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Author Topic: Loved
Raymond Arnold
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Want to play a fun, happy game? Try Loved.

Edit: Okay in good conscience, no matter how much I'd like to play into the game's deliberate deception, I cannot inflict this upon people without warning them. Loved is a game about an abusive relationship. It is well crafted and worth playing, but do not play it if you're already feeling depressed. Apologies to Raventhief.

Afterwards you will probably want to play some Robot Unicorn Attack, or something similar. Lord knows I did. (Edit: If Robot Unicorn attack isn't your thing, check out some Kittens!!!).

[ December 10, 2010, 07:03 PM: Message edited by: Raymond Arnold ]

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MattP
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That was uplifting.
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rivka
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You are a sick, sick person.
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0Megabyte
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It seemed more creepy than anything.
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Lyrhawn
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Very creepy.
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AchillesHeel
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I got stuck, and sick of being called an ugly girl.
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Raymond Arnold
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I figured that describing the game honestly would be against the spirit of the thing. But you may note that I included a link to Robot Unicorn Attack to make you feel better afterwards. Also, if that wasn't enough, Kittens!!!!.

I posted this A) because I thought it was an interesting game in a lot of ways, B) more specifically, because it approaches something that I touched upon in the One Chance thread. I complained that One Chance has boring, unfun movement controls which did not serve the actual needs of the game. Any time you are asking players to invest time in a game, negative emotion is going to make them frustrated and more likely to quit. One Chance IS a depressing game, but it's all the more important in a depressing game to make everything that DOESN'T need to be depressing as fun as possible to keep your player involved.

"Loved" is a game symbolic of an abusive relationship. You may question whether that's actually a good idea or not (I believe it was worth doing but won't argue with anyone who doesn't). But once you HAVE decided to do it, all the pieces in the game serve an important purpose. From the very beginning the game subverts your choices. The movement is deliberately difficult to control, and gets increasingly difficult to control the more you get hurt. The colored squares show up an obscure pieces of the world, often the uglier pieces.

Games like this can never be long because no one would stick through it to the end, but I think this one was about exactly as long as it needed to be.

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Rawrain
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Eh is Loved school appropriete ( No naked peoples or drugs)I can get away with some profanity though .__. gotta know before I click the link; the Unicorn one is blocks, a damn shame too I like te commercial XD
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Raymond Arnold
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Loved is disturbing, but entirely safe for work assuming that you're in a place where you can get away with playing games in the first place.
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Rawrain
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I am on break \o/ woop
Edit- ): owned by sonicwall

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Raventhief
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Wow, I was already feeling down for no particular reason. Shouldn't have played that.
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Raymond Arnold
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Here is the articles that led to Loved:

http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/134176-/

http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/128423-loved-identity-subjugation-and-confrontation/

The first one is mostly about another disturbing game, with the overall discussion is about ambiguity of gender in games. The second (which is linked from the first) is about Loved itself.

[ December 10, 2010, 11:11 AM: Message edited by: Raymond Arnold ]

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Raymond Arnold
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quote:
Originally posted by Raventhief:
Wow, I was already feeling down for no particular reason. Shouldn't have played that.

I apologize for that (I updated the initial post to make it a little more clear that something fishy was up. If it's still too tricksy... eh, maybe I should just say upfront what it's about, deliberate ambiguity be damned).

Seriously though, check out those Kittens! D'aawww!!!

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AchillesHeel
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Is it wrong that I find the kittens link more odd than a game that called me a disgusting thing?
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Tammy
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[Angst]
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Raventhief
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quote:
Originally posted by Raymond Arnold:
quote:
Originally posted by Raventhief:
Wow, I was already feeling down for no particular reason. Shouldn't have played that.

I apologize for that (I updated the initial post to make it a little more clear that something fishy was up. If it's still too tricksy... eh, maybe I should just say upfront what it's about, deliberate ambiguity be damned).

Seriously though, check out those Kittens! D'aawww!!!

Don't sweat it. It was clear, I just ignored it for some reason.
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Raymond Arnold
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quote:
Originally posted by AchillesHeel:
Is it wrong that I find the kittens link more odd than a game that called me a disgusting thing?

More odd? Not really. But oddness wasn't the defining characteristic by which I'd measure the game.
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Bella Bee
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I suddenly realized that my fingers were able to move really fast by the end, after the insults started coming thick and fast and the colours were swirling. The more difficult and unpleasant it was, the easier I found it to play and the more successful I became. Like I was actually trying to prove it wrong - or maybe like I had been caring before, which made me cautious and slow, but now there was no reason to worry. Very strange.

