New (quite old) project: It is as if you were doing work

Screen Shot 2017-03-27 at 14.58.07 copy

Having finished with both v r 3 and Let’s Play: Ancient Greek Punishment: CPU Edition! I’m naturally onto a new project to occupy myself with. In this case, though, it’s actually a return to something I’d started working on late last year, but lost steam on in favour of SNAKISMS. This is the kind of sequel to It is as if you were playing chess called It is as if you were doing work. The idea is, as you might imagine, to follow a similar pattern of heavily interface-driven play, but this time for the interfaces in question to revolve around the idea of work/productivity, rather than the game of chess.

I was largely stymied by the project last year because I kept tripping over myself in terms of what sort of scale to make it at, and what its identity would be. I was thinking about everything from extreme puzzle games to procedural narrative as possible lynchpins for it. But in fact all those of those extra layers feel now like they more represent a kind of anxiety/inadequacy surrounding the base concept of the game – or perhaps more accurately, simply not knowing what it was. So I spent today just making the absolute simplest example of the game I could image, as pictured above.

The game fades in two radio buttons to choose between, and another button to click, and an instruction tells you which radio button to select and tells you to then click the button. Having implemented this, I feel like I’ve returned to a little bit more clarity in terms of how I envisaged the game in the first place: a hyper-simple ‘simulation’ of doing the kinds of work that user-interfaces generically seem to represent – selecting/inputing/manipulating information on a computer. The fact that you’re told specifically which actions to carry out is part of the idea of the game being a simulation of work rather than work itself and thus, ostensibly, kind of relaxing to ‘play’ – you don’t have to actually make decisions, you just appear to be making decisions. Similarly, the interface is highly abstract (notably with a non-language for all the labelling/content) so that you also don’t have to engage with any particular forms of meaning/interpretation – you can just let the world go by as you do the right thing over and over. I did toy with the idea of having no instructions at all, so you could just do ‘whatever’, but in fact that would probably be less relaxing, because you’d have to make decisions (not to mention more boring because it would be literally meaningless).

So having made this minimal version of the game, I’m feeling a little more confident in terms of proceeding with the next steps. Next is clearly to add different possible interfaces that you could encounter (e.g. checkbox, text box, menu, slider, progress bar). After that I need to decide whether there’s any real sense to having more complex ‘compound’ interfaces with multiple elements, or whether that would actually dilute the purity of the interfaces as they stand. And then I also need to figure out whether the game ought to have some sense of progress/completion involved (e.g. points, an ending), or whether the idea is more just that it goes on indefinitely – for as long as you want to appear to be working (not unlike the ‘boss mode’ in some earlier videogames).

Anyway, it’s a testament to making a (relatively polished) mini-version of the game being a useful way of understanding what you’re doing. Rather than spinning my wheels in design and losing touch with the concrete nature of the game, making a working ‘vertical slice’ has helped recover the meaningfulness of the base interactions and thus to get some traction on the overall project.

Now don’t forget to select ▝▍▀▟▖▀▎ and then press ▚▎▗▀ before you go.

27 March 2017
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