Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Experimental Gaming

From a t-shirt I saw somewhere, not sure where the original credit belongs.

I got into a discussion with a fellow designer/good friend of mine over the lack of games that take experimental risks with regards to narrative. While I've always been one to take the side that mechanics should lead player engagement, I do enjoy a good story told through a game from time to time, and judging by the vast majority of Triple-A content, so do most publishers.

When I say experimental, I mean stories that are rooted in ideas for the sake of exploring them, not necessarily reliving the Hero's Journey for the millionth time as he is destined to crusade over a hidden evil. It's as obvious as it is in film why this sort of gaming never reaches mainstream. However, I've found that even the indie scene is very dry of these topics, topics that touch on philosophical contexts and are intended to spark discussion and debate.

But why bother communicating these experiences through games when such ideas can be more easily told in Film and Literature? Because I believe, the experience a game can provide is totally unique from film and literature, and will impact the player on a deeper level since the story is (if good design principles are followed) a direct result of the player's actions. What better way to explore new mental territory than by probing and experimenting?

Take Silent Hill 2 for example. A darkly-themed adventure/survival/horror/etc. (did I mention I hate genres?) with multiple endings based on how you play the game. There really is no happy ending, and plays with the concepts of sanity, making you think about what you actually would have done in the character's place. Mature for the sake of being emotionally mature, not guts, gore and colourful language*. And where are my psychedelic games?!

You may say "There is no market for this kind of gaming", I say:

-You don't need a big budget to make a game profitable and fun
-Creating value to sell to an undeveloped market is the core function of entrepreneurship

*I have to credit this wording to my friend and colleague

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