Strange Games

When people start arguing about the correct use of technical terms, my mind begins to wander, and when improvisers start doing it, I immediately head to the bar.

However, here’s a quote that adds to the intrigue and mystery of that hotly debated term “game”:

Objectively, what I do is strange, in the sense that if you looked at it and wrote a description of it — the themes and the setting and the time period — it would come across as rather strange. But probably no stranger than a lot of games. Assassin’s Creed is really strange in its own way. Games generally are strange, let alone all the indie games, which are really strange.

Games are strange because we don’t know what the form is yet. We’re just figuring that out as we go along.

Ken Levine, writing about Bioshock Infinite

My experience of computer games is extremely limited. It ended more than twenty years ago with my completion of Jet Set Willy II. The strangeness of that game went far beyond its visual inventiveness. There was, above all, an overarching atmosphere of uncanny unreality, a Lynchian menace in its endless succession of rooms.

I wonder if similar sensations aren’t inherent in all games. The push towards three-dimensional naturalism in today’s computer games, made possible by advanced processing power, will always be offset by the intrigue and strangeness that inevitably accompanies interactions between the conscious protagonist and the arbitrary unconscious of the game. I’m even inclined to suppose that when games find their form, they stop being interesting.

(My favourite games at the moment are Backgammon and Schnapsen, both of which feature uncanny and bizarre coincidences and reversals of fate, as well as strict yet unusual rules.)

The “one strange thing” is sometimes cited as the kicking-off point for the “game of the scene”. Any such incongruity or abusrdity can be exploited magnificently for comedic effect, but strangeness needn’t be restricted to comedy. Anything that grabs our attention, that alarms or upsets us, makes us joyful or nauseous or horny or regretful: these emotional surprises open up a world full of rooms to be explored, items to be collected, and intrigues to be shared.

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