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<  Design concepts  ~  Is interaction all that important?

Michael
Posted: Sun Dec 23, 2007 11:21 am Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
I was starting the right a blog post about my doubts regarding the value of interactivity in "interactive" works of art (games) but I couldnn't come to a clear statement. Maybe some people here can help.

It started with this thought. And went on like this:

Quote:
I myself have been a strong advocate of interaction. But now I'm starting to doubt. Not just because of any analogy with film history. But also because I find myself being less and less interested in the intricacies of interaction in and of itself. I'm finding it more and more important that games allow you to be something and/or somewhere rather than to do something.
Doing things is still very important to me, but only in so for as it helps me experience the environment, the story better. The actions need to serve the narrative (and not vice versa). I don't think that the abstract activity that we do in most present day games (running, jumping, shooting, collecting points, etc) is part of the glorious future that awaits this medium. If there's a bench, I want to be able to go and sit on it. This is much more important to me than running over a glowing icon to collect a power-up.

People often refer to motivation of the player as a reason to implement gameplay. It's almost like we feel that the worlds that we build are just not interesting enough. Maybe this is where the attitude of many gamers comes from, this arrogant way in which gamers demand to be entertained, demand value for their money. Maybe what we're giving them is just not very interesting. And we try to distract them from that fact with challenges and puzzles.
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E.B
Posted: Sun Dec 23, 2007 11:30 pm Reply with quote
Joined: 10 Dec 2007 Posts: 49
I think what you're trying to say is that mechanics (interaction or otherwise) need to be meaningful.

Games create a meaning of life within their own little world, but if this meaning of life is not interesting to the player, the game will not be interesting.
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Michael
Posted: Mon Dec 24, 2007 12:51 am Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
I guess that's what I'm trying to say. But I doubt if any game mechanic will ever have anything meaningful to say to me. I don't believe in the typical game logic of challenge, effort and reward. This is not how I see life. Life is a lot more interesting and complex than that, in my opinion. I enjoy art that explores this complexity. Game mechanics cannot do this. Per definition.

But my doubt (as a designer) goes further. I feel that the whole idea of doing something in a "game" is overrated. The typical trigger-response interaction in games is not the only unique and special thing you can do with new media. You can also have the computer generate things, or let the game respond to your activity or inactivity in ways that may not be so clear as triggers. A game could be very slow and take hours or days to respond to someting you did (or didn't do). Ectetera. My litmus test lately for the quality of games is to check whether they are interesting to experience if I don't do anything, if I let go of the controls.

I want to be sucked into virtual worlds, I want to become part of their fiction, I want to believe in them, live them for a while. I don't want distraction. I don't want tests. I don't need to be graded or rewarded. I just want to be.
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alpha
Posted: Mon Dec 24, 2007 1:21 am Reply with quote
Joined: 08 Oct 2007 Posts: 367 Location: Lafayette, LA
I wonder what it would feel like to play a game in which your actions, of lack thereof, would have absolutely no effect on the outcome.
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E.B
Posted: Mon Dec 24, 2007 1:32 am Reply with quote
Joined: 10 Dec 2007 Posts: 49
I don't know. Just being seems like the first step. You could watch movies where you just be, similar to avant garde films that have been already made. Being able to walk around or whatever kind of adds to that experience, but I think there's potential for more.

So, my argument is that Mechanics can be meaningful. I've been playing a copy of Braid recently, the mechanics in each of the worlds are meaningful.
In katamari, the rolling is meaningful (at least in the first one). Many people experience a hollow feeling when they've rolled up everything, when they're only left.

But mechanics need senses to go with them; mechanics are how we interact with the world, our body in a sense. The visuals and sounds and music make the meaning understandable.
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Michael
Posted: Mon Dec 24, 2007 10:38 am Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
I agree that the mechanics of the game can be meaningful. I'm sure they all are. It''s just that they are often meaningful like mathematical expressions are. They mean something simplistic, uninteresting. Something too obvious, too one-sided, too shallow. That is not the strength of art to me.

Now, one of the reasons for this is that games are made by engineers. And I'm sorry, what they have to say is usually quite simplistic and trite. Maybe it's deeply philosophical and meaningful and they express it like a 17th century philosopher would -exactly and purely- but that is not what I am looking for in games. I don't want equations, riddles to decipher, obscure ways of saying banal things. I want deep insights that I can feel, that are clear.

The other reason is that games are most often not made with artistic intention. Any artistic experience is a side effect that has more to do with the player's imagination than with the decisions of the author. The example of Katamari that you mention is typical. I too find this game personally quite violent and frightening and cruel but that is not what the author intended. It's supposed to be a fun, whimsical game. Ditto The Sims, which is an ultra-sad game about consumerism, selfishness and greed in my interpretation. But this is far from Will Wright's position.

In fact you could argue that The Sims expresses this statement because it is a game. Selfishness and greed is simply what the game structure expresses. Always.

