Developers! Developers! Developers!

So there’s a kind of interesting post by a fellow going by “Danc” about the current (apparently awful) state of game criticism. Most of it really isn’t worth reading in my own opinion – it’s largely just polemic to no particular end except the idea that one person’s version of what’s important should be universal, etc.

But the good bit about the piece, amidst the ranting, is Danc’s emphasis on how important developer perspectives are in game criticism, and how they’re rather absent. The few articles Danc cites as being “the good kind” aren’t really the sort of thing I’m interested in, as it happens, but the idea of stronger connections between actual development (and design) and thinking about games strikes me as very desirable.

From my very limited personal experience, I feel that writing “from the code”, if you will, is a pretty rewarding process. The process of writing about the relationship between the MVC-pattern and game design felt like it was pushing into an interesting area, for instance. Responding to comments on the play experience of GuruQuest by delving into what the development process had involved is another example of how we can certainly speak about the relationship between code (my chief interest), game design (less so), and what actually happens when people play. The majority of the time, after all, the game is a black-box and we poke at it and try to figure stuff out – we should celebrate those times when we or other can open the box up and talk about what’s inside.

This reminds me of work that Ian Bogost does, more than anything. His work on procedural rhetoric fits in nicely here, and even more so the book Racing the Beam and its related series – though I have to say I found Racing the Beam lacking in the kinds of insights into the play experience that I’d be more interested in (that wasn’t so much its mission, I imagine). The idea of looking under the hood is so filled with promise – as exciting as all the behind-the-scenes documentaries on movie sets, or interviews with great writers talking about their craft.

But maybe even more exciting, because of the unique-seeming relationship between what we do when we write the code for a game and what happens when somebody plays it. Any medium has “many a slip” between intent and experience, but games, to me, feel so ripe for them, and thus so interesting to see and think about from the “other” side.

So, here’s to Mr. Danc for championing a good idea, even if he got a bit frothy while he was doing it!

9 May 2011
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