ETA - And then I started to think about this kind of game. I used to play 'Space Invaders', 'Granny's Garden' or 'Commander Keen' as a little kid, getting frustrated at dying, being destroyed or captured over and over again while the computer played a little tune. And yet coming back to it every day until I won... what? A 'Congratulations! You Win.' from a computer screen?
Perhaps there is a little bit of intrinsic sadism in games.

[ December 10, 2010, 04:03 PM: Message edited by: Bella Bee ]

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Raymond Arnold
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Huh, I had the opposite experience - the further through the game I got the harder it was. Specifically I felt like the more I died, the more erratic the controls got. I don't know how much of that was real and how much of that was perceived. This is certainly a game designed to manipulate perception.

BTW, who chose "Body" and who chose "Mind?" Did you notice anything that seemed like it might have correlated to that (or the opposite of whatever you chose?)

I chose Body. The only thing I noticed that could possibly have been related was that shortly after I started seeing a large number of the colored blocks obscuring the world. (If the voice gives you the opposite of what you ask for, then maybe choosing to give control of your Body away means you lose your mind...????)

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Bella Bee
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Then the colours start appearing whichever option you choose. I chose 'Mind' because it seemed like the opposite of what you'd want to pick, so I was interested to see what happened.

Interesting that you saw it as trying to steal your mind away, anyway. Story-point being I guess, that it has you where it wants you, whatever part of you it is that you decide that it has control over.

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Raymond Arnold
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Also curious who decided to throw themselves into the shards when it told you to? I did, then nothing special happened and I decided for the rest of the game I'd just do whatever looked easiest/least-painful. I don't think I ended up focusing enough on either defying or obeying it so if there was anything in particular that happened for doing either of those I didn't get it.

Also I got what I assume was the "bad ending" unaware that there was anything you might consider a "good ending" at the time.

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0Megabyte
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I went through the game twice. The first time... well, the best way to sum up my experience was my answer to a question near the end, whether I was happy or scared to meet the person.

I chose scared. Because it was absolutely true.

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Raymond Arnold
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quote:
I chose scared. Because it was absolutely true.
Heh. Did you make all the opposite choices and notice anything significant? I didn't have the time to play through a second time and am not sure I actually want to, but I'm curious what happens, if anything.

Periodically I get a desire to write a compare/contrast essay about two video games. Then I remember that I'm not 11 years old and nobody in the adult world cares. So I sort of wish I lived in a hypothetical future where videogames are accepted as an artform worthy of teaching and analysis in schools, where 11 year olds are told to write about them.

Two years ago it was Braid and Spelunky.

Today it's Loved and Together.

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Bella Bee
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Just played it again (defying the whole way - which causes the game to try to makes things delightfully complicated but, for me at least it's strangely simple, compared to the darkness). Without spoiling it - whether the ending is 'good' or 'bad' for you depends completely on whether you consider yourself to be walking away from something or towards it.
Imprisonment or freedom - it's all in your head.

I'm never playing this again, for obvious reasons, but it is fascinating psychologically. As well as horrible, obviously.

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Raymond Arnold
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I think I'm going to need to play it two more times, ones solidly defiant and once solidly submissive, so I get a clearer sense of which is which.
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0Megabyte
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The thing, Raymond, is that as long as people avoid writing about video games in that sort of real critical sense (not to rate it, but to actually critique its meaning) then people will continue to think of it as kids stuff.

Video gaming is ripe for its own Rudolf Arnheim or Andre Bazin. I mean, looking for it, I've generally only seen limp-wristed defenses of video games as art, or people concluding that making a solid theory for it is something for the future. In my opinion, the time to actually make a strong case for video games being art is now.

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Raymond Arnold
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Oh I totally think games can be written about in a critical sense. It's just that "compare/contrast essay" is a rather a contrived convention designed to teach kids particular skills, rather than the sort of essay you write for the sake of it.

I've briefly gone over hypothetical outlines for essays about Splunky/Braid and Loved/Together, and the bottom line is that everything actually worth saying honestly takes up a total of a paragraph, and the rest is fluff. All four games have depth that is worth *experiencing,,* but that experience isn't complex enough to put into words.

