The Tyranny of Action

In keeping with yesterday’s post about game criticism from the developer’s end I was thinking about… game criticism from the developer’s end. In particular, while I often think about games from the perspective of “what can I do?” and thus constantly press on trying to make something happen when I play, it’s not often I query what that means from the side of making a game.

And then I made GuruQuest and had enough people take a look at it that I felt like I was being forcefully oppressed by “action”. A number of people played GuruQuest bringing the traditional (and perhaps reasonable) gamer-view that everything has a purpose and you’re out to do something. Thus, they ran around on the terrain, becoming distraught when there was nothing to see off in the distance.

When they eventually talked to the guru, they were frustrated they weren’t able to ascertain the point of talking to him. Thinking of him in terms of an NPC from another game, they figured he’d lead them on to the next thing to do in the world, and when he was oblique and sometimes just nonsensical, players felt that there was something quite simply wrong.

Putting aside the irony involved in meeting and talking to a (virtual) guru and going “well what was the point of that?”, this is a very real element of games that I feel we’re being locked into. Contemplation, and even just allowing nothing to happen for a time, just isn’t something that’s being overly encouraged. Sometimes you can carve it out for yourself, perhaps stand looking out on a vista in Fallout 3, but often a radscorpion comes to remind you you’re a man/woman of action. Some games, of course, take inaction to various logical extremes, like Bogosts Guru Meditation or Frasca’s September 12th, and that’s pretty cool too.

But I’d like to see at least a little spike of interest in games (and perhaps they aren’t games at all, by definition) that don’t have you “getting somewhere” all the time. Where you might take actions, big or small, that aren’t wired into a larger system. Something like Minecraft exhibits this a little, but ultimately you end up slotting the possible actions and outcomes into a fairly easily constructed framework of “good” and “bad” and so on. A game like Rez, perhaps, despite its overt frenzy of action, lends itself a bit to a serene nothingness at the same time.

At any rate,  it would be nice to play some more games where you don’t inevitably ask yourself, “am I getting somewhere? Am I doing good?” Any recommendations?

10 May 2011
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