Tuesday, September 2

Game Play

I'm guessing that I'm one of the few people in the world that likes this piece of jargon. It represents my central desires when engaging with games. These desires are beginning to change as others in the interwebs help me grasp a greater understanding of not only of who I am and what I believe but of what is possible.

I am an ignorant neophyte. I'm not seeking self-promotion or attention when I interact with others I seek information. I seek knowledge. I seek to compare myself understanding of the universe with others who I admire. I wish to engage in a dialogue about things that matter to me and to these others. I wish to remain a nobody (small 'n') because power corrupts, not that I know, of course.

Versus CluClu Land has educated me and I have responded honestly to Iriquois Pliskin's post on Brecht and MGS2, a post that I think lotusvine would also appreciate. He discusses player alienation and game play and I found it very interesting indeed. Play, that element of gameplay I value most has always been about a sense of exploration, joy and wonder. I test the game's rules, I explore my relationship with the game, I realise the vision of the developer and then I do what I can to make something out of it. The reasons for this are very personal and exist elsewhere on this blog (although there's more, much more that isn't here yet and may never make it here).

I turned away from MGS and from Silent Hill because my notion of play, of gameplay is naive, idealistic, even childish. The structured play proffered by these sorts of games and by games that have linear stories or little functional deviation offer little to extend my belief that games can enable me. I do enjoy many games of this ilk so I'm not completely narrow minded. The question that I ask myself is whether it is possible to forge a gameplay experience that puts the rules in the hands of the player and still be fun or more importantly meaningful.

Mornington Crescent was a game my English teacher adored when I was in High School. Wikipedia covers it's premise aptly enough and when in English class we had fun playing it. Trying to unravel its riddle. The riddle is that it is, in itself, make believe. There are no rules and the winner is the first to name Mornington Crescent on their turn. If one does not know this, then the rules are inscrutable, a humorous trick that teases the ignorant seeking of knowledge. Me. I don't know much of post modern philosophy and its role in games as art, yet. I'm hoping that Pliskin and others will help me, that they don't mind holding the figurative hand of an ignorant nobody. But I wonder if a video game can be designed around the notion of Mornington Crescent. Perhaps the player doesn't know, at first, that the answer to the game is simple, too simple. Perhaps the game leads that player on a merry chase of confusing and humorous phrases, rules, tricks and feints. Perhaps the game itself is so well crafted that it remains playable even after the player gets the "gimmick" because the game itself requires play to unravel all its variants, all its twists and all its wonders.

Wouldn't this then represent the objective vision of Brecht or Kojima without leaving me an embittered ignorant whose understanding of its greater sublime meaning is more "conventional"? I honestly don't believe developers have done anywhere near enough with game play yet, do you?


lotusvine said...

From what I recall from uni, Brecht was very much against Aristotle's view of complete immersion; of being entirely immersed in the drama to achieve catharsis. Brecht wanted viewers to engage his plays intellectually with their minds, which is what his alienation techniques were about. He didn't want to piss the theatre viewers off, so to speak, but to rather get them to think about the drama.

So, like IP suggested, let’s apply this to MGS2. Did I feel as though the game was playing with me in a kind of intellectual banter? No. Instead I was frustrated by the confused bog of a story, which was a confused narrative. Even the bits in MGS2 where the fourth wall was broken (the 'fission mailed' sequence or the bit where the codec support staff would tell you nonsense) felt more like a continuation of the same joke from MGS1 rather than something new and thoughtful. The shock bits of melodrama (Otacon being a paedophile victim) felt ludicrous, as though some desperate line had been crossed. In short, it felt like MGS1 turned up to 11, without any proper sense or graduation of tone.

The narrative was ‘stimulating’, but more in a ‘how can I sort out this confused bog of a story and have it try and make sense’. And it was a grinding, frustrated stimulation, as opposed to a something that sparked my interest. For example, I liked Raiden, but he didn’t get a proper, complete story arc – he didn’t stop being pawn during the entire adventure. Is this subverting narrative logic? Yes. Was it fun? No. Did I think it was a clever commentary on players playing games? No. I just saw it as an awkward bit of wankery; if Kojima had a statement to make, it was obscured by this dissatisfaction.

MGS4 felt more like a narrative patch as large chunks of that game were about explaining away what was really happening (or ret-conning) bits of MGS2.

Essentially, MGS2 did alienate me from the story and get me to think about the game, but at the expense of some enjoyment of gameplay.

I like following a storyline in games; I like being engaged by an effective story line. A puzzle game like the one you suggest, where you have to work out a set of invisible or perhaps non-existent rules would have to be interesting enough to keep me playing. I mean, discovering the story in portal heightened my interesting in getting through those puzzles.

nobody said...

I am surprised by your statements as I had previously thought that you admired MGS2 above all the others in that series. Your thoughts mirror my own as represented by my comments on Pliskin's blog.

I deliberately left Portal out of the discussion as I feel that it is an example of a game much like Mornington Crescent (in meaning, not gameplay). I was wondering if someone would offer it as an example. And yes, it would require a deft hand indeed. Portal suggests that such a game is possible, perhaps even under development as we write.

lotusvine said...

I still love MGS2, but not for any rational reason I can fully explain. (I was trying to be 'rational' before.) The story is a flawed, melodramatic bloated gasbag. There are some interesting ideas, like the memetic consciousness driving the world, but that didn't really go anywhere (and this was later retconned to being an AI in MGS4 or maybe it was all along, I can't tell.).

Raiden has an incredibly unsatisfying story arc. I really wanted to see something a lot better for him (and had to wait to MGS4, where he was unplayable... grr....)

MGS3 had a much better story and narrative design, but I love the flawed chunkiness of MGS2. I found Raiden's quest for the truth quite compelling, and found his betrayal by the narrative (e.g. he is a victim of the reality presented to him by the Patriots and never gets out it) quite horrifying. I also connected to him better than I did to Snake.

In my frustrated affair with trying to work out its broken narrative, I spent quite a lot of time thinking about MGS2, only to conclude it was a bit of wankery on Kojima's part. I mean, this was hard - was MGS2 a grand example of failed ambition, of postmodern storytelling before its time or a writer let loose on their favourite concepts without restraint. I think the latter now.

I still love MGS2; is it because I am attracted to broken things and not-quite-realised ambitions? Or did Kojima's Brechtian techniques so I would think about the context of the game? Because a lot of MGS4 undermined or retconned the narrative of MGS2, it's like Kojima is admitting that his original narrative was flawed and lacked meaning.

Raiden is much cuter than Snake though.