Notgames Forum

Creation => Notgames design => Topic started by: [Chris] Dale on February 04, 2013, 11:19:01 pm



Title: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: [Chris] Dale on February 04, 2013, 11:19:01 pm
I just wrote a post on my blog about the keeping on the audience's good side (http://wp.me/s38PGY-goodwill) in games and in art. I didn't delve too deeply into notgames in that post, but I certainly think it applies there as well. I concentrated in the post about how unreasonable challenges in games squandered the audience's goodwill; but I do not mean to imply that that is the only way in which a videogame can squander goodwill.

A notgame, though not bound to keep its challenges reasonable (as indeed it will have none), should still seek to respect the player's goodwill. In their thoughts on Heavy Rain (http://frictionalgames.blogspot.com/2011/11/thoughts-on-heavy-rain.html), Frictional Games mentions that determinism is essential to keeping the player in the feedback loop of immersion. I believe that this is essentially the same concept: if we want to convince the player to play our game, we need to make it as seemless for them as possible. If the consequences of their actions are unclear, it is squandering their goodwill to demand them to take action.

I think this also applies to my biggest complaint about Dear Esther, namely the feeling that some of the story is locked up, away from the player and inaccessible except through incessant replays. While Dear Esther attracts me with its atmospheric setting, excellent narration, and haunting score, it squanders my goodwill when it arbitrarily blocks off some of that narration every time I play the game.

I expect no small amount of resistance from this crowd; but I want to insist that I desire no amount of dumbing-down in the artistic quality of the output. Indeed, this idea of accessibility and goodwill seems to fit the notgames manifesto's decree of not making modern art.

Thoughts?


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: Michaël Samyn on February 05, 2013, 10:10:26 am
I don't think this is universal. It's a choice. It's a choice because there are certain advantages to stubborn, selfish creation too.

I feel I have explored very deeply and very selfishly in Bientôt l'été (http://tale-of-tales.com/bientotlete) for example. As a result, the piece is not very accessible to a large audience. But to the people who can connect to it, it offers an intensity that I don't believe a more open, "altruistic" design can ever offer.

That being said, in the next projects we will be working on at Tale of Tales, accessibility will be more important. These creations will be less self-indulgent and aim to appeal to a larger audience. I think this is important because for many people it is very difficult to connect to art. They don't have the education, they live in a non-artistic context, etc. I believe an artist can make some steps towards these people, especially when the art is made with (interactive, procedural, immersive) videogame technology.

But it's a choice. As an art appreciator I would not want to live in a world where there is only art that aims at pleasing larger groups of people. I love the smaller experiments that can touch me very deeply. And I hope humans will one day create structures in which these can thrive better than today.


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: Thomas on February 05, 2013, 09:48:36 pm
I agree to a certain extent. As Michael says, it is not universal. For instance I agree that classical adventure games can be very annoying and test the patience of the player. This is  a big reason why I have often have more fun playing them  when I am using a walk-through, which is not really optimal. On the other hand, some people actually WANT their games like this. They want to get stuck and ponder, and do not mind doing grinding brute force puzzle solving. It is even so that NOT having this sort of playstyle would going against their goodwill. I do not feel this way, and if one looks at what games are popular, I guess most people do not.

Perhaps a better way to say it so do not misuse goodwill for your intended audience. This I agree to 100%.


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: [Chris] Dale on February 06, 2013, 02:42:26 am
I guess an important addendum (that seems like kind of a copout) is that, as in all art, you know your audience.  In the end, it serves as a design prinple that should break ties or disagreements. If you're not sure about a feature, run it through that. But, as always, never truly compromise your art.

I am definitely starting to agree with Michael that certain art must, for the sake of its complex ideas, seem inacssible to many people. I wonder if it is a compromise to add a more easily digested layer.

As far as complexity goes, I might say that complexity of ideas need not be mirrored by complexity in presentation. But it seems inevitable that some level of complexity is desirable for certain messages.

One thing I can say, though, is that if the goodwill argument is a measure of general popularity, then perhaps most notgames should be developed along these lines as the medium matures and grows in popularity. The earliest films were simplistic and evolved with its audience's expectations; perhaps notgames must do the same?


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: Tyler Snell on February 06, 2013, 05:51:32 am
I guess an important addendum (that seems like kind of a copout) is that, as in all art, you know your audience.

Exactly. But I think it's just as important to remember that you choose your audience. Your audience can be as niche or as wide as you want.

