Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Purpose of a Game

I think that sometimes our discussion of games as art and purpose seems misguided. I am not trying to spark anger, but conversation, so bear with me. I believe in making games that have a message, I think that games such as The Unconcerned or iBailout!! play a vital role in expanding what we do as gamemakers. I like that we have this push and pull and people get angry and tired of the discussion of how games are art and what purpose do they have. That means we are getting somewhere, right?

The problem is that we are making "games". This is not a semantics debate, this is whether or not, when I start up your "game" or whatever the hell you wish to call it, am I trying to beat your game? Am I trying to win? Am I putting in effort into what you created so that I can reach the end? This, again, is not specifically about whether or not I enjoy your game or those unrelated questions of whether it is well-built and so on, it is about what you are asking of me and what I am expecting to do.

I loved Loved partly because it caught me off guard with who I was and what my role was. When playing the game you are never sure really what the purpose is. You know you are playing a traditional platformer. But there is something off about your goal. Is it a "game"? Yes, it definitely is. But it changes your perspective on why you are playing. A short little experiment, but it easily sweeps you into its world and does not feel like a "game" at first. It does devolve into a game, but even that is well done because the goal becomes as much about beating the game as it is about playing against the "game" itself. Therefore, the purpose of the traditional platformer is tucked neatly into a mind-game with your computer. But even this is still a "game". I beat Loved!

Just Cause 2
is a game I love to play for at least a few minutes a day. The sensation of exploration, though there are so many cookie cutter templates within it, is almost complete. Grabbing a fast jet and just flying around for a few minutes staring out at all that is the world of Panau is awe-inspiring. It is still a game, though, and my purpose is to rack up points and defeat the enemy. I have specific goals in thousands of collectibles and destructibles. I am aware that it is a game. Sometimes I stop caring about the game elements, but I always return, because eventually I have to make progress. I want to beat the game. Along the way I will enjoy the scenery, but that victory, that conquest, is my goal.

My point is this: we want to beat "games". We have a motive for playing the game. We might want to stretch our brains a bit, we might wish to just get adrenaline pumping, but we are putting purpose into games ourselves as soon as we start them. And if a game diverges from that expectation, do we keep playing out of a desire to overcome this piece of art? Do we have to win? Do we give up out of frustration that the game is not what we wanted to "play"? Introducing purpose that is above and beyond winning into something that we do not just observe but interact with, that we already place purpose into, that is a noteworthy accomplishment.

[Is there a game that you have not felt compelled to beat but rather compelled to experience? The interaction has been strong enough to erase all goals of mastery or winning? Do we want to create that experience? Is that a worthy goal?]

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