So I ran across a very interesting game the other day on youtube. I only watched an LP of it but I may buy it myself soon (that is i my dinky computer can handle it, which I doubt) because besides it's story being amusing it's gameplay actually looks really really interesting, even if it seems sort of short. I think there is something that is sort of interesting that the game touches on, maybe even unintentionally, that it never really to my knowledge addresses completely.
So first of all, I am going to be mentioning some spoilers for the game. Nothing really groundbreakingly major I think but still, if you care about that sort of thing, well spoiler warring and such.
So okay. This game, it's about running around a unfinished gameworld being worked on by feuding developers that just cannot seem to get along. There are three developers that tend to show up as the main stars of the show, while most of the others just seem to show up in backstory lore (in the form of developer changelogs and commentary on the unfinished world). It is noticeable to me that none of these three main developers really seem to actually care that much about the game it's self, or even understand what a game is and what it's for.
First we have the head designer (voiced by Dr Venture of all people), who acts as the game's writer. He only really cares about the story, to the point where he is actively hostile to the players. Early in the game he decides they are entitled kill-crazy jerks who when given a weapon would just run around and kill all his carefully made NPCs. So he takes away their weapon. Despite the fact most of the game was designed with combat in mind (you never do get it back, but though shenanigans find another power that is actually a lot more interesting then using a weapon anyway).
Next there is the cynical second in command that has no choice but to follow the head designer's lead even though she hates it, but can't quit due to shady cooperate dealings. She actively hates all the story focus and wants more combat and killing things. She seems to be on the side of gameplay, but I think it becomes obvious she just wants something to master. She even goes on this long story about cavemen (or woman, whatever) called "Frag" and "Brag" that seems to really drive the point about how she views games as pure competition and sport.
Then there is the fan intern that flatters her way into the head designer's good graces and ends up doing a lot of the work. All she really cares about though is nostalgia, and resurrecting the past. In fact it becomes more and more obvious that her dedication to the past is much stronger then her dedication to the present. Her focus is on the exact set of symbols she remembers and the emotional responses they trigger.
It strikes me that none of these developers seem to have a clue about what games are actually about. To me, games are and always have been about the manipulation of data within a set of rules. To me it's always been just the pure joy of figuring out and using systems. Exploring them, exploiting them, figuring out how they work. Bit like programing I guess, or even life it's self, but maybe with more strict rules and a bit of story for context, just enough to make you want to work to something and to let the world you are exploring come alive beyond pure gameplay mechanics.
Ironically this is something that the real game (not the fake in-universe game) actually seems to do pretty well, at least for the main chunk of it's gameplay. It offers a simple, but pretty deep, mechanic and allows you to solve puzzles various ways with it. I hesitate to spoil the actual mechanic, but if you wanna know:
Thing is, I am not sure i that was an idea that the game's story ever really picked up on, or i they just threw a interesting mechanic to keep people interested and drive off the "not a game" crowd. There is a lot of interesting if heavyhanded commentary, and several long speeches, about games and why people play them and why and how they are made and so on and so forth, but I didn't see anything about this, at least not directly. It even, at parts, pokes at the old idea that video games are just escapism, which always rubbed me the wrong way, but I don't think it was supporting that view and instead using it as another example of how the head designer just doesn't get players.
I always thought games were important. All fiction is of course, beyond escapism. It communicates and discusses ideas, sets up scenarios, allows hypothetical to be explored. This is an important function of thought, one we need more they people are willing to admit it seems in our day to day lives. And games are one level beyond even fiction. They allow us to explore abstract models and conceptions, and allow a nuanced way to see how some choices will play out in an abstract setting. Escapism may happen sure, but people uses stories and games to enhance their minds, making them more effective for decision making in the real world as well.
I guess I am rambling at this point but those are just the thoughts this game brought out of me. Lots of games do that. I think it's a good thing, it means the time invested in the medium is worth it. You know just the other day, I was thinking of making a blog entry about how I sometimes think I should just leave gaming. When gaming news depresses me I think that sometimes. But it's still worth it, and I find examples why all the time. :3
(Also: Fun fact: The game's name seems to be a pun on this which is kinda like a gaming version of the forth wall. Clever!)