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Game Design Essays

Collected short essays covering various dimensions of board and video game design. 

THE INSTRUMENTS AND MEDIUM OF COMPUTER GAMES

One of the most important questions I have come across in the past few weeks has to do with the boundary between voices in games. The question is, can one attribute a primary voice to a computer game? As a field whose medium is the subconscious, how does one delineate the relationship between the artist and his or her audience? Furthermore, due to the intimate medium, can one argue that the boundaries between the two persons are strict? Do they truly exist? I would argue that, with computer games, an artist is offered the opportunity to be in true communion with those experiencing their craft. Computer games are the merging of several individuals’ subconscious, and the intensely intimate nature of the craft brings into question the creator’s voice. Should it be overt? Or, should the creator minimize their own voice to allow the for an uninterrupted experience by the player? Due in part to the increasingly immersive nature of computer games, I would argue that yes, the relationship between creator and audience in computer games is one of subtle influence by one, and a complete immersion by the other.

In the piece “More Talk, Less Rock”, Superbrothers argue for a more nuanced creator presence in computer games. “Talk”, which can also be considered as an overt voice by the game creator, serves “to undermine the aesthetic coherence of the work”[1] and interrupts the player’s experience. An overt and disruptive voice of the creator hinders a successful immersion by the player. However I would argue that such a disruption does not manifest itself through text, as Superbrothers suggests, but instead through a clash between the subconscious of the game creator and the player. When successful, Superbrothers argue, a video game becomes a “staggeringly beautiful canvas” and “a window into another world”.[2] I would counter that instead of world, we should use the term “soul” or subconscious. For it is the successful creator who can bring their players through an authored experience while allowing them to believe that they are still solely immersed in their own reality.

There are, however, some limitations in computer games that can hinder a player’s immersion into a game that are not an overt creator’s voice. Julian Jaynes addresses consciousness in the experience of art in his text “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”. He uses the example of a pianist who, having achieved a certain fluency with the instrument, is able to freely and subconsciously enjoy the music of a composer.[3] Jaynes argues with this example that, in art, when two individuals have reached a point in being able to communicate with their own subconscious, they can then achieve a resonance with others that transcends physical reality.[4] The caveat, however, is that these two individuals must have reached a certain expertise. Computer games is the art of the populace. It is intended for everyone to be able to play. However, it still uses instruments (the controller, the keyboard). Instruments by nature demand expertise in order to fall into the realm of subconscious actions. For a novice computer game player, controllers are often the first hindrance and source of frustration. A novice game player in overly conscious of how they are playing the game versus how they feel.

Computer games are quickly headed towards being an immersive art form unlike any that have ever existed as it envelops the senses on all levels besides scent and taste. However, if computer games want to retain the identity of an art form that can be experienced by all, and experienced completely by all, computer games must take a critical stance on the instrumental necessities of the art. An art that is not readily and easily accessible limits the audience for the creator and enforces a sense of elitism in the craft. If a player’s limitations to fully experiencing a game is an unfamiliarity with its instruments, then game creators can no longer claim to be an art for the enjoyment of the many. While I am not arguing for the elimination of game controllers or instruments (the technology is simply not there yet), I am arguing for a critical stance in the design and development of controls. The simpler, the better, for the sake of complete communication between creator and player.

[1]  “Less Talk, More Rock.” Boingboing.net. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2017.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Jaynes, Julian. The origin of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1976. Print.25.

[4] Ibid. 26

Camille Baumann-Jaeger