(By "complex" I'm referring to the total info-bits necessary to convey the idea in language, not the subtleties of the experience itself, which can never be expressed through writing, period).

Or it may be that I simply don't quite have the skill to do so. Or that I need more practice. Hell, given my lack of formal education on the subject, a 7th grade assignment might be exactly what I need to get started. I'll ponder this.

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0Megabyte
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I'd say, write what you want, even if just for fun. You don't need to publish it, after all.

I suppose in general, though, I find myself thinking a little bit higher. Taking my film classes the way I am, I'm learning about the various shifts in film theory, from the earliest days people made the case that movies were art, to more recent ideas, focusing on what genre actually is, or the feminist reading of horror films, or what have you.

Video games are, at the current point, not even at the baseline. There's no one that I've found who makes a strong case for what exactly makes video games art.

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Raymond Arnold
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The Void was pretty good. I haven't actually finished it - the computer crashed for unrelated reasons, I had to reformat and lost all my progress. There are definite flaws with the game but I can talk pretty extensively about it.

The thing with Together/Loved is that the themes are pretty much summed up in "Sometimes relationships are beautiful, but maintaining them is hard work and sometimes you get lost for a while" and "Sometimes relationships are cruel and dehumanizing." When you're talking about 10 minute games, there's not a whole lot to say.

Whereas the Void is a dozens of hours long, filled with content that is obviously designed to be scrutinized on a game design and thematic level.

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Raymond Arnold
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Also, as far as "feminist reading of horror films," check out this discussion of Portal:

http://www.gamesradar.com/xbox360/f/portal-is-the-most-subversive-game-ever/a-20071207115329881080/g-2006071916221774024

(I'm assuming you've played Portal. If not, what's wrong with you?)

Edit: come to think of it, Portal is another good game to contrast with Loved.

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0Megabyte
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Of course I've played Portal! Probably the best game of 2007, honestly.

And there we go. That's the sort of thing worth writing about in video games. How fun! (not implying I agree or disagree. Just that such conversations should happen.) Though to be fair, if they were really going for a feminist reading, the article could have gone much farther and much more in depth. But maybe I've been spoiled by all the film theorists I've been reading, and how in depth they tend to be. (People like Thomas Schatz or Robin Wood, for example.)

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Shawshank
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How do we view games as texts anyways? It could certainly be cogently argued that electronic games more than any other medium offer to create the meaning of the text through its emphasis on interactivity.

What are we to do with that?

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0Megabyte
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Bingo. That's the thing too many people don't get! I read people talking about the art, and they go on about the story, or the aesthetics, or even the game-play.

And while those are important and all, most of those I hear trying to talk about games as art don't quite grasp that all of these things, as good as they can be, aren't really the issue. The real issue is that creation of meaning through interactivity.

If anyone wished to ask me, I'd say that I could make the argument that video games are art to the extent that they do create their meaning through interactivity.

The thing about video games that's unique to it alone is its interactivity. I believe that if games are art, it's there that its unique value as an art-form exists. When it's you, the player doing an actions in a game, there's a unique potential for creating feelings, making someone think, or entertaining, that isn't there in other artforms. (I'm not saying a better potential, just a unique potential that other artforms don't have.)

Think of what makes Portal special. It's a harrowing experience, especially by the end. Or think of Shadow of the Colossus. Half-Life 2 has some of it too, but that's no surprise. Deus Ex, if what I've heard is right, has some of that power of interactivity. Braid has some good parts, even if its a little pretentious. There's another game on Kongragate, Don't Look Back, that even in its simplicity has a powerful effect as well.

Anyway, I'd say that it's not whether it's really "right" that's what matters here... it's a matter of approach, and there isn't really one that I've seen. So, even if other people come later and say something utterly different, the point is that games needs to be thought of as something worth theorizing about.

So, do you guys think there's something to the idea "video games can be art when they use their distinctive interactivity to its potential" or some-such?

Honestly, I've read a lot of Rudolf Arnheim and his book Film as Art, and I'd kind of be stealing from the points he made (he said that film can be art in the ways it is different from reality, and stresses both the differences from reality, and the differences between film and other forms of art. In other words, he stressed film's unique capabilities, and how embracing them was how film could be art. If you follow his premises, his argument followed so logically that you have to admire it. Of course, I don't follow all his premises, but he's still a bit inspiring, arguing that film was art in a unique manner different than novels or plays. Video games don't have an Arnheim yet, I don't think.)


