The Artist Is Curious?

One way to characterise what I’ve been interested in so far with making games is that it’s at least partly about asking questions, mostly about games themselves, though sometimes something else as well. It wouldn’t surprise me if I went that way in large part because of my background in writing about games – to some extent it’s easier to think about games when they’re a bit out of the ordinary.

Rilla came up with a nice name for my (and presumably others’) approach to games, or rather for the “genre” you could put them in: curious games.

I rather like that as a name for something, I think the connotations are pretty good. It’s lighthearted enough, particularly in comparison to “serious games”, to feel like it’s not going to be a great big drag or a downer. Rather, it suggests that the game is going to be at least someone amusing, unserious. But at the same time it also does imply the inquisitiveness that’s at the heart of, well, science and stuff – and not so much on the part of the player (after all, we can be curious players no matter what the game), but on the part of the maker. Ultimately, I like the idea of curiosity driving (some) game making.

Games seen in this light might be thought of as asking some kind of question or poking around a subject, rather than “solving a problem” as some recent discussion described game design as. Game making as problem solving is kind of depressing to me personally – game making as question asking sounds fun! Nor does this question have to be asked of the player – as if the game is some kind of test – but rather it could be more like the game helps the player to ask the question themselves, and poke around it to see what they think.

I’m certainly not issuing this as some kind of manifesto or personal crusade, though. I don’t necessarily think Safety Instructions was asking any big questions. Though perhaps it could be seen as a chance to think “beyond” the final frames of the traditional instructions we get on planes, which of course ignore the potential consequences. The Artist Is Present was certainly “curious” about the concept of waiting and rewards in games, along with the place of “realism” of different forms than physics and graphical fidelity. Let There Be Smite! asked in its small way whether it might be a big pain in the ass to be god, and whether the difference between punishment and forgiveness might get lost in the whirl. And of course GuruQuest was, in some ways, nothing but questions and curiosity personified (and slightly aggravating).

So, curious games. What do you think?

20 September 2011
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