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The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames

The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
« 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 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, 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?
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"Wonder had gone away, and he had forgotten that all life is only a set of pictures in the brain, among which there is no difference betwixt those born of real things and those born of inward dreamings, and no cause to value the one above the other."
--H.P. Lovecraft

Call me Dale Smiley
Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
« Reply #1 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 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.
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Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
« Reply #2 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%.
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Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
« Reply #3 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?
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"Wonder had gone away, and he had forgotten that all life is only a set of pictures in the brain, among which there is no difference betwixt those born of real things and those born of inward dreamings, and no cause to value the one above the other."
--H.P. Lovecraft

Call me Dale Smiley
Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
« Reply #4 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.
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Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
« Reply #5 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.
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Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
« Reply #6 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?
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"Wonder had gone away, and he had forgotten that all life is only a set of pictures in the brain, among which there is no difference betwixt those born of real things and those born of inward dreamings, and no cause to value the one above the other."
--H.P. Lovecraft

Call me Dale Smiley
Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
« Reply #7 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.
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Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
« Reply #8 on: February 08, 2013, 07:34:03 am »

I agree with both of you.  Smiley
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.
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Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
« Reply #9 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...
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Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
« Reply #10 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.
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Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
« Reply #11 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.
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Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
« Reply #12 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.
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Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
« Reply #13 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.
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Re: The Audience's Goodwill in Notgames
« Reply #14 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. Smiley Aside from my own lifetime ticking away...
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