In his book Sculpting in Time, Tarkovsky writes about how many hate letters he would get about his movies, and how it often made him depressed. Then sometimes he'd get letters from people who just really understand his work, people who he successfully found a connection with through his work, and that always made everything worth it. He didn't make his movies for Everyone, he made them for those people. There's a difference between intended and actual audience, but while creating it's only possible to have an intended audience.


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: Michaël Samyn on February 06, 2013, 08:18:19 am
I concur with the above.

I take issue with Chris's use of popularity to support his argument. In my experience, popularity and quality are often diametrically opposed. I do support the general sentiment. I appreciate an artist who tries to make his work as accessible and enjoyable for his audience as possible -though, as stated above, would never make that a general rule (sometimes we need to be abused a bit).

But this implies knowing who this audience is. Aiming for the masses is only one choice among many. And what is enjoyable by one audience may be annoying to another.


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: [Chris] Dale on February 06, 2013, 05:14:40 pm
Michael, I see what you mean regarding popularity. It's definitely very spurious to try to cite it as evidence that one is better than an another. In my sidequest about 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, which are films of probably comparable artistry (though, of course, one's themes are far more profound that the other's), I mention specifically that the films are recognized fairly equally by critics. I wanted to show that popularity was dependent on goodwill, not that quality was dependent on popularity.

As for the adventures/first-person-shooters, again, I love adventure games - but as Thomas observed, I usually play them with walkthroughs, which feels substandard. You can't really immerse yourself in the story when you're tabbing over to the walkthrough every twenty minutes.

One question about popularity, though: if we create art to communicate and elucidate, and we value that our art communicates to people (for whatever reason), mightn't we have moral (so to speak) obligation to reach as many people as possible? If we believe our art adds value to society, oughtn't we to strive for the greatest value possible? Or is the argument that making it accessible dumbs it down to the extent that the net value is decreased anyway?


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: Thomas on February 06, 2013, 06:49:59 pm
In many cases it I think it is a problem of depth vs breadth. The more you make sure that everybody feels comfortable in your work, the less you can really hone in on certain issues. For instance, if you have a piece of art that addresses a certain philosophy/theme/etc, then maintaining goodwill is very much depending on your audience. People have not heard of/experienced this philosophy/theme/etc before might have trouble grasping or agreeing with the basics, and you need to maintain a very casual level. But for someone into this area, the casual level is boring and shallow, and does not respect them. So I do not think it is really possible to make works of art that aim to reach everybody, without somehow loosing impact. This means that some works of art must be against the good will of most people, because it would be betraying your target audience otherwise.

This might be what you are after, but my own take on all this is to respect the time of your audience. This means that whatever I have in my game is something that I think will be a valuable addition to their lives. This is of course subjective, but I think this sort of thinking is lacking in the development of most games. Instead the mantra is to get as much as possible out of your concept. To stretch as much as is possible. This is very apparent in larger productions where the sense of the game by a product of great value trumps all else. But it is also very apparent in indie games, where you just try and make as many level as possibles. In many games, the levels are sort of like the tedious (and often educationally bad) problems you see in math books. Two pages of solving the exact same problem, over and over in different permutations. Many games are just this. It is just busy work. I think this is disrespecting the time of the audience. Jon Blow actually has a really good talk about this, where he compares this sort of design with people slowly swindling money from others, without them noticing.


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: Michaël Samyn on February 08, 2013, 07:34:03 am
I agree with both of you.  :)
The artist does have a moral obligation to reach out. Especially now, with civilization at an all time low and faced with  the destruction of the planet as a habitable environment.
But some things are just too complex, too nuanced. They can only be explored in forms that are difficult too penetrate for most.

Lately, however, because of the urgency mentioned above, I tend to regard the latter as somewhat decadent. We have some serious problems to deal with. And no time to lose. It is urgent that we get some beauty to the masses. Some is better than none.


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: Bruno de Figueiredo on February 08, 2013, 09:10:56 pm
Especially now, with civilization at an all time low and faced with  the destruction of the planet as a habitable environment.

Why now? Ever since the end of WWII we've been faced with that prospect: if not the a-bomb, then the h-bomb; if not a gap in the ozone layer, then a great new ice age; if not some incurable strain of influenza, then the perils of global warming. Oh well...


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: Michaël Samyn on February 09, 2013, 07:13:27 am
Because it seems to me that humans now don't have the desire to save themselves. They are not even properly afraid. They lack the capacity to even imagine an alternative world. I think many believe we have achieved the closest thing to Utopia. Nothing should change. Nothing can change. We are the end point of history.


