Sunday, January 17, 2016

Dreaming in gamespaces

One can be a gamer in many different ways, a notion I explored earlier. I just realized another aspect of being a gamer - where one's mind wanders when it is time to choose one's creative weapon of choice.

I recently saw The Martian, a sci-fi flick about a guy being left behind on Mars. And as often is the case when I interact with works of fiction (but also academic literature), I got inspired and started imagining scenarios; by projecting the possibility-space of what could occur in the movie later on; by trying to figure out how scientific the movie was; by trying to put myself in the position of the main character; by exploring the life of the main character after the end of the movie, and so on. My mind was exploding with creativity, a reaction I often have when watching an interesting movie, where really half of the experience is just me thinking about alternatives to the experience at hand, me extrapolating interesting things about the movie and toying with them.

It also so happened that when watching The Martian, I remembered an idea for a video game which I wanted to make some years ago wherein you are a person in a spaceship with just a couple of minutes to live/play. A similar idea has since then been explored in Orchids To Dusk (Pol Clarissou), which in turn has conceptual similarities to earlier web-based works 4 Minutes and 33 Seconds of Uniqueness (Petri/Kloonigames) and We the Giants (Peter Groeneweg), but notes for my idea are still scribbles all over the pages of my copy of Alain de Bottons Religion For Atheists, which inspired me to imagine this spaceship game about connectivity and spirituality. I mean what better way to realize the connectdeness of everything than on your own deadbed, seeing the planet as a "pale blue dot"? I imagine going to ones own funeral might also work - someone should make a video game about that!

Anway, watching the Martian something hit me - why do I start realizing video game ideas both when watching a movie and when reading a work of non-fiction? Because I am a gamer, of course! ;) Seriously though, my thinking patterns say something about me. I've never made a video game in my life, but I do give videogames a lot of thought. And even though words pop up in my head, often I want to insert them into a videogame of some type. I love a lot of things about video games, but one of the things I love the most is inhabiting game spaces. Many of the games I play these days (Her Story, Beginners Guide) don't have spaces you can traverse through and inhabit in the sense that you might traverse a space in games such as The Legend of Zelda or Baldur's Gate, but nontheless I love inhabiting game spaces and associate just walking around strongly with video gaming. And even though I love exploring game spaces conceptually and many of my favorite video games have these sorts of spaces, I'm happy that modern adventure games such as Telltales are linear and have game scenes rather than game spaces, as compared to oldschool point-and-clicks which were all about game spaces but then also all about backtracking through those spaces and being stuck in them far too long.

I have less patience these days and I'm more interested in story than ever before, and thus just exploring game spaces for the sake of it doesn't cut it, which is why I didn't play Witcher 3, Dragon Age: Inquisition, or Fallout 4. But I'm not completely satisifed with the interactive movie solution presented in Telltales games either. Perhaps this is why I enjoy games such as Consortium so much, where you both have a very clear sense of space where it's all about mise-en-space rather than mise-en-scene, but you also have a lot of character interaction and story (all of the game takes place aboard a ship and thus there isn't much transportation necessary between the good bits). Pathologic is similar, yet different: there, the characters and world-building is awesome, and there is also a clear sense of space, but most of the time is spent walking between interesting encouters, which takes far too much time and is something I hope Ice-Pick Lodge address in their upcoming remake, and not solely by making the walking bits/combat/scrounging system more intrusive/encompassing - then it just becomes a gamey survival simulator which has too little of the character/world building elements which I love about game spaces.

So what do I love about game spaces then? It's the sense of being somewhere specific, really connecting to that place, something which is easier to do when it has quality characters, and harder to do when it's empty or not fully-realized as a space and instead is more like a movie. It's also easier to get this sense of place when it's filled with characters that live and breathe (Life Is Strange, Undertale) as opposed to filled with audiologs of characters talking about the spaces at hand in the past (Bioshock, Dear Esther, etc). "Audiologs" exist in Life Is Strange and Undertale as well (I imagine it's really hard making a game as deep as Life Is Strange with as much a sense of space and character exploration without lazy environmental narrative "crutches" such as diary entries, newspapers, etc) but they do so as complements to exploring the space at hand rather than abstracting it completely. I guess that when I wish to be immersed in other worlds, I primarily want to be so through tightly-knit video game spaces with the traits mentioned above, and I actually don't wish to be immersed through text simply because I don't find text immersive enough. Text inspires me, non-fiction or fiction with for example sci-fi concepts such as the ones explored in Mievilles or Egans books especially,  and I can imagine movie concepts, sure, but a good RPG such as Planescape Torment or an adventure game such as Pathologic makes me really want to live and breathe somewhere else for a while. Now then, I'm off to immerse myself in some Oxenfree.

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