Friday, January 11, 2013

Nightmare Mode is the shit, just about

Here's a fantastic essay that Dylan Holmes wrote for Nightmare Mode about Dear Esther, accessibility in games, and the isolation that one feels as a gamer. It resonated with me on a couple of levels.

The first thing that resonated with me was his necessary defense of Dear Esther. It really irks me it when people dismiss certain forms of interactive entertainment entirely just because it doesn't fit the conventional definition - it's a pointless act of destruction, a cultural murder of sorts. Games like Dear Esther, The Path, and other games without traditional interactive elements or challenge-reward are dismissed by gamers and developers for not meeting their narrow definition of games, and they for some reason they feel as though they need to protest when such games are given media attention or nominated for Independent Game Festival awards.

Why do people feel so compelled to knock these games down? If you don't want to play them, just leave the poor things alone and let the rest of us enjoy them, please. All you're doing is prolonging the inevitable evolution of the medium into maturation. People are finally figuring out that we can do more things with computer code and motion graphics than raid dungeons and win deathmatches, and nothing's going to stop that. If you're content with traditional hack-n-slashes and first-person-shooters, don't worry- they aren't going anywhere, trust me. They're here to stay. So please, let us create and play our "notgames," "artgames", "interactive narratives," or whatever the hell they're being called these days in peace, and maybe if you keep an open mind and shed your expectations of what a game is you might find that you enjoy them. By excluding and dismissing experimental games, you're doing nobody a favor. The debates about whether games are art or what constitutes a game are nothing but outlets for pointless and self-destructive in-fighting. Every game has an audience; don't deny that audience what they desire.

The next thing that resonated was the isolation that he felt as a gamer. I'm certainly well familiar with this both as gamer and developer- I try to explain my passion to middle-aged non-gamers, and none of them really get it. Out of all of the people in that demographic, only one asked to see one of my games. So, I played through the first couple screens of Waker for him. As I made the avatar walk across the screen, he remarked that it reminded him of Super Mario Bros. It seemed like a strange comparison to me, but given his limited exposure, it was likely the only one he could make. Once I demonstrated a couple of conversations with non-player characters, I think he started to understand much more clearly what it is that I'm actually trying to do with the medium. After the demonstration, I talked about my story-first approach to games and my dissatisfaction with the OU Game Developer's Association. He remarked to my mother afterward, "hey, did you know that your son went to game clubs, and ended up quitting because it was too mainstream for him?" He ended up understanding better than most, but it was still a rudimentary understanding. Most non-gamers (and most gamers, for that matter) I talk to tend to have a "oh, well, that's nice" attitude to the conversation and don't really listen to what I try to say.

Then there's the alienation that I receive from mainstream gamers and conservative developers, but I will refrain from writing about that out of fear of using the phrase "alienation from the mainstream" one more time and fully descending into hipsterdom. Anyway, I honestly can't think of a good way to conclude this blog post or bring it all together, but the essay that Holmes wrote was refreshing and served as a great vehicle for me to get a few things off of my chest. Did I mention that I love Nightmare Mode? Because I do.

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