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: Michaël Samyn on February 09, 2013, 07:46:03 am
The modern West has always pushed through under the motto "Freedom or death". And now it seems we are accepting death, since we can't have the kind of freedom anymore that we have always had.


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: Bruno de Figueiredo on February 09, 2013, 02:12:24 pm
That word, "now" - there it is again. What freedom do you speak of and when was it ever known to our society in any period in history? Ours is a civilization erected on the scarred backs of slavery, and yet those subjected to that social order opted for a life of unending pain instead of death. For the farmer working the fields of his feudal master, conformity with unreasonable and humiliating imperatives was also preferred to death. Were they idealists too, did they wish for change? Were they realists and chose simply to act accordingly without fantasizing about change? Were they defeatists, knowing not once the meaning of the word hope in their entire lives? Were they, perhaps, like many of us now, fatalist about the times they lived in? Yes, our ancestors were all this and more.

Technology has changed the face of the world, brought new ways to manage and keep the grieving at bay, though without ever solving it completely; it also introduced new exceptions to the old rules, new statutes even and, accordingly, very profound cultural mutations. But the condition of the human being in itself has not changed as drastically as many would believe, in fact we appear to cling to faith and ideals as a method of self-defense more than ever before in history: we're in a permanent dream state wherein we fail to acknowledge reality and how little we have improved since those days we're only too happy to deem remote. Ours has been a long walk, no doubt, but that does not ensure distance.

Embracing this permanent illusion could also be considered another expression of a desire to live, but that is too intricate a subject to be properly discussed herein.


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: Michaël Samyn on February 11, 2013, 09:05:27 am
I think you underestimate how far I've traveled, Bruno. But that is understandable in this context.

The things that never change don't inspire me much. And I am suspicious of all axioms. I am far more interested in the particular, in how things never really are the same. If only because the perceived lack of changes causes even more stagnation.


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: axcho on February 14, 2013, 01:29:49 am
The artist does have a moral obligation to reach out. Especially now, with civilization at an all time low and faced with  the destruction of the planet as a habitable environment.
But some things are just too complex, too nuanced. They can only be explored in forms that are difficult too penetrate for most.

Lately, however, because of the urgency mentioned above, I tend to regard the latter as somewhat decadent. We have some serious problems to deal with. And no time to lose. It is urgent that we get some beauty to the masses. Some is better than none.

This is the source of my urgency as well. :) Aside from my own lifetime ticking away...


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: Bruno de Figueiredo on February 14, 2013, 04:07:13 pm
I think you underestimate how far I've traveled, Bruno. But that is understandable in this context.


You have your reasons for saying what you say, I'm only interested in knowing them in greater detail, bearing in mind the parallels and asymmetries which bring us closer, and at the same time set us apart from our ancestors - I say it since this question is indissociable from its own historic essence, as I'm sure you would agree.

Since History and Psychology - and how they intermingle - are my own fields of expertise, I'd certainly benefit from hearing different points of view other than those I already know. I don't underestimate your acquired wisdom. When I put any reasoning to question is because I'm already willing to accept it as being potentially relevant or ultimately truthful.

So what is it about our times that makes you state that we're - by we I take it you mean Western society - more unwilling to fight back than before? Have we grown too reliant on the comforts that economy and technology provide us? Is it a deformity, an outcome of the profound changes witnessed in education and cultural formation? As I said before, being pessimistic and fatalist about contemporaneity is one of the few aspects of cultural history that truly does repeat with each generation. To wit, I once again ask you to remember Yeats' poem from Ceremony of Innocence, written nearly a full century ago.


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: God at play on February 14, 2013, 10:33:07 pm
To get back on topic, I just came across an awesome description of how Portal delivered its story (http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2013/02/14/cara-vs-crysis-3-was-never-a-fair-fight/):

Quote
Look at that game affectionately known as Portal plants you into an easy to understand situation that immediately compels you to explore – and to escape. It then proceeds to tell you a more detailed story gradually through every facet of its environment – level design, audio, decals on the walls, even the glimpses of Chell’s body via a portal. Because the information comes in small doses, you have time to let it dissolve slowly in your mouth like a really piquant cola cube. Sometimes at night I would dream of those brand new sugary doses of story scrawled on the wall of a test chamber.

One idea Ryan and I are exploring in That Dragon, Cancer (http://thatdragoncancer.com) is the idea of using accessibility as a challenge axis itself. As you go, you essentially teach the audience to deal with more and more challenging content. At that point, you can essentially apply all the usual tools of building a difficulty ramp.