---

"What are we to do with that?"

What should we do with the idea that games create their texts through their interactivity? I dunno, exactly! That's the fun part. But thinking of video games in these sorts of ways, asking these sorts of questions, is important. I believe games are already an artform. And these questions need to be asked.

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Shanna
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So yeah, I can't beat this game.
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Shawshank
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quote:
Originally posted by 0Megabyte:
And while those are important and all, most of those I hear trying to talk about games as art don't quite grasp that all of these things, as good as they can be, aren't really the issue. The real issue is that creation of meaning through interactivity.

If anyone wished to ask me, I'd say that I could make the argument that video games are art to the extent that they do create their meaning through interactivity.

I was talking to a good friend mine the other day about this. He argued the opposite incidentally. He said that by virtue of the interaction between game and player being so controlled and even mediated (things like the controllers, game mechanics, etc.) that the meaning of the game as being self-created weakens to the point where the game has no real meaning. He said that in order for the game to be viewed as strongly as a text the idea of authorial intent must be emphasized.

He presented Bioshock as a good example. It's a game with a strong narrative feature and by virtue of the game's structure the player is essentially just an agent within the story and is carrying the story forward.

How would you respond to that type of argument? I'm curious to hear your opinion.

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0Megabyte
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Ooh, this is going to be fun. Naturally, I haven't gone very far yet. It's still more the kernal of the idea I want to express, and not the mature idea at all. But here we go:

Before I'd begin, I'd question whether "authorial intent" is in fact the thing which must be emphasized. Not that I'm arguing against it, just pointing out that there may be other ways of thinking of things.

For example, in film, Andre Bazin claimed that films are art inasmuch as they portray reality. While this isn't the same thing, viewpoints like that (and "death of the author" sorts of things, which are distinct) suggest to me that in and of itself, that claim is not infallibly, without a doubt true.

But.

I'd also point out that, in a sense, the thing he worries about is the flaw people get into. Many video games aren't effective, and it is a medium in which that can be a real danger.

Giving players a series of objectives, even giving a reason for those objectives, isn't enough. Even a "strong narrative" isn't enough. In a sense, a strong narrative in the classical sense isn't how a video game gains worth as art in the first place!

The way in which games create it is when they, as I said before, utilize their interactivity. The audience feels things, sometimes new things they wouldn't before.

I haven't played Bioshock, so I can't argue whether that game does it or not. But I'll say that, in general, the kind of meaning is different. If the person means the kind of meaning you gain when you watch a film, such as the feelings I felt when watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, he's correct. The very fact that you control the proceedings, at least in part and have these gameplay elements which separate you from the events on screen does, to an extent, weaken the sorts of feelings a movie like Eternal Sunshine, or The Conformist, or whatnot, can create.

Because the point isn't what you feel for these other characters. What matters is something essentially no other form of art can create. Authorial intent, if it's there, can be emphasized in different ways, but they can still be emphasized.

They can be emphasized internally, not as something felt, usually, for another character, but as something the players themselves are experiencing.

First, let me emphasize that, as art go, most video games aren't very sophisticated. Most of them, especially these days, with such high budgets and stakes, follow the framework of Hollywood action movies more than anything. There's very little "art", and no deeper meaning, in a video game like Ninja Gaiden, after all. Still, a game like that can be fun for its game-play alone, (should be fun for its gameplay alone!) in the same way a movie like Transformers is fun for all the awesome action scenes.

Now, an example of what I mean, so I can make it clear. Let's use Shadow of the Colossus. As far as conventional story-lines, even by video game standards, this game's story is pretty darn thin. You don't even know why the Wanderer wants to bring this girl back to life so badly.

All you know is what you have to do: Destroy these colossi, one after another, to free her. (Note my wording here. It's important.) So, you set off on your journey. Riding your horse across the breath-taking landscape, you slowly make your way to the first Colossus. You climb up the cliff, and then, it's there. It's huge, larger than you ever guessed. And you have to fight it. And when you win, the darkness that strikes you doesn't seem too good. And eventually, as you go farther and farther, you notice you start to darken. Your hair is growing dark, your skin growing pale, your clothing changing too. By the end, your struggle is an obsession that won't be stopped, even after all these hints that what you're doing is a bad, bad idea.

