Thoughts on Gaming: Shared Experiences and Common Connections

There was a time in my youth that I remember only a handful of games that every kid had to have. Super Mario, Mario Kart, GoldenEye, Super Smash Bros, Unreal Tournament, Starcraft, Counter-Strike… Of course there were many other great games in the 90s and early 2000s, but there weren’t many that were ubiquitous among the community. You didn’t even have to be that good at all of these games, but you knew that somewhere during your weekend gaming hang-outs, one of these games would come up and you would spend the next few hours of raging and mocking over these games.

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But it also seems like there aren’t that many of these kinds of ubiquitous games around today. We have our Call of Duty annual wintertime jam, Super Smash Bros groups, League of Legend crews, World of Warcraft guildies, but these games being largely ubiquitous isn’t a given anymore.

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It’s a shame really because it’s almost like a common connection is lost between the gaming community, a shared memory that unknowingly unites everyone. Each of us having separate, unique memories but of a similar experience that we can all understand and empathize with. Those moments where we were in the lead by a good 10 seconds and that banana peel from lap one runs under our tires followed by a barrage of red shell, lightning, green shell and getting run over bumping us into last place and jeers surrounding every perceived sense. The tension from a highly matched duel where one wrong move means getting knocked off of the stage, but you and your challenger side-steping and dodging each other with better reaction time than NEO speedhacking his favorite Agent Smith.

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It’s the shared memories that subtly unite all of us and give us a common language to share and connect with one another as a gaming culture.

Think about the movies that develop a connection among us. Star Wars IV-VI, Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, The Lord of the Rings. If you’re at least somewhat nerd-clined you’ve probably seen all of these movies and have a deep bond with some of them, so when you come across other people that have a similar bond it becomes a talking point and a common ground to develop connections with one another. Kung Fu films, Game of Thrones, Anime, Tarentino, Woody Allen, Joss Whedon, Doctor Who. When you develop a connection to a style of art, you develop an understanding that can be understood by everyone else that has this connection. You gain a common language for communicating with others who understand this art and a new way to develop a connection with someone else.

Maybe it’s because there are so many markets, so many niches for people to bury themselves in so they don’t need to experience games and genres outside of their knowledge horizon, or interest horizon. It’s so easy to just find the next game that is abruptly similar to what you’ve become used to that you don’t need to find something new and different. Continual updates to Pokemon, Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, League of Legends, etc… makes sure that you have something new to keep you interested in the franchise long enough to not have an inherent need to explore the other markets. The problem of “getting too much of what we want” causes us to lose our common language. We find a hole to get buried in and become fluent in a very specific language but lose an ability to communicate with others outside of it.

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The least we can do as people within the gaming community is explore games that we would normally not try. We might find an undiscovered gem outside of our normal interest, a newly found subject of games to explore and find what makes us drawn to the excellence in other genres aside from those that we are knowledgeable with. At the very least, we’ll develop a language to talk to those who have travelled the other gaming lands and develop a connection with them through our shared experiences.

Twitter: @GIntrospection

Game Design: Verbosity, Empathy, and Implied Information

I’ve talked about dialogue delivery in the past and how it can become a hindrance when perception and expectation don’t match, but playing story-driven games like To the Moon  and A Bird Story  has helped to drive home the idea that many modern games rely too heavily on being verbose in their story telling. Long winded narration and dialogue used to inform the viewer every little detail that’s going on within the story. Background that we absolutely need to understand the story in full depth </sarcasm>.

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What makes these two examples great is their ability to become interesting because of the lack of dialogue in each game.

To the Moon

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To the Moon focuses on two scientists exploring a dying old-man’s memories from old to young with the purpose of implanting memories that he lived the life of an astronaut.

With revisiting anyone’s memories, they’re filled tragedies and sacrifices, choices and moments that plague us but others that eclipse any inevitable despair and allow us to be happy in the moment-to-moment.

As far as the game goes, there is dialogue in the game, but not so much that it ruins the player’s curiosity in the story. The dialogue is meant to tell us where each character is in that moment in time, not filled with ear-beatings of “these are my motives” and “here is everything from the past that lead up to this moment.” Just enough dialogue and hand-holding to get the idea of each scene across, but not enough to give a synopsis of the background for each scene.

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The dialogue also has the implied knowledge that is obvious when two people with a long history talk to each other. You drop full explanations of terms and histories because each person already knows it, so why bother explaining things that you both already know? Efficiency in communication.

You say things like “keep her safe” instead of “keep Arya, our daughter who we gave up for adoption because the Wildlings are in search of her since she’s destined to destroy their race , safe…” The dialogue leaves curiosity of who do they mean by “her” and this permeates our thinking as the player travels further back into the memories.

Speaking with implied information is not only more organic but makes the characters more believable. The only problem is resolving the implied information in some form in the future to validate the viewer’s ideas of what each piece of implied information is.

There is also a problem with leaving too many unresolved information gaps, but To the Moon doesn’t have to worry about this. Because all of the dialogue is mandatory, the designer’s have full control over what information is delivered and the order in which it is received. Since every piece of dialogue will be experienced, the viewer can always find out what situation (cause) created each outcome (effect).

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A Bird Story

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A Bird Story took lack of dialogue to the next extreme, no dialogue. The short story of a loner kid finding and rescuing a bird, their eventual bond and breakup filled with moments of whimsy and humor but also sadness and desperation.

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The game relies on moments that the player can relate to, more so than To the Moon because dialogue can at least give people an idea of where their emotional bearings should be in the moment to moment.

To the Moon jumps from location to location, scene to scene and leaves the viewer guessing where each of the characters are at in their lives.

A Bird Story has the luxury of following someone in their (relative) day-to-day in a short time-span of their life. This means there is already an implied history between the viewer and the character. You don’t need a complete re-telling of what the character’s history is because the pertinent information is already given to you. Loner kid with parents never home finds a friend.

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What both games embrace is the player’s ability to empathize towards the situation for their characters. You don’t need to give me back-story to empathize, you need to give me situations. We anthropomorphize the most inanimate of objects, just give us some resemblance of emotion and a situation that’s relatable and the viewer will root for it regardless of their background. I could probably do a whole separate post on building empathy using the works of Joss Whedon alone from things like Dr. Horrible, Buffy, and Cabin in the Woods but I’ll save that for a different time.

The point is, verbosity doesn’t get the player to give a damn, but empathy does. Relatable, palpable emotions that the player relives and wants to escape from (and help others escape from) empathy.

 

Twitter: @GIntrospection

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