I enjoy seeing what happens when I make something I don’t fully understand, with little conscious thought involved. I don’t make from a position of craft, except perhaps in the oldest sense of the word.
Playing around with hypertext mechanics is fun because you can’t rely on traditional tools or ways of thinking, which is good because I don’t particularly like puzzles. Most of the crunchy bits in my games are just crystallizations of narrative, emerging and receding interfaces–a system for traversing your lover’s back or a crowd turning into a flurry of links.
The purpose of a puzzle is to provide resistance. For me, that resistance doesn’t need to be coercive or challenging, just interesting and aesthetic. My mechanics are to be touched. Games are perhaps the most intimate art because the player must remain touching at all times. They must touch or the game does not exist.
Many games are designed on the principle of the hover hand, an embarrassing disavowal of this intimate relationship. And furthermore they are designed to connect with the worst in us, a bloodless, sexless part of our brain where nothing can surprise us, where “Nothing would ever change; nothing new could ever be expected.”
So I think a lot about transferring emotions from one body to another–I try to make every word count so people can experience my stories at the rate I’m feeling them, like a heartbeat, so we can be intimate, so there can be as little separation as possible.
And it could be said that I’ve developed a kind of language anorexia where I’m acutely aware of the words I generate as if they were an extension of my body and I feel unwell if they are corpulent, imprecise, I can’t sleep. I have beaten the physical form of this but the intense need for spareness still lingers, fighting the words which are part of my body because words never stop, they grow like cells, that “resisting organism of the word”.
Seeing my own words is bizarre to me, like looking at stalactites or some other frozen accretion of an ordinarily fluid thing. My friend Erin said, “it can be very hard to maintain what is called “writerly control” when with every passing second, words on the page feel different.” I agree.
What would a nonexpressive poetry look like? A poetry of intellect rather than emotion? One in which the substitutions at the heart of metaphor and image were replaced by the direct presentation of language itself, with “spontaneous overflow” supplanted by meticulous procedure and exhaustively logical process? In which the self-regard of the poet’s ego were turned back onto the self-reflexive language of the poem itself? So that the test of poetry were no longer whether it could have been done better (the question of the workshop), but whether it could conceivably have been done otherwise.
Constant [Nieuwenhuys]’s megastructures … would be populated by homo ludens - man at play. In the New Babylon, the bourgeois shackles of work, family life, and civic responsibility would be discarded. The post-revolutionary individual would wander from one leisure environment to another in search of new sensations … [where] deductive reasoning, goal-oriented production, the construction and betterment of a political community - all these were eschewed.
I wonder instead whether the work is trying to exclude itself from “gameyness.” By and large, these are games about people who lack power and lack control. The message gets across because games have always been about agency; gamers are used to having power and control, and to have the game itself deny it is a wake up slap across the face.
Effectively, these are games as rhetoric not games as dialectic, moving against the fundamental current of gameness. And the rhetorical move is “destroy everything,” as Porpentine put it in her GDC13 session with Terry Cavanaugh on indie games.
Overall, to me it feels like it speaks to a conflicted relationship with games. The creators of these works do not want to be excluded: it is their medium. At the same time, the aesthetic argues for un-gaming things.
Games are uncomfortable with themselves, and not just on the level of “what are our narratives.” But actually on the level of “what are games for?” We see our tools taken up by crass moves into marketing and monetization, we see the craft we developed being used for manipulation, and we start asking ourselves whether everything we do is manipulation, whether we are fundamentally crass.
All in all, I wonder whether fundamentally we as a community are doing a bit too much ranting. In the games and in the aesthetic and yes, from stage at GDC. Oh, I don’t mean in the literal sense of strident complaint. I mean in the metaphorical sense of holding forth. Games have had nothing to say for so long that I worry that we have collectively concluded that “saying something personal” is what makes them worthwhile art.
Ranting is a rhetorical device. It’s unidirectional. Yes, it’s all part of a larger conversation, of course. And sometimes we need to speak loudly to be heard, especially if we are from a marginalized group. But fundamentally it is hard to listen when everyone is loud, and the aesthetic of control is all about the player listening, and not getting to speak. Fundamentally, these design moves are about impositional narrative, not about the narrative the player constructs. Imposing a narrative, a norming, a worldview – I thought that is what we were ranting against. Running away from attempted engagement – I thought that is what we were ranting against.
The beginnings of several days worth of very lively debate.