It is as if you were back to work

Over the past few days I’ve been successfully getting back to work on It is as if you were doing work. The joke probably writes itself there, but frankly it’s too hot in the apartment to really dwell on it.

I wrote a little while back about how freeing myself from the initial aesthetic of the game had really opened up my ability to think about the game again (Aesthetics Considered Harmful). You can see in the above image that I’ve restyled the game to use a kind of throw-back/retro aesthetic referencing Windows 95. Importantly it’s a formal aesthetic that, to me at least, cries out “this is work!” and that’s a key component of the experience the game it trying to deliver. Work needs to look like work.

At this point I have a prototype able to generate dialog boxes (in that style) which contain a random set of interface elements (sliders, progress bars, radio buttons, etc.) and instructions on what to do with them. As I’ve been working on this more procedural aspect of the game (or its ‘interactive aesthetic’ or whatever) I’ve of course run into other, different issues and roadblocks. Notably, there has been a desire to make the game be… like a game.

But ‘some games are better without gameplay’… or at least they’re better without ‘game-y play’? In constructing this game which is about feeling like you’re working, it seems to me that making it more game-like (in the conventional sense) naturally draws the player away from the sensation of ‘work’ (albeit that playing games frequently feels like labour, etc.). I was coming up with ideas like little popups telling you you made money each time you click an interface element (correctly), or dialog boxes that move around on the screen as you try to use them, or highly complicated/obfuscatory instructions for what to do in a dialog box. Those are all pretty fun things that would make for a more entertaining game and there’s nothing wrong with them, but they’re still wrong for this particular game with this particular experience in mind.

It’s back to that idea of a ‘ground truth’ of design that I think about sometimes. You need to really know what the underlying premise/experience of the thing you’re making is, because literally every single decision you make at every level of design and implementation tends to either serve or betray it. Moving dialog boxes are almost objectively hilarious, but they don’t serve a ground truth of feeling like you’re doing work, because that’s not what it looks like when you’re doing work. And of course I could spin some narrative reason why work-of-the-future involves moving dialog boxes, but it’s not especially plausible. (Though now I think about it, in a simulation of work, why not have added challenge element? I think because the idea here is also to feel comfortable and competent, rather than challenged.)

So in reconnecting with the ground truth(s) of It is as if you were doing work it’s been easier and easier to make the decisions I need to make moving forward. Whether or not it will end up as a ‘good game’ is entirely debatable, but it will at the very least serve the idea I started making it for in the first place.

10 June 2017
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