Sunday, August 15, 2010

Is your game comfortable?

I had a brief but thoughtful conversation with a woman who worked at the San Francisco Museum of Craft and Design. She told me how her museum was striving to get functional pieces of craft and design to be recognized in a similar vein as fine art. They were struggling against institutions such as MOMA that do not willingly recognize furniture other than from certain periods such as the Bauhaus. Indeed, it seems that few people recognize the beauty of a chair beyond the comfort of IKEA and Herman Miller.

I sympathized whole-heartedly with her struggle because, years before, I had been exposed to the work of Wendell Castle at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, who was clearly an artist. Sitting in his creations I have never been more comfortable and, further, I was in love with the simplistic organic curves that composed his furniture. But I am also an artist, so I look to any man-made creation as potential art. Do others recognize the art of furniture-making? Apparently not, according to this woman.

So what about furniture makes it unworthy of the MOMA? Well, perhaps it is about utility? If something is useful, can it still be art? And that is where I arrive at my thoughts for the day. Our struggle for recognition in the world of art beyond our own is that our art is a craft as well. And craft is user-reliant. Furniture is user-reliant. You ultimately do not care about how a chair looks. You care how it feels. I do not care how a game looks or sounds. Those component parts may be beautiful, but in their own right they do not make the game. The game is feel. It is how I feel when playing. We are crafting an experience for the user that is greater than the individual artistic elements. We are making furniture. It has to be comfortable, too.

Whenever I get deep into a discussion about games I inevitably find myself espousing the importance of interaction. Indeed, many of the games I come up with are not even games. They are just forms of interaction between a user and a world. Are you thinking about the interaction between your game and the player? If that interaction is incomplete, can you still succeed? Are you thinking about the most sensible form of interaction? Have you made a bed without realizing it is better suited as a table? Have you made an iPhone game not realizing your audience was elsewhere?

Why do you build games? Are you trying to fill a void? Are you trying to teach a lesson? Are you trying to build a skill? Because you are making the game for someone. Maybe just you, but most likely not. Your game is user-reliant. You are making art for someone. As a utility for them. Do they know what that utility is? Are they comfortable? Do you want them to be comfortable? We do not have to make comfortable craft. The purposes of a chair are limited. The purposes of kitchenware are limited. We have much more freedom and I hope you think about that fact when crafting a user's experience.

Fine art is a whimsical world where anything goes and the public can only gaze in wonder from time to time but they are not really participants. They are witnesses. We make craft. And I am proud to build and construct crafts because I believe in engaging both myself and the world. What does the world need? How can I craft that?