I like games. I love games. I love ‘play’ as a concept, and as an activity that’s absolutely fundamental and necessarily integral to a meaningful life. There’s been an element of ‘play’ in everything I’ve ever done for as long as I can remember. I’ve never held a job that didn’t allow me to include ‘play’ in some manner. Even when the job was deadly serious, there was always the potential for ‘play’ in it somewhere.
So I love games — but I’m not really a gamer. Not in the modern sense of the term. I don’t spend much time playing video games, primarily because so many of them are goal-directed. Achieve this, attain that, increase in level, gain points, compete against your friends, maximize your scoring potential, win.
Don’t get me wrong. I can be ridiculously competitive in some things, and I like winning. But for the most part, it’s not what drives me. What drives me is being immersed in the experience of the game, deeply engaged in playing it. The outcome is secondary. Or even tertiary.
I’m talking about all this because I got an email from a friend who knows how I feel about play and games. The subject line of the email: Here, look at this. And the text of the email:
I downloaded this on my phone. I fucking hate it. It’s all about observation and thinking and logic and intuition and solving puzzles and the music totally fucking creeps me out. It’s everything that makes me nuts in a game. It made me think of you. You’ll love it.
And it included a link to this teaser:
So I downloaded the game to my new phone. I think it cost me two bucks. It’s the only game app I’ve put on my phone. And my friend was right. I love it.
There’s a narrative behind it, but I really don’t care (which in itself is odd, because I’m usually all about the narrative). I’ve not finished the game yet, and I’m in no hurry to do that (well, I’m in an absolute hurry to finish only in the sense that I want to keep playing; but I’m in no hurry in that I want it to last). The experience is satisfying in the way solving any puzzle is always satisfying. But the game designers understand that solving the pleasure of solving the puzzles is enhanced by the visually rich environment and the sweet and peculiarly creepy music. It’s so good that I’m parceling the game out, which seems awfully Protestant of me — like it’s a reward for doing the things I’m actually required to do. There’s apparently something to all that ‘delayed gratification’ business.
I have no idea if I’m almost done with the game, or if I’ve just begun, or if I’m somewhere near the middle. If it ends after I’ve solved the next puzzle, I’ll be disappointed. Not by the game itself, but only because it’s over.
Now I have to make myself some lunch, log in a couple hours in reviewing my students’ homework, and then back to The Room.
It’s very reminiscent of the old Myst series, with its immersive environment and leisurely puzzle solving. This sort of game design has always been considered ‘risky’ since it doesn’t appeal to the standard gamer profile; many companies aren’t willing to take the risk and let developers make these sorts of games. This sort of game does tend to appeal to “non-gamers”, and that can be an elusive, enormous untapped market that game companies talk about capturing but don’t generally have a clue about how to get.
http://www.pocketgamer.biz/r/PG.Biz/Fireproof+Studios+news/news.asp?c=52270 has an article with one of the founders of Fireproof Games talking about their independent (and mostly unheard of) approach to developing the game. It’s really rare these days for developers to have this sort of freedom to develop the kind of game they want. How refreshing. Wish it were more common.
I think you’re right — I think there IS an enormous untapped market of non-traditional gamers. It just requires non-traditional programmers and designers. And they’re a rare commodity.
No kidding. They wouldn’t be such a rare commodity if the gaming industry weren’t so exclusionary of anybody except die-hard gamer dudes and male suits running statistical analyses on the latest trends to copy. But I’m not gonna get started. Bitter, much? Just a wee tad…