The reason I describe the game this way is because, from my experience, that's how it seems. Maybe I exaggerated how far it goes, how a player would feel about it, but it's still there. The goal becomes yours. The ramifications become yours, and the choice, even if you didn't make it originally, becomes yours in a sense. It's your quest to complete, and your determination which drives you towards the end.

What I mean is, in this game, the text is more internalized. These beings you destroy are doing nothing, you're the one who's hunting them down and killing them. They're beautiful, and awesome (in the sense that they elicit awe) and destroying them is a solemn, not a celebratory, affair. Is it right for you to do this? Do you have a right to? Is your obsession worth the cost of destroying that world's natural beauty? It's a clear question, and with very few words it still exists, and the "authorial intent" is clear, even if some players don't catch it.

The feeling is a bit different, perhaps even a bit more subtle, than watching a character in a movie becomes obsessed to the point of destroying themselves or others. Not least because it happens more within the player than anything, but I posit that it's there, nevertheless. Not all games do this. Most games don't. But most movies fail to do more than create a rather generic story, have a few fun action scenes, make you laugh or jump in fright a few times, etc. But in the world of games, Shadow of the Colossus endures, because it creates a feeling of grandeur, beauty, and obsessive adventure, even with its imperfect controls and honestly terrible framerate. (The main reason I'm so excited for the HD version coming: 60 FPS at all times, oh baby...)

Just the fact that I felt that way about the game suggests the meaning doesn't completely disappear. Let's see a few other examples:

Modern Warfare. By killing off the hero in such a shocking way (nuking you!) and ultimately rendering you broken, having to drag yourself along the ground before you die, the game has at least a hint of what I mean. Modern Warfare 2, from what I hear, made it too much of a gimmick, but in Modern Warfare, this sort of thing, killing you off, has a strong effect. It makes the events that just happened more clear, and actually strengthens the feeling. You just failed. Now, you (someone else) needs to deal with the consequences.

Actually, in a sense, dealing with consequences you yourself created is one of the most powerful ways a game can create some kind of meaning for itself. Even when there was no "choice" in the matter, when you did something, and see the consequences, it is a tool that no other form of art can have. In other media, no matter what happens, you didn't do it. But in games, when utilized correctly, the fact that you did something is what can create a feeling.

Let's go back to a few examples. In Don't Look Back, which should still be on Kongragate, you start the game standing in front of a grave. Then, you start your journey, going down into the underworld, battling Cerberus and eventually finding a girl. Then, you go back. And you can't turn back, or she'll disappear. (see what they're doing?) By the end, having gone through all of this, and having become somewhat attached to the goal of getting her back, you do... and as soon as you go back to the grave, you find yourself still there, and the girl, along with the self you were playing, disappears. You know you were having a fantasy of bringing back a dead loved one, and it hurts, even if just a little bit. It certainly didn't make my day any brighter. But that was the point. Going through it yourself, realizing what you were doing was the dream, the fantasy, creates a new context for your actions, and, without a single word, creates a meaning. Granted, that game is very short, and the meaning is closer in scope to a poem than to a novel's.

Going on too much longer would be boring. And I fear I may have gotten sidetracked a few times. But my main point is that the kind of meaning is different, and the feeling is created specifically by the fact that the player is the one doing the things (whether they have a choice in the matter or not is less important than that they did it) and that the nature of games makes a cinematic sort of meaning less powerful, and a literary one less powerful. JRPGs tend to be effectively novels with random battles and occasionally "choose your own adventure" style choices. Many action games skew more towards a cinematic mentality. Hideo Kojima seems to wish he was making movies, from the look of his games. None of those style necessarily precludes player choice as a powerful effect, though many times they stray away from it. Final Fantasy Tactics is, throughout much of it, a great story. But it's more a literary story. The protagonist's own story isn't all that interesting to me. But Delita and Ophelia and the War of the Lions... that is a wonderful story, like something out of a novel. In fact, it is artistic in the way a novel would be, and I love novels, so I don't mind. But it doesn't utilize the unique potential of video games in its own right. The fact that I think of the story as something in the same genre as A Song of Ice and Fire should say something, as I think of it more as a novel than anything else.

Still, all of that aside, when my friend Bianca won't shut up about what she's doing in Mass Effect 2, or when I gush about obsession, destroying things of beauty, etc, when talking about Shadow of the Colossus, it suggests to me that there's more to it than what your friend says. Like I said, I haven't played Bioshock. I don't know if it's effective or not. But it seems likely to me that your friend is thinking more of the sort of effects that come from things like movies or novels, which are, indeed, interfered with by the game-play a lot of the time.

