In my article From Nothing: Why It’s Okay to Question Everything (Especially Metal Gear Games) I discussed the fact that games are contrived experiences, planned out by a game designer in order to create an illusion and guide the players along an enjoyable path. My thinking was that games are designed with an end in mind, and that the work of creating the game essentially boils down to manipulating the player into taking the next necessary step.
Well, recently I watched this video, in which Jonathon Blow (creator of Braid and The Witness) confirms that many games are indeed designed this way. However, he argues it doesn’t need to be that way, and in fact limits the potential hidden inside “systems” of the game. Systems, he says, can easily be greater than their creators’ ambitions, and answer our simple questions with something profound. It’s the responsibility of game designers to allow these systems to reveal “truth”. He analyzes a hypothetical game premise: generic men shooting each other with rocket launchers. He steadily deconstructs the systems behind that concept until it reveals the more fascinating aspects: fast objects overtaking slow objects; the nature of first person views; and parallaxing. In the end, the setting and theme of the game becomes a side consideration, and the systems are free to be explored more deeply.
It’s a fascinating insight into the importance of designer-as-explorer, as opposed to designer-as-contriver. The game development community is stuck in a swamp of contrivances, when they could be taming the frontiers of interwoven systems.
What this means, to me, is that there are certainly different types of game design philosophies, and we should be careful to acknowledge them in our discussions. I want to thank Jonathon Blow for articulating the other side of the coin.