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: axcho on February 15, 2013, 01:31:00 am
One idea Ryan and I are exploring in That Dragon, Cancer (http://thatdragoncancer.com) is the idea of using accessibility as a challenge axis itself. As you go, you essentially teach the audience to deal with more and more challenging content. At that point, you can essentially apply all the usual tools of building a difficulty ramp.

Ha, great idea! :D I'm really curious to see if it works out. Also, your project looks really intriguing! Is that all development art from the game? I can definitely see the Geo A Day influence. :)


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: Jeroen D. Stout on February 15, 2013, 02:15:50 pm
Portal's story is about as involved as a ballet's story. I think it clever but it remains a simple seasoning to the puzzles... what the Portal storytelling is celebrated for is nothing new to any other form of art :)

I think there is a fallacy in expecting content creators to not make things too difficult and get the 'full' audience - there is no full audience. I think all art lives in a context within which there are certain expectations and demands. If I read a  mystery novel by Wilkie Collins I expect the plot to be thin and the characters thick; if I read a novel by Hugo I expect (by now) essays and moralism. You could say that Hugo 'squanders' my goodwill and investment in the characters, but that would be only if I was ignorant of the school Hugo comes from.

The original 'side-quest' (why you would name it that I cannot begin to phantom) giving a 'lesson' to earn the trust unlike 2001 is just hypothetical audience reading. What does it matter what some aggregated average percentage thinks? Popularity is no measurement of value or success. I can appreciate 2001 for how it runs - you do not have to 'earn my trust'.

As to whether we not ought to reach as many people as possible - no, we ought no such thing. You could, but I would prefer my audience to be educated in the same matters as I and enjoy matters in that way. I do not see the audience as some large ocean - it is a series of lakes, rivers and ponds. One can choose which pond one belongs to - but there is no meaningful 'mass' to which you could appeal. Mass audience Hollywood productions, for instance, do not appeal to anybody in my own circles. It is a lie that my circles would somehow not be as validating as the (non-existing) general audience.

EDIT: Perhaps my point is that any thought hinging on 'the audience' without defining the audience is a fallacy.


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: Michaël Samyn on February 16, 2013, 09:28:32 am
So what is it about our times that makes you state that we're - by we I take it you mean Western society - more unwilling to fight back than before? Have we grown too reliant on the comforts that economy and technology provide us? Is it a deformity, an outcome of the profound changes witnessed in education and cultural formation? As I said before, being pessimistic and fatalist about contemporaneity is one of the few aspects of cultural history that truly does repeat with each generation. To wit, I once again ask you to remember Yeats' poem from Ceremony of Innocence, written nearly a full century ago.

This is a very long discussion that we should have some time, elsewhere.

But please note that my sentiments are all but pessimistic. Perhaps the problems I see are of all times. But I believe something can be done. I do not merely lament. I identify where things are wrong and devise of methods to correct them.

Truth is irrelevant here. Faith is what matters. And the outcome of our actions.


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: Michaël Samyn on February 16, 2013, 09:45:01 am
Popularity is no measurement of value or success.

I absolutely agree. Popularity is not my motivation to reach a wider audience (this very forum is testament to the fact that I feel most comfortable in relative obscurity). It is kindness.

I am frustrated by the fact that so many people find my work difficult to penetrate. I want to give them the kind of joy that I feel when playing my games. And I think I can, by working harder and avoiding difficulty as much as possible. I don't have a big message. I just want to give beauty.

Perhaps my point is that any thought hinging on 'the audience' without defining the audience is a fallacy.

There is a political dimension to this for me. In terms of the urgency mentioned above, the ultimate audience is people who have the power to change the world. It is their good-will that needs to be generated (or supported or encouraged). In our current social constructions this happens under pressure from the masses: an idea, a feeling, a hope needs to spread over many to allow/force those in power to make the right decisions.

And since the most problematic issue that I perceive is a lack of willingness (not a lack of inventiveness or ideology), beauty is the most perfect persuader. Because the experience of beauty makes people kinder.


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: Bruno de Figueiredo on February 17, 2013, 12:17:31 pm

Truth is irrelevant here. Faith is what matters. And the outcome of our actions.

I thought as much, Michaël. And if I may add, faith is underrated too often, and has been for too long.


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: [Chris] Dale on February 17, 2013, 04:33:30 pm
EDIT: Perhaps my point is that any thought hinging on 'the audience' without defining the audience is a fallacy.

