Gaming Your Way

May contain nuts.

American Idol, or The Wire ?

I don't normally like "My philosophy" posts, either reading them or writing them, but if you can't be self indulgent on your own blog now and again then you're missing out on being able spout your ideas out like they carry some sort of importance with your readers, and lets face it the majority of blogs are ego driven, so why not stroke it once in a while ?

This has been troubling me for a little while now, I tweeted about it a while back, and figured that a 140 chars just isn't enough.

The art, in whatever media, I really admire makes me think. It doesn't hand anything on a plate to me, it doesn't dumb itself down to a nice easy level, it pushes me to reach it's level. In return for the extra "effort" on my behalf I believe I get a richer experience.

David Simon, co-writer / co-creator of The Wire said

"Fuck the average viewer."

This is one of many reasons his work is so astoundingly good. He doesn't compromise, he doesn't go for the lowest common denominator, he writes as if writing for the target audience alone, whether that be cops in "Homicide" or marines in "Generation Kill". He, like all good artists, assumes a level of intelligence in the people viewing the art. Maybe that's intellectual snobbery, and if it is, maybe that's not a bad thing if you stay true to your vision.

I find with our medium, we're a lot more American Idol level of dumb than The Wire level of smarts. Don't get me wrong, there's more than a place for mass market junk food like gaming, shit, Chock a Box isn't exactly redefining genres, I'm not kicking through boundaries with my own work, but I do think there should be a counter point to the happy go lucky games that we all produce.

We work in a market where nothing can be simply implied. Everything has to be clearly spelled out, and that results in dumbing down. Everything has to be explained and sign posted otherwise it's thrown back in your face as a bug or sloppy design on your behalf.

There's that inane question "Why does no one on 24 ever go for a piss ?". They do. It's just not shown, not even implied, because it doesn't push the narrative forward. Seeing Jack coming out of the toilet and warning Chloe not to go in there for 30mins wouldn't make the story any richer, it wouldn't defuse the bomb any quicker, it wouldn't give us the payback for our invested time.

Is the Flash game market made up of people who wonder why Jack has gone another 24 hours without having a slash ? I like to think not. And yet as developers we all have to adopt the latest design staples for fear of some sort of backlash.

The other end of the spectrum is "Art" games. This for me at times is going too far the other way, although not for the most obvious reasons. I loved "ImmorTall", I thought it was a great experience. The gameplay mechanic is ultra simplistic, it's all the other stuff which comes with it that makes it shine.
What I can't stand is the collective orgasm that a lot of blogs have to any and every "Art" game ( There's got to be a better term for this genre ? ). This at times blind worship of all things indie, where dreadful design choices are forgiven because it's an "Experience more than a game".
If you want a backlash against mainstream gaming, whether that be shit produced by script kiddies, unimaginative popular casual games or even console fps, you've still got to be even handed. You can't take the line that all mainstream gaming is shit, so be default anything outside of the mainstream is good. It's really not.

So where do we stand ? On one side we've got the hand holding of the players to try and wring out those extra couple of points at our favourite portals, at the other we've got the almost willfully obscure games that at times go out of there way to fuck the player just to cast a different light on gaming, even at the expense of enjoyment.
Can't there be some middle ground ? Where you can treat the player with a high degree of intelligence ? Where you can use things that are subtle instead of ramming them down throats, where things are implied and the player can fill in the gaps themselves to gain a richer experience and obtain a level of ownership due to their investment.

Yes I think there can be, and although despite my bitching I still like dipping my toes into the populist throw away, I'm going to make more of an effort to reward the player, the player I want to reach out to, with games that don't treat them like they're 12. If that costs me a handful of points on a portal, who really cares ? I'd rather just one person really enjoy one of my games than a 1000 think it just ok.


Comments (4) -

  • Nkronionic

    4/25/2010 12:36:46 PM |

    You can have both, as long as you teach them to play very slowly

  • Bryson

    4/27/2010 8:02:01 PM |

    I believe the message is that you can't reach everyone. I'm reading "Fundamentals of Game Design" by Ernest Adams and one of the first things he says is a Design Rule: You Can't Please Everyone...

    "It is not possible to design an ideal game that pleases everyone, because everyone does not enjoy the same thing. Do not try."

    I typically think of what I expect the audience to get out of my games on a per-game basis. Some games I want to make for myself, some games are for others as well. I don't think good games are purely the result of internal development though, as feedback is needed to gauge how others interpret the game.

    Games are communication, so messages go back and forth from the player to the game and vice versa. So the audience should probly be taken into consideration, unless you're going in the nonsense "Art" games direction.

    Who is your audience? Maybe you need to define that more. And target them specifically. It sounds like you're speaking from the perspective of targeting a general Flash portal, that's not really the place for all types of games. Maybe you need to find a community that has the kinds of games you want to make and target that specifically. Or create that community yourself.

    But above all, if there's a way you want to make games. Just make them that way. Maybe every once in a while, in between work projects. But if you never make them, you'll continue dwelling on them. :)

  • Squize

    4/28/2010 4:50:26 PM |

    Thanks for the feedback guys.

    Nkronionic doesn't that defeat the object slightly ? Or rather my take on the object, in that we shouldn't have to hand hold players quite so much.

    Great reply Bryson. The target audience is always myself ( For personal projects ), I've written more than enough games over the years that I don't actually want to play myself, so I'm pretty obviously just targeting myself now.
    It's just that at times I feel it's a dumb me.

    I was quite pissy when I wrote that post, now less so, so my feelings about it aren't as strong / raw as they were even just a couple of days ago. But I still do despair about a lot of memes in the indie Flash industry, that we have to go the Nintendo route of explaining every little thing.
    The key word there being "Have". It feels like it's not a choice anymore, if we value those all important 5 stars from strangers.

    It shouldn't be a case of being brave for bucking the trends ( And by the same token just 'cause something does it doesn't automatically make it good ), but I'm hoping as the indie scene matures devs can ignore some of the set in stone standards and not be pilloried for it.

    Maybe it's just my age. I remember getting cracked Amiga games back in the day ( And the C64 before that ), and you'd have no instructions there, you'd pick it up as you went. A cracked game is free just like a Flash one, and there were lots and lots of them too, just like Flash, but whereas then you'd take the time to give the game a good go even though you would have no in-game help at all, now it feels like it's almost an effort for people to pick up and learn games, an effort to have fun for free, so you have to explain everything to them as quickly as possible so they don't even get bored reading the help.

    I'm not saying ditch in-game help, or to spite players in any way, more that it would be nice to be able to imply things, to let the player learn more by themselves, if it suits the game.

  • Nkronionic

    4/28/2010 8:29:23 PM |

    What i mean is, maybe you can treat them like childrens  in the beginning, and AFTER that, when they get the idea, you can go crazy and throw any weird challenge you want
    Or you can even be explicit and put a message inside the game that says: 'look player,it is part of the challenge to figure out by yourself how to use ______', this way they will not think its a design error

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