Tuesday, July 23, 2013

How the Desire for Oneness in the Field of Game Design is Misguided

Here I want to present a quick thought born of my mind through the contemplation of this year's big budget story-driven titles (namely Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us) and the effects I want my own story-driven project to exert on the industry. Much of the discussion surrounding the two games mentioned above involves players questioning whether or not the methods the games use pave a suitable path of progression forward or create an evolutionary dead end (such as what Myst and its contemporaries did). While some critics dismiss both games for only continuing the frustrating tradition of failing to integrate play and story, many have come to their defense because they feel that, in spite of the lack of ludo-narrative harmony, the games are able to convey an effective experience.

The universe is objectively defined, yet subjectively interpreted. This same relation can be applied to a video game. A video game's system is (generally) objectively defined, yet subjectively interpreted. I believe that the most important end result of a player engaging with a game is their own experience. It is the designer's job to create a clearly defined game that, when put through the many subjective lenses of their players, can still be generally interpreted to present the same engaging experience. Therefore, what truly matters in the end is not whether or not the game is designed according to proper tradition, theory, or protocol, but rather that a game is designed to deliver a good experience.

The beauty of the craft and its vast depth is that there exists a practical infinitude of ways to express human existence. Super Mario 64, Knytt, and Morrowind all, through different means, provide the player an experience of mystery and exploratory freedom. Tetris, Flow, and Minecraft all, through different means, provide the player an experience of spacial organization. The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, and Katamari Damacy all, through different means, provide the player an experience of growth. Fundamentally different systems can provide the same message, though of course, with their own unique little subtleties.

Thus, in game design there truly are multiple ways to heaven, though each way has been given their own share of advantages and disadvantages. There is no One solution that once presented in the CITIZEN KANE OF VIDEO GAMES will then be implemented into all video games until eternity to fix the problem of presenting story, and more importantly, experience (in fact, story is a means to create experience). Such will be the case of the game systems I am currently creating for my own interactive fiction-ish project; they will only be one of many tools to bring about experiences.

I have no way with words; I know deep inside that which I wish to express yet with four paragraphs I feel I still have failed to express it clearly.

Perhaps I can say this; a game's FUNCTION is vastly more important than what a game IS, verb over noun, process over data.