So I agree that game mechanics could be used in an expressive way. I don't agree that we should use game mechanics just because we're making an interactive piece with a computer. Whether an interactive piece becomes a game should depend on the content, on what we are trying to say as artists. The logic of a game simply does not suit most content and often ends up oversimplifying things (and turns happy games into sad ones).
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E.B
Posted: Mon Dec 24, 2007 10:53 am Reply with quote
Joined: 10 Dec 2007 Posts: 49
Of course; mechanics generally should come after what you're trying to say- should be used as merely another tool.

Quote:
The example of Katamari that you mention is typical. I too find this game personally quite violent and frightening and cruel but that is not what the author intended.

How do you know? I think Keita Takahashi probably intended it that way- to say something about the world maybe.
Remember, Takahashi is an artist. He did what Crawford calls aesthetic layering. Most people think "oh, this is a fun game", but if you read deeper into it, it becomes quite a dark game.

Quote:
The logic of a game simply does not suit most content and often ends up oversimplifying things

The don't use game logic! Simple!

In my case, I'm building my game around the mechanic and what I want to say, which are one and the same. If something doesn't suit the mechanic- I throw it out.

The real culprit here is game logic, I think.
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Michael
Posted: Mon Dec 24, 2007 10:53 am Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
[this was not written as a reply to the above but before the above post was made]

Anyway. I don't want this to turn into another anti-game rant of mine. Sad

I disagree with you, E.B., that you can be in movies as well as you can in interactive works. The most important reason for this is probably that you are not somebody in those movies. You are always looking at other people. Empathy can get you close to them. But it's not the same as when you truly are the center of the fictional world.

I've been thinking. Perhaps my discomfort with the centrality of interaction comes from my opinion that interaction is only a means and not a goal. It's a means to embed a player in a virtual world. Being able to do something in a fiction and seeing the story respond to your actions, is a very powerful method of connecting you with the game, making you one with it.

Maybe that's where the core of things lies for me. With computers we can create living things, living beings, living environments, living stories even, that we can become a part of, that revolve around us, that are dead without our presence. The imaginations we have had about other art forms can become real in "games". We can now replace empathy with embodiment. You no longer feel what it means to be a certain character in a certain context, you can now be this person and play that role.

And I don't even mean this in the straightforward sense of the holodeck or theater. The experience can be alot more layered and complex than that. Just because you control a character does not mean that you stop caring for him (as if he were somebody else), e.g. While you are part of the story, you are also still looking at it from the outside as well. This ambiguous position is a strength of the medium.


Last edited by Michael on Mon Dec 24, 2007 11:04 am; edited 1 time in total
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Michael
Posted: Mon Dec 24, 2007 11:02 am Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
E.B wrote:
Quote:
The example of Katamari that you mention is typical. I too find this game personally quite violent and frightening and cruel but that is not what the author intended.

How do you know? I think Keita Takahashi probably intended it that way- to say something about the world maybe.


Well, then he failed.
The game completely falls apart if you start looking at it from this angle. There's just nothing in the game that supports this interpretation. Or at least most of the game contradicts it. The same applies to Shadow of the Colossus. I don't buy this interpretation-after-the-fact stuff. Game designers need to be clear. Or shut up. It's cheap to make players feel a certain way for hours on end and then tell them, from your mighty ivory tower, that they were bad for feeling that way. It's also naive to think that you will have made a point that way. In Katamari, the point is made when you are rolling. Not when you're done rolling. In Shadow, the point is made when you are fighting, not when you're done. This is indeed where game mechanics are expressing something. And my point is that they almost always express something vile and obnoxious. And almost always the same thing.
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E.B
Posted: Mon Dec 24, 2007 11:28 am Reply with quote
Joined: 10 Dec 2007 Posts: 49
Quote:
But it's not the same as when you truly are the center of the fictional world.

You're not always the center of the fictional world; especially in games such as Knytt.

I was just guessing about Katamari- there's no PAL version of the original, sadly. I think Katamari looks like fun.

Anyway, the problem is the massive tome of assumptions designers have; which is known as "game logic".
I repeat the point I made before, the problem is game logic- not mechanics.

Mechanics are an unbiased tool, just use them right.

It should be said that everything in a game is a mechanic. Think about it. The visuals, the music, the sounds, the interaction. All part of the whole.

Anyway. What you and I are saying here kind of feels like your manifesto all over again Smile
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Michael
Posted: Mon Dec 24, 2007 3:12 pm Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
I think you'll need to define this "mechanics" thing. Sounds like it can mean anything now. So you've lost me. And what is the difference between "game mechanics" and "mechanics"?

I didn't want to repeat the Manifesto. You sort of forced/seduced me to.

In fact, I think I was trying to contradict part of the Manifesto. The part that says that interaction is crucial. I'm not so certain about that anymore. Interaction is only a means to an end. If I can achieve that end without interaction, I'll be just as pleased.
It's not that I want to get rid of interaction. I'm just starting to doubt if it is as important as I used to think. A living breathing world that revolves around you and responds to your presence without you doing anything, sounds just as valid to me as some complicated structure with so-called meaningful choices.