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Jenny Gardener
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I can't seem to get the game to start, beyond showing me a figure in a ball. What happens next?
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CT
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Use the arrow keys to move.
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Raymond Arnold
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Finally got around to doing another two playthroughs being obedient and rebellious. Found a secret area by being rebellious. I'm wondering if there's a secret third ending you get by being rebellious enough to get the color-squares but submissive enough to get the "I love you" ending.

quote:
He said that by virtue of the interaction between game and player being so controlled and even mediated (things like the controllers, game mechanics, etc.) that the meaning of the game as being self-created weakens to the point where the game has no real meaning. He said that in order for the game to be viewed as strongly as a text the idea of authorial intent must be emphasized.
Art existed before film and novels. It includes paintings and music, which are beautiful without necessarily leading the audience down a particular path. It also includes interactive media other than games. You can have an interactive play that feeds of audience participation. You can have a colloborative painting in your city park that everyone can participate in. Jazz musicians can "jam," coming up with something as they go along. In all of those cases, the interactivity is not something that works "against" the art, the interactivity is the POINT.

Anything a player does in a game, they are only able to do because the designer allows them to. The designer may allow them to follow a linear storyline, or the designer may allow them multiple branching pathways, or the designer may have deliberately created an open-ended game designed to provoke creativity and emotions without a particular "story" at all, but which is no less meaningful than a song or painting.

In Loved, the player is given the freedom to defy or obey their master, and either option produces a cohesive narrative that literally has a poetic cadence. But it is the choice that makes it more effective than a poem that simply read:

quote:
Are you a MAN or WOMAN?
Man.
No, you are a girl.


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Raymond Arnold
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Just made my mother play a little bit of the game. Interesting phenomenon - when you barely play videogames at all, they all seem equally frustrating to you, and you spend so much attention/energy trying to solve the basic puzzle of the game that you don't care much about whatever extraneous things are happening.

So she didn't find the game particularly creepy, but she also didn't really get any of the symbolism until I spelled it out for her afterwards.

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Jenny Gardener
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Something must be wrong with my computer...the arrow keys don't work. Or maybe...oh god, my life is stagnant! The gods have frozen me with no ability to move either in defiance or obedience...what does that MEAN for my EXISTENCE??
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Raymond Arnold
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Hmm. Not sure what to make of that. Sorry!

You can get past the initial "are you a Man/Woman" question, right? You see a figure in a ball... is the figure hoving in midair or does it fall to the ground?

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Shawshank
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Okay.

First off- I'd have to agree with you that authorial intent is not always a necessary part for determining meaning. I think any text's meaning can be elicited from the intent of the author, however, that is not the only meaning of any one text. I'm have some basic level of familiarity with the wide strains of literary criticism going on these days (the best part of studying biblical hermeneutics). I know how in these days authorial intent is often a secondary, even tertiary concern. So in that sense I agree with you.

quote:
So, do you guys think there's something to the idea "video games can be art when they use their distinctive interactivity to its potential" or some-such?
Yes. I think my next question is this: what is the next step for the developing art form? Because having these considerations in mind, I would say that by and large games have not become a real art form yet. Some games have gotten close (and indeed may have hit it), but what is the next step? Both from a video game as text theoretical side and from a development standpoint.

I think also I did a poor job describing what I meant. My friend's concern was with the sort of seeming choices that games offer. He argues that a game like Fable- in which the player "chooses" good or evil or somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, that that sense of choice is what takes away from the meaningfulness of the game.

But I wonder

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0Megabyte
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quote:
Originally posted by Shawshank:

But I wonder

Me too.

In my personal opinion, most of those "good/evil" choices suck. While it's not a bad idea, even Bioware's implementation has been imperfect at best, and their games are just great.

I wouldn't say that such choices are necessarily bad, however. In my limited experiences in Dragon Age, for example, the choices were different enough from the standard "mother theresa/baby-eater" dichotomy that I was drawn a little more into my character. The choices felt more organic and interesting, and I was more playing a character than just choosing "evil!" or "good!"

My human noble absolutely didn't want to join the Grey Wardens. He had a complex about his older brother, and wanted to fight and prove himself to be worth just as much. He only joined in extremis, and was bothered by some of their practices. His main thought was getting revenge, however, and that was what he concerned himself with.

