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Imagination In Games 94

In a recent article for Offworld, Jim Rossignol writes about how the experiences offered by games are broadening as they become more familiar and more popular among researchers and educators. He mentions Korsakovia, a Half-Life 2 mod which is an interpretation of Korsakoff's syndrome, a brain disorder characterized by confusion and severe memory problems, and makes the point that games (and game engines) can provide interesting and evocative experiences without the constraint of being "fun," much as books and movies can be appreciated without "fun" being an appropriate description. Quoting: "Is this collective imagining of games one of the reasons why they tend to focus on a narrow band of imagination? Do critics decry games because games need, more than any other media, to be something a group of people can all agree on? Isn't that why diversions from the standard templates are always met with such excitement or surprise? Getting a large number of creative people to head out into the same imaginative realm is a monumental task, and it's a reason why game directors like to riff off familiar films or activities you can see on TV to define their projects. A familiar movie gets everyone on the same page with great immediacy. 'Want to know what this game is going to be like? Go watch Aliens, you'll soon catch up.' We are pushed into familiar, well-explored areas of imagination. However, there are also teams who are both exploring strange annexes and also creating games that are very much about imaginative exploration. These idiosyncratic few do seem like Alan Moore's 'exporters,' giving us something genuinely new to investigate and explore. Once the team has figured out how to drag the thing back from their imaginations, so we get to examine its exotic experiences — like the kind we can't get at home."
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Imagination In Games

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  • Re:Umm... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by WaroDaBeast ( 1211048 ) on Sunday September 27, 2009 @01:08PM (#29557593)

    Maybe combine Grand Theft Auto and education by making the player add up fines or the value of the drugs he just stole...

    Anyone remembers bartering in Fallout games? You had to use caps or dollars to make up for the price difference between your stuff and the NPC's stuff. I always found that mentally doing the maths was kind of fun; that being said, I don't think the developers had educational purposes in mind when conceiving this aspect of the game.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 27, 2009 @01:36PM (#29557823)

    I guess Chess isn't a game then. Oh wait, you'll just say that's fun too. Which means you can say that about anything.

  • Re:Pffft... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Bat Country ( 829565 ) on Sunday September 27, 2009 @01:54PM (#29557969) Homepage

    Of course mediocrity appeals to the masses... The masses are by definition mediocre.

    Conservative creative efforts will be fiscally rewarded disproportionately with the more risky efforts. If you design two games, one with an ingenious core mechanic that people will either "get" or "not get" (like Portal) and one with all other aspects being equal (art, humor, charm, challenge, time commitment) except that the second game is based on platform-jumping (a familiar and easy-to-learn mechanic), then the more familiar title will win... Unless the novelty of the core mechanic is sufficient to overcome the difficulty of learning the new mechanic. In the case of Portal, the risk paid off and produced a truly exceptional game - a first-person puzzle platformer which uses Newtonian physics in an eccentric space which is deformable by the player. Valve hedged their bets by packaging the more risky title with a pair of titles that they knew would be successful, later to discover that Portal would probably have succeeded on its own.

    Other experimental games have not always been so lucky. It's small consolation to a smaller studio who is in danger of being closed that their products became sleeper hits or cult classics after they've been shut down by their publisher.

    If risk was the sort of thing that every publisher took as a matter of course, where part of every bargain for an A-list game was that the company be funded to make one experimental game with a comparable budget, then we'd have much more variation in the games market. And as you've pointed out, a lot of trial and error is required to figure out what "mediocre" even is, which is one of the reason that the game industry has been dominated by games riding on the coattails of successful titles of ages past. Ultimately, however, the biggest difference between a mediocre but poorly performing title and a mediocre but best-selling title is the level of polish and the talent of the people executing the core concepts. And that's where the imagination comes in.

  • by jzono1 ( 772920 ) on Sunday September 27, 2009 @02:00PM (#29558027)
    This russian gem deserves to be mentioned. It's not fun. It's so depressing I could barely stand playing it for long stretches. 10-15 mins was enough, 30mins was horrible. The unique concept results in a game that *is* a depressive nightmare. It's unique in a way; what other game makes you feel like killing yourself - just to end your own suffering? It's absolutely brilliant, and a hell to survive through. Interesting article about it: []
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 27, 2009 @02:52PM (#29558459)

    I would say that if you're wondering about RPGs, you're wasting your time -- the genre is a kitchen sink, with three different traditions (Diablo, Morrowind, and the Final Fantasies, to name their best-known examples) competing for the same name...

    More to the article's point, I think that it's a bad thing that "genre" in gaming means "style of play mechanics," not "type of story, atmosphere, etc. produced;" the result is a naive association of play mechanics and type of story, although with the latter, "type of story" seldom rises beyond "setting."

    My first thought on reading this article was that the main problem is the people involved. Game companies are apathetic or actively hostile (Electronic Arts) to employee retention, so that the only kind of people motivated to staying with them are best described as "fanboys." Combine this with the need to have extensive technical skills to get a job in gaming and especially to rise through the ranks, and I don't think we need any further explanation for why game development is stagnant. This stagnation includes "indie games," which have rapidly acquired a set of disagreeable conventions of their own...

  • by Kelbear ( 870538 ) on Sunday September 27, 2009 @06:00PM (#29559951)

    Thanks for the reference, I'll check it out (if I can find a place to get it!)

    It's surprising that that this game is so long. Typically indie games don't have the resources to develop a game's depth through content, and are forced to generate it through gameplay mechanics.

Some people manage by the book, even though they don't know who wrote the book or even what book.