These thoughts may not apply to all games and all art. Just to what I would like to make. That whole thing of games supposedly lying to you and then making you feel bad about enjoying killing monsters and stuff, is actually a fairly typical method of contemporary fine art (which I also despise).
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E.B
Posted: Tue Dec 25, 2007 2:41 am Reply with quote
Joined: 10 Dec 2007 Posts: 49
Quote:
contemporary fine art

Do those first two words go together? Razz

I tend to agree with you, now. Interaction is always in a realtime interactive game, even if it is only controlling your character- to walk, look round, or whatever.

So you know, "there is no solution because there is no problem". I think your way is perfectly fine, and it's already been seen in stuff like knytt, Ico (sort of), and other games.

I'm not sure I agree with
Quote:
A living breathing world that revolves around you and responds to your presence without you doing anything,
If you take it literally- ie. the controller is on the floor, not being used. I'd consider that to be avant garde film then.

I define mechanics by "anything that affects you". That's a pretty broad definition, though.
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Michael
Posted: Tue Dec 25, 2007 8:02 pm Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
I refuse to think of this in a negative way. I'm not leaving something out when I don't put the focus on interactivity. I'm not arguing for a removal of interactivity. I'm just in doubt about its central place.

I think you're oversimplifying my thoughts. But I can't blame you. They're not clear. And they may be too unconventional.

I get very upset when people think that just because a game is "missing" from an interactive piece, that it must be a film. I think we're all way too comfortable with games. We need a bit more imagination.

And we should have more respect for film: there is not a single computer game that has achieved artistically what hundreds if not thousands of movies have already achieved. And I'm not even talking about avant garde film. The most mediocre Hollywood B-movie outshines the games industry's highest artistic achievements easily. If it's required for a game to be a film to become art, then that's what I want to make.
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Michael
Posted: Tue Dec 25, 2007 9:20 pm Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
I don't "get" Knytt but Ico is in fact a good example to illustrate the three types of "game" design and mechanics mentioned in this thread.

Ico's main structure is a linear series of environment puzzles spiced up with some battles. Incredibly standard and unremarkable. The only thing it has going for it is that the puzzles are relatively easy and don't get in the way too much.

A more important (and original) type of mechanic in Ico is the control of the avatar. It feels nice to move little Ico around, the way he runs and (almost) falls, etc. And especially the hands holding mechanic is beautiful and moving. Another element that fits in this category is the birds that fly away when you run towards them. It all works together to make the environment feel nice.

But the third, and really crucial thing that makes Ico stand out for me, is what happens when you are not doing either of the above. The wind blows through the trees, the sunlight plays with the architecture, the soundscape embraces you. Just looking around is a joy. And then there's Yorda, an autonomous character who expresses her concern for your avatar, who points things out to you and generally stands there being elegant and pretty.

While Ico is very inspiring, I cannot consider it to be an example. Because you still need to do the first gameplay mechanic (the puzzle game). And while, as I said, it does not get in the way too much (at least when compared to other games), it is all but optional. The game still stands glaringly in the way of playing.

And I really doubt that this is necessary. Computers are good at interaction, sure. But they are also could at generation. If you don't interact with it, a computer game does not suddenly turn into a film. It is still a living universe in which unexpected things can happen, in which nothing ever needs to repeat itself. I want to see more of that: more landscape painting, more aquariums. Things that happen because they happen, not because you moved your avatar close to a trigger. I want games that do more to me instead of just me doing things to them.
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Michael
Posted: Tue Dec 25, 2007 10:32 pm Reply with quote
Site Administrator Joined: 07 Jun 2002 Posts: 8065 Location: Gent, Belgium
Come to think of it, games aren't really very interactive. They are more "reactive" or responsive. They respond to your actions but don't do a lot on their own.

So perhaps I don't want less but more interactivity.

Interactivity implies two parties. Inter-active: one party does something and the other responds, and the other does something and the first responds. Computer games very rarely work like this. The enemies usually sit around waiting for you to arrive. And in response to your presence, they attack. Not to mention the passive entities in platform games and the like. Reactive, not interactive!

I want to see a shooter game in which the enemies just go about their business. And if you don't run fast enough, they're just gone, off to do something else. Or if you stand there talking to an NPC, they suddenly jump on you, having found a way out of a later level and surprising you.

I know that there's technical and narrative reasons why the virtual world waits for your input to do something. But perhaps these reasons are not good enough. Perhaps they are holding back the potential of the medium. Maybe we should start exploring true interactivity where the artificial elements are as active as the player.

Only then can we truly become a part of our fictional worlds. As long as we are the supreme being that triggers everything into existence, we're not really a part of the world. We're just some kind of god-figure, distant from our creation, or less glamorous, a person pressing start/pause once in a while.

Let's make games dirty!

Let's build worlds first. In which the player is just one of the parts, not necessarily the central one. Maybe this is what troubles me: the centrality of the player rather than interactivity as such.
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