a game wherein the player character could switch between reality and perceived reality. Each version of reality would have specified advantages and disadvantages and the player would need to venture between them to achieve certain objectives. The following is a document I wrote to explain it in more detail: