While I’m posting things from this week’s Sunday Papers:
If there is a reason that people find my games to be memorable, it is that they have grace. Just a little bit. It’s why people are moved by The Fabulous Screech or inspired by The Infinite Ocean. Alphaland is all about a moment of grace, and it is the central theme of Arcadia, too. And if there is a way out of the Museum of Broken Memories, it is through grace.
Even Traitor, my most mechanics-heavy game, works primarily because it remembers that revolutions, as ugly and inelegant as they are, are deeply related to grace, because grace is itself a revolution against the meaninglessness of the world.
This isn’t how we’re supposed to talk about game design, and I’m sure someone is going to come along in a moment to tell me I’m pompous and pretentious. Seriousness is frightening, after all, when it’s not used to confirm the simplistic cynicism that fuels the adolescent egos that make up so much of the internet.
–Jonas Kyratzes (<— go ahead and read the rest)
I appreciate the sincerity of it. I particularly appreciate the assertion that allowing emotional seriousness to enter into the discussion does not make one pretentious simply because others choose to read less emotional content into the medium of games.
Whether or not grace is the word for everyone, surely most gamers can recognize the feeling of transcendence and attachment in their favorite games and can appreciate a design style that puts that genre of sensations above bullet-point features or the much-touted “fun.” In particular, I think this is a nice antidote to the idea I’ve encountered often in gaming forums–that story doesn’t matter or shouldn’t be the focus of a game. But grace can live almost entirely in the tone and narrative of a game such as Bastion rather than in the mechanics of play. If we value grace, then, we cannot dismiss gaming narratives as tacked-on remnants of older mediums.
It also highlights something that makes getting into AAA games rather difficult for me. So many of them seem to be designed from two ends–the artistic side and the acronym side–that eventually meet in the middle somewhere. “It will be an FPS that has [specific features] that tells the tale of [what-have-you] in the land of [some place].” This is not necessarily the wrong way to design a game, but it often lends itself to asynchronous experiences where the story being told doesn’t match up with the buttons being pressed. This is especially disenchanting when both pieces feel incredibly well designed yet conflict with one-another.
All that said, I have to quibble: “But authors don’t spend all day talking about verbs and adjectives [...] .”
Many do, in my experience. In particular the one’s seeking this grace Kryatzes speaks of. I agree with the general sentiment about how the games industry is more rigid and robotic and feature-oriented than other creative industries, but I think grace usually requires a good deal of mechanical effort and “engineering” as Kryatzes called it. There are always artists who run on raw inspiration, but those who run on honed craft are no less likely to have this quality of grace in their work.
But that’s just a quibble. Go read it if you haven’t followed the link already. It’s an elegantly written idea, if nothing else; and I think quite a bit else.
Edit: Seems there wasn’t meant to be a dichotomy set up between the engineering and the artistry of games in this article. Which is a tad confusing, as it certainly reads like there is supposed to be one. But we have it from the horse’s mouth and so I formally retract my quibbling and replace it with mild confusion.