The fact that I can say this much about the personality of my character from Dragon Age, in my opinion, is a hint that such choices can be used in ways that draw you in. I hadn't thought of the character in a year, but I remembered him, and I remembered his personality.

But most games with choice don't do that. In Infamous, you have the obvious "good/evil" thing going, and so Cole has little personality. It's a conscious "ooh, I'm EVIL" thing, and it separated me from the person. The game was, while fairly fun, not one that I'll remember nearly so long.

So, in that sense, at least in current implementation for most games, I agree with your friend. The artificial choices tend to be both limiting in a noticeable way, as well as something that pulls you out of the game.

But I think, if you allow meaningful choices like that in a game, they need to be actually meaningful. And the values attributed to them need to be something you feel, not something you notice because you just got Dark Side points.

Fallout 1 had this going for it, at least to an extent. Certainly more than Fallout 3! You had real options, and could go so far as playing a manipulative pacifist who wrecks everything without hurting anyone, to an utterly destructive hero who smashes everything he sees in his quest for the greater good.

Anyway, as to your question:

From a development standpoint, I'd say I'm less certain. I don't make games, and I won't pretend anything I say is anything less than naive. However, from that side, I'd urge game makers to know what they want to make, first of all. I certainly wouldn't criticize someone who made a Ninja Gaiden because it had no real story, and was merely a vehicle for fun action.

But if the goal is something more, if the goal is to make a game with a message, the first thing I'd say is this: Yes, you can create a game with a message. You [/i]can[/i] make a game which affects the players and makes them think. Most importantly, you can make a game which is art.

My suggestion is that, if they really wish to do that, that the most effective way of doing that is to create the game so that players feel connected to the choices they made. Naturally, I can't tell someone how to make art. I can't tell someone how to make a moving novel, or a great movie, any more than I can say how to make a great game.

But a developer who wants to make art should be aware of those unique properties games can have. Because the player is actually doing the actions, make those actions themselves the vehicle for your message.

I'm not saying anything about whether a game is linear, nonlinear, whatever. An open sandbox like Oblivion or GTA is no more or less able to do this than something as linear as Portal. Saying beforehand that "I want to make a game about x!" has the same dangers it has in every other art-form, the danger of preaching. But the use of player actions, especially showing consequences, is important.

When you give a player a choice, or even make them do something, they should see the consequences. In Portal, once you go off the rails, you can hear GLaDOS starting to freak out. She sounds almost afraid as she tries to intimidate you, unable to find you.

Furthermore, the playe needs to identify with the character they're playing, if not stand in entirely. In Shadow of the Colossus, soon the Wanderer's goal becomes your goal, for example. (Also, enough with the grizzled space marines! But that's a personal pet peeve.) Also, try to give the player-character meaningful relationships with other characters, or whatever else is in the game. Once again, this is part of where the art lies, and I can't tell someone how to make art!

On a larger scale, I'm less certain. I'll need to think more, of course.


On the theoretical side, there's plenty to do. Game criticism isn't that extensive yet. But that can change, and is, to an extent. The first step is to get people actually talking about it. Have people critique the meaning of this game or that. Have an essay unpacking the game Don't Look Back, as a quick example. Discuss how the preponderance of hyper-masculine protagonists in 7th generation video games made in the U.S. reflects current trends in society, and why people want to play them. That's a little more complex, but could also be done.

I'd say, the field is already there. What we need is people to step forward to actually dig up the fertile ground that already exists.

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twinky
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I think there's room in gaming for both approaches to reach the level of art: the scripted experience and the unscripted experience. There's a spectrum in between, as well.

Consider Heavy Rain, a game that specifically emphasizes choice and branching narrative with multiple endings, including one where all of the main characters die. The story is structured such that the fundamental gameplay is similar, which is definitely easier than slaving away at piles of content most players will never see. My first time through, my narrative trajectory led me to miss two levels, because the character who would have played them was in jail. But each sequence is short enough that it didn't remove a huge chunk of the game.

In terms of narrative depth, any trajectory you could follow would still be no more complex than a film drama, but the interactivity and choice creates a harrowing atmosphere that is, for me anyway, more intense than any film. When I had to decide whether I was going to cut off my own finger in front of the Origami Killer's camera... wow.

Bioshock is kind of a unique example because it leverages its gameplay limitations in its narrative. I can't really say more than that without massive spoilers.

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