I think is a very good point, Mr Stout. My intention here was to say something along these lines: "If we are attempting to change gaming, then our primary audience either a) likes games and doesn't have a good idea of art or b) likes art but is suspicious of games." (For what it's worth, I think we have to reach audience a before we can even touch audience b (just like what happened in comics)). Making the kind of games we do for the audience that already cares about those games has resulted in a community roughly this size. If we care at all for the community or the style to grow, we need to be inclusive.

I'm not saying the artist should compromise their output. In my own experience, I'd say an artist has a few different ideas at one time. It may simply be more practical to produce the simpler ideas first, and subsequently the more complex ones. Our audience, mostly, I consider to be gamers who are resistent to being told that what they currently like isn't artistic enough. So when Dear Esther or Amnesia: The Dark Descent comes out, it's wildly popular because it's friendly to its origins. When something like Bientot L'ete comes out, they feel threatened and react in the ridiculously antagonist way Michael reported in another thread. Yes, it's immature. But I think there's something to be said for winning them over.

Like Michael said, it's about kindness. I'm not saying we should sell out our integrity for popularity; I'm saying that we should try to persuade people to our side gently.

I've been reading the essay you recommended on your tumblr, Mr Stout, about building literary taste. The author says many people try to read the classics and find them dry. The point he makes is that they simply aren't ready to read the classics. When he begins the reader on his path to understanding, he chooses Charles Lamb for starts because "[h]e is a great writer, wide in his appeal, of a highly sympathetic temperament; and his finest achievements are simple and very short." In the absence of a wide library of great notgames of varying complexity, it is my humble suggestion that we strive, for the time being, to emulate Charles Lamb. The time for James Joyce is later.


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: Bruno de Figueiredo on February 17, 2013, 09:36:07 pm

Perhaps my point is that any thought hinging on 'the audience' without defining the audience is a fallacy.

Remarkably put, Jeroen.


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: God at play on February 18, 2013, 08:20:27 pm
In the absence of a wide library of great notgames of varying complexity, it is my humble suggestion that we strive, for the time being, to emulate Charles Lamb. The time for James Joyce is later.

And that is a great explanation for why we're using "content" as a difficulty ramp.


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: Jeroen D. Stout on February 24, 2013, 11:17:32 pm
Mr Dale,

I have thought about your point of 'easing' people into games. I found it hard to respond to because it is part of the 'great struggle' I have in me about this exact point. At one end, I took time to read, sometimes in the way of the essay forcing myself to read, in order to know something. I studied some philosophy, some art history, know a little about musical notation, make certain I go to concerts... this gives me a body of knowledge which I never find enough. I would even say I am far below the level that I would consider 'normal'. At the other end, we are facing an audience which has (by large) not made the investment but is very acquainted with another side of culture, one in which I am not and never will be at home; and producing work in this medium means (by large) engaging that audience.

To me it feels that to produce great works, one should have an audience that is far superior to what constitutes my own present knowledge. John Donne, for instance, writes absolutely staggering poems (when in a good mood) that I with effort on my side can understand; though never as well as a contemporary with a proper classical education (I do not even read Latin, &c.). I could write in his style and (when in a good mood) do attempt to. When showing the poems to others I realize they are struggling with them in the same way I struggle with Donne; we are ill-prepared to read the metaphysical conceits as humorous and instead expect 'shallow' metaphors. (This is not to say my poems are also simply not good enough.) But I feel that expectation is a fault easily remedied; we simply need to read more poetry of a different order.

What I am perturbed and conflicted by is this:

Were I a poet, I would want nothing less than to study and write at Donne's level. I know times have changed and tastes have changed with them, but like many artists I can look back to different times (be they Classical, Medieval, Renaissance, Modern) and know that my work, when viewed in that context, can have merit and can be something of Value in a sense that is more than mere taste. So at heart I feel myself a 'struggling artist' who is in the wrong time for the work he adores most. I would be willing to thin my wine with water if that means I can reach a better audience; perhaps grow them with me.

However, what you suggest (and nobly so, in many ways) is not for me to write as an easy Donne. What you suggest is that we all make games far below Donne's level. It will be as-if Donne never existed and we will have to re-invent culture from scratch. It practically infuriates me when bad poetry appears in games and is 'acceptable' because apparently games exist in the universe in which the metaphysical poets never existed; or bad 'concept-art' is lauded while it is only okay because in the game bubble Vermeer never existed. Games have a lot of new components (because playground games and sport could never compare to Rayman) but act as-if all components are new. They are not. Every game lends from things but often refuses to acknowledge this or learn from it. I know there are opposite cases but I rarely find a case where it is more than an exception in the context of games.

