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A Statement of Purpose
Published on September 29, 2008 By mittens In Game Developers

There are, as of my last counting, approximately a gazillion journalistic locales which offer game reviews on the internet or in print. There are not, to my knowledge, any columns which analyze a game mechanic within the context in which it appears along with detailing what is actually fun about the mechanic, and how it could be improved or exploited in the future. This particular edition of Mechanics will do none of that.

Majoring in English in college meant two things: I read a lot and I talked about what I read a lot. There is nothing more self-indulgent and pompous than a bunch of people sitting around a classroom talking about books in the setting of higher education. College students and, more to the point, English majors come up with some of the most absurd talking points based on their interpretations of a given text that it all becomes laughable at some points. I'm talking discussion matter along the lines of absurdity if I was to say that Clifford the Big Red Dog's existence merely served as a metaphor for the presence of communist Russia in the global sociopolitical scene and all of the people he comes in contact with in Norman Bridwell's line of children books are all analogous to various world political figures throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Of course such a theory is absolutely ridiculous, but when intellectuals are asked to find a deeper meaning in a classical text there are instances of such crackpot theories.

There are, however, very legitimate techniques from literary criticism (and new criticism, more specifically) that can be brought over to the gaming industry in a very loose sense. Something like intentional fallacy can be interpreted as the experience a player of a video game takes from his time with a given title that is competely separated from any intended experience on the behalf of the game developer. The concept of a close reading is a far more applicable one as far as this column is concerned: the analysis of a very specific aspect of a game that can be used as a means to enhance a gamer's or game designer's understanding of a game as a whole.

This all sounds pompous on paper and may actually be more pompous in practice but the next edition of this column will be a test in analyzing a game mechanic from a game that is popular now, popular eight years ago, or never popular. I won't be going heavy-handed down the aisle with any more literary criticism stuff in the future (unless, strangely, that kind of thing is desired) so much as I'll be talking about how a game like Braid uses time manipulation to make gamers alter their perception of what initially appeared like a very simplistic, beautiful 2D world. Or, maybe, how the cover mechanics that first-person shooter gamers have been subconsciously applying for decades works in Company of Heroes and how that will alter the future of the real-time strategy genre. More importantly, though, why are these two example designs fun? Is it because Braid makes the people who play it feel smarter? Is it because the cover mechanic offers more for an already-overwhelmed RTS player to manage?

The real goal of this column, though, is to make game developers and gamers try to think more critically about the games they play beyond the "Well, it's a seven-point-five out of ten" or "Damn, did you see that guy's leg fly past me?" reactions. Also, I'll be holding myself to a word count (!). Pinky swear.

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