Background Reality

Part of what I’m doing with this game Kicker is making a pretty involved American football simulator, as I said yesterday. The weirdest thing about the football simulator is that that game isn’t actually about playing football – or at least not much football. So this elaborate system of play-calling, calculating play results, checking for first downs, interceptions, and on and on and on is all just in play as a kind of background fabric to the “real” game. Some days it’s hard to tell whether this is the most massive waste of time I’ve ever engaged in, or actually pretty great.

When I was initially thinking about the game (it’s really Doug Wilson’s idea to start with – though when we originally discussed it the sport in the game was soccer), the core of it was nature of not always being the center of attention in sports, something games tend not to go for, even though it’s such a key (and poignant!) part of life (including outside of sports, obviously). The idea of an NFL kicker, a specialist player on football teams who might (in the “worst” case) literally only be involved in about 5 – 10 seconds of an hour long game, is kind of perfect for this situation. Not only are they frequently “not playing”, but when they do play, it tends to be extremely important that they perform well. The tension between being really important and largely being really uninvolved is a pretty delicious one that really brings home some of these idea about self-importance and avatar-centrality in games.

Originally I thought I’d do it by just have a scripted game that the player just interacts with at chosen moments. This would have allowed me to do something like make sure the player gets to kick a game winning field goal, say, or perhaps not get to play much at all. Authorial control. But I realised that that wasn’t the point, it was kind of betraying the idea behind the game at a kind of meta level – by making the narrative of the game a kind of all important, central element, when in fact once again in life this isn’t how things pan out. Some games are dramatic, some are insanely boring, and so on.

So it became clear that the game going on in the background of Kicker had to be a simulated game of a reasonably high level of fidelity to the real thing. This means that when you eventually play the game, you just don’t know what kind of “day” the kicker you’re playing as is going to have. You might be the hero, you might be the goat, you might not be particularly important to the outcome at all. But whatever happens it will have a kind of connection to the reality of sports and play that it wouldn’t have had any other way. And thus I hope it’ll have a connection to some sort of “truth” about these things.

But we’ll see how that pans out. I’ve almost finished the simulation of the game along with the interactive portions for the player (not nearly as easy as I had imagined, particularly writing in Inform 7). After that I have to write the foreground of the game. And I don’t have much more than the faintest of ideas of how to do so.

12 July 2012
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