So what you suggest probably is wise from many points of view. But at the same time I literally find the idea of making games culturally easy a retarded approach. You are ignoring the culture which already exists because it is new to game culture. But I do not even like game culture. I am not sure I am the person to gently nudge people in the right direction if I cannot be at home in game culture. I want to be the person who strides forwards and innovates, not a food processing unit. I would like to be the Lamb of games, yes, but for an audience that knows Lamb already. I do not want to be the Lamb that makes Lamb easy for non-readers.

Of course you are far more nuanced than I might make you sound; but this is my inner conflict. Because for me, making games at Lamb's level does not mean the actual level of Lamb. We should be easy in terms of learning games (as Michaël often writes) but people can already read Lamb. We should not lower ourselves and teach an audience what other media already have 'learning curves' for.

Perhaps I am outdated in my beliefs but an audience should educate itself for art, not be educated by the art. The essay I summarize precisely puts that the reader should start with Lamb in order to move on; games should be the product of 'existing games' + 'a world in which Lamb is read', not 'existing games' + 'something that in 50 years will re-evolve Lamb'.

And yet I know you are right in many ways. Hence my inner conflict.

(I actually quite liked Lamb and must confess myself a liker of what often is considered simpler authors, especially late at night.)


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: Michaël Samyn on February 25, 2013, 07:31:35 am
I agree with you,  Jeroen,  but I believe you underestimate the problem.  I do not see  this issue of lack of culture as limited to games. I see it everywhere. It's a problem that runs deep in our societies and I believe this lack of culture is at the root of many other serious threats to civilisation (the rise of populism,  fundamentalism and the extreme right,  the conquest of capitalism,  even as it is crumbling,  the destruction of the environment,  etc).

That being said,  I don't think all artists should suddenly start appealing to the masses.  A good mix is always preferable.  I wouldn't mind if mass entertainment improved a notch or two. But I also delight in deeply lived through and sincere work,  without which there's not much point to culture anyway.


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: [Chris] Dale on February 26, 2013, 01:55:24 am
Mr Stout:

Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I should hardly have hoped to disagree with a more civil person. And indeed, there is much credit to your point. It seems the worst form of pandering to disregard all the learning you have done in your own life so as not to frighten the uncultured; I am the first to agree that the artist's first duty is to their message. Here one treads close to label sell-out, rightly considered a stigma. In your response, however, I imagine you have hit on quite the point:
Quote from: Jeroen D. Stout
Were I a poet, I would want nothing less than to study and write at Donne's level.

And indeed, Mr. Stout, were you a poet, it would right and proper to do so. Poetry has had their Donne, and all his predecessors, and successors. The baby steps have been taken, and you may leap-frog along the path to any degree you see fit — but, with due respect and in at least this context, you are not a poet. Though one may easily say that Donne has existed, and his ideas may taken from the culture at will, it seems inconsistent with the evolution of art.

The 20th century has brought us three bold new forms of narrative art — the film, the comic, and the videogame, in approximately that order. These media evolved from having simple tales to increasingly more complex ones. Film came of age in '20s; comics came of age in the '80s; and videogames are coming of age before our very eyes.

The question is not one of the complexity of ideas. Ideas float around in the cultural ether, to be used at will in any medium. The question is one of our understanding of the capabilities of the artform — of the expectations we have about the medium.

For example, the early silent film Fire! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fire!_(1901_film)) has an odd chronology. It shows the building catch fire from the outside, its occupants flee in a panic, and the fire brigade arrives. Subsequently, it shows the occupants inside, when the fire starts, and fleeing. Finally, it shows the fire brigade hanging around in their station and being alerted to the fire.

This unconventional narration isn't framed out of some Tarantino-esque desire to subvert the storytelling paradigm. The film is told this way because it was essentially the first film to tie together different narrative threads in this manner. It didn't know how to handle the chronology! Something that took our conventional intercutting chronology as read, and played games with our expectations (like, for instance, Memento), wouldn't have made sense to the audience of 1901. Memento would be subverting an expectation that didn't even exist. But Jonathan Nolan's short story, "Memento Mori", which his brother Chris adapted for the film, would have been very comprehensible to a discerning 1901 reader. Indeed, experimenting with nonlinear storytelling in literature was beginning already in late 19th century. The conventions of chronology in literature existed, and could be toyed with. Not so with film.

But maybe someone in 1901 would have gotten it. Maybe they knew intuitively what would be happening with chronology in film, and they desired to make a film that played with those expectations as they saw them. I want to make films on the level of Woolf!, they declare. They procure their funding, somehow, and a few out-of-work theater actors, and shoot their masterpiece. Upon release, critics — if any such existed in 1901 — pan it as incomprehensible. But later, in the 1950s, their work would be hailed as ahead of its time!

What could this mean? It means that its creator had advanced into further expectations than their audience — even a film-literate audience — might have had. The film had to wait for the rest of film to catch up — for a whole slew conventional, linear films to firmly establish conventions and expectations.

And here we are. We have thought hard about what we enjoy in the videogames we play, and we find ourselves with a different set of expectations than the rest of the culture. Perhaps, if we have our way, we will later be hailed as ahead of our time.

There is nothing inherently bad bad about choosing to make our games at the level of Woolf or Donne. But it should be understood that those games will not be received outside the philosophical confines represented by this forum. There is a formal constraint on us, Mr. Stout; it is not sufficient that we desire to play games that evoke the complicated poetry we so admire, even if every other gamer knew this poetry well. The conventions of gaming are not where we need them to be to establish such complicated projects in a widely-comprehensible way. If we skip too many steps, we alienate people who took different branches.

Where this all brings me is this: we are not ignoring Donne. We are merely acknowledging that videogames right now, as a medium, as a culture, isn't ready for him. If he were alive today, right now, and his poetry well-regarded, and he made videogames of comparable depth and complexity — well, it is likely he'd be having this same conversation, right here, right now.

Your idea "'existing games' + 'a world in which Lamb is read'" supposes too much — not because Lamb is not read; it would suppose too much even if he were. For even if he were, one could not translate an essay by Lamb into a videogame. Lamb was a writer — drawing no pictures and creating no music; Lamb's use of language is too nuanced, his craft too exact. It used the tools and conventions of a 2000-year-old tradition of writing. The foundation of videogame expectations is, right now, not as high as the foundation of literature when Lamb was writing. The only way to create a videogame of such complexity as Lamb is to build it out of sand. The state of the art, in its very original sense, is not yet there.

In a way, Lamb's existence can be taken to aid your game — if you make a game that plays very much like a normal game but seems like an essay by Lamb, it will probably be well-received. Hence the relative success of Dear Esther: expectations for walking and listening in videogames are well-entrenched. But if we desire, as we seem to, to revolutionize the very form of gaming, our ideas will be constrained by the formal conventions of the medium, which have yet to be established in our favor. We must seek to lay a path, stone by stone, from where we are to what we see. Indeed, if we do not, it is possible that no one will.

However, Mr. Stout, if you like, you can be our beacon instead of our foreman.


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: axcho on February 26, 2013, 06:38:00 pm
Well stated, Dale. :)


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: [Chris] Dale on February 26, 2013, 09:10:00 pm
Well stated, Dale. :)

Thank you, axcho, for both kindnesses :)


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: Tyler Snell on February 26, 2013, 11:13:59 pm
For example, the early silent film Fire! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fire!_(1901_film)) has an odd chronology. It shows the building catch fire from the outside, its occupants flee in a panic, and the fire brigade arrives. Subsequently, it shows the occupants inside, when the fire starts, and fleeing. Finally, it shows the fire brigade hanging around in their station and being alerted to the fire.

Did you mean a different film? I just watched Fire! and it makes perfect chronological sense. Policeman finds a building on fire, runs and tells the fire brigade, they rush to the fire and save the people inside.
It's viewable here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPylDE7Rc-I

Even assuming you're mistaking it for a different film, it makes no sense to me that someone could not understand how to chronologically link a narrative with thousands of years narrative art before them. Unless they simply ignored it, as I believe Jeroen was getting at. Sure, Fire! isn't nearly as good of a narrative as, say, The Heart of Darkness, which came out at about the same time, and I understand what you're saying there. But I think the medium is more mature than you give it credit. Going from a purely chronological standpoint (although I believe it's a fallacy to do so as this ignores the broader historical context), more complex (narratively or otherwise) video games have been around for what, about thirty years now? Thirty years after Fire! you have filmmakers such as Buñuel and Cocteau. And sure Memento might not have worked in 1901, but Un Chien Andalou, which I think is a far more advanced film than Memento, would probably have worked just as well as it did in the 30s.


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: [Chris] Dale on February 27, 2013, 02:18:46 am
Mr Snell, you are correct. I meant a different film; I knew when I looked up Fire! on the Wikipedia I should make sure and watch it to make sure it was the same one. Apparently it was not the film I saw, and I apologize! I shall seek to find the film I meant and post it soon.

And the idea is not that they did not know how to make a chronological narrative. The idea is that, at the time, the idea of showing, for instance, the fire start inside, followed by a shot of the fire outside, followed by another shot of the characters inside, had not yet been established as a convention. He had footage of the inside on a strip of 35, and the way the director chose to combine with the footage of the exterior was simply to concatenate the two reels. This was, I argue, simply because the more complicated convention hadn't been established.

I thought about discussing Un Chien Andalou in the original post; I decided against it for two reasons: one, I had not seen it (I since have); two, I knew that Memento was on point. I wouldn't say that Memento was a more complex film than Un Chien Andalou; Nolan is not nearly that good of a director. I chose Memento because it directly related to my point about chronology; Un Chien Andalou does not. I also doubt that Un Chien Andalou could be understood as well by its 1929 audience as by a 1901 audience, but I cannot argue that here.

Furthermore, while Un Chien Andalou certainly bears a complicated message (if it could be said to bear one at all), it is, formally, very conventional for a silent film of the period. There is none of the flaunting of convention present in the French New Wave; there is no reversal of expectations as in A Movie By Bruce Conner; and there is no wild challenge to the very nature of film present in Mothlight.

Un Chien Andalou is, in effect, a surrealist painting that you watch like a normal (albeit well-done) silent film. This is rather like the idea of the Charles Lamb essay that plays like a normal game. But we here are not seeking merely to change the content of games, a task to which gaming has been equal ever since Two played Tennis. We wish to change the very form of gaming itself. Certainly there is groundwork to lay; if there we not, there would be nothing to change!


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: [Chris] Dale on February 27, 2013, 06:44:47 am
I must apologize for my poor journalism; there is no excuse for it. The film I meant to refer is Life of an American Fireman (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_of_an_American_Fireman), from 1903, not 1901. I watched it for real this time; both versions, linked below. I must admit that even the correct film does not exactly match the description I have given.

However, the history of this film still serves my point. The film's rescue scene was cut together from two shots -- one from the inside, and one from the outside. This technique that we take for more than granted today was hailed as revolutionary in this film...until it was discovered that the film was probably re-cut an unknown time after its release. They determined that the 1903 original (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4C0gJ7BnLc) showed the rescue from start-to-finish twice, from two different camera angles. Not only was this curious organization simply the result of no established alternatives, but also the faked, cross-cutting film (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSAikQzcUTs) was legitimately thought of as innovative.


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: Michaël Samyn on March 03, 2013, 08:37:11 am
I can agree that it would be wise to introduce the audience to our ideas gently,  with pieces that are not too extreme - although I don't think this is a universal requirement: I want to see more extreme pieces too, there's far too few of those either.

But we should be careful not to conclude from this that our work should be more game-like. Games are an ancient form that is only tied to videogames as a medium by historic coincidence. While humans certainly enjoy games, I don't believe this is why they are attracted to videogames. We need to exploit the unique qualities of videogames.

To ease a larger audience into this work, we can use things they are already familiar with in videogames. But there's many such things that have nothing to do with formal games. Dear Esther is a good example: it uses controls and aesthetics that are familiar to many gamers, but have nothing to do with goals, rules, rewards, etc.

We should make compromises with the elements in videogames that serve our purpose, not with the ones that defeat this purpose. I believe there is a great medium hidden inside of videogames. We only need to peel away the game layer to allow it to bloom. And I believe there are ways of doing this so that existing gamers still enjoy the work,  without even noticing that "it's not a game".


Title: Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
Post by: axcho on March 04, 2013, 02:03:14 am
I can agree that it would be wise to introduce the audience to our ideas gently,  with pieces that are not too extreme - although I don't think this is a universal requirement: I want to see more extreme pieces too, there's far too few of those either.

But we should be careful not to conclude from this that our work should be more game-like. Games are an ancient form that is only tied to videogames as a medium by historic coincidence. While humans certainly enjoy games, I don't believe this is why they are attracted to videogames. We need to exploit the unique qualities of videogames.

To ease a larger audience into this work, we can use things they are already familiar with in videogames. But there's many such things that have nothing to do with formal games. Dear Esther is a good example: it uses controls and aesthetics that are familiar to many gamers, but have nothing to do with goals, rules, rewards, etc.

We should make compromises with the elements in videogames that serve our purpose, not with the ones that defeat this purpose. I believe there is a great medium hidden inside of videogames. We only need to peel away the game layer to allow it to bloom. And I believe there are ways of doing this so that existing gamers still enjoy the work,  without even noticing that "it's not a game".

Yes, I agree. Thank you for the reminder. :)