I’m currently in my final semester for the Bachelor of Graphic Design degree, so I’m devoting my time to a project I haven’t discussed here so far. Now that I have something to show, though, I think it’s time to talk about it a bit. I’ll start from the very beginning: the conception of the idea.
I’ve been an avid videogamer for the best part of my life, so I can account for many hours spent in front of a screen, with a controller in my hands. One day, around two years ago, probably while playing this brilliantly elegant game called Polarium,1 I realized that I was having more fun creating levels, and making sure that they were both solvable and aesthetically attractive, rather than just playing the game proper. I found that the visual patterns created by the simple colored shapes in puzzle games like Tetris, Puyo Puyo and Puzzle Bobble could, and sometimes would, form beautiful patterns. This is, of course, where my training in design comes in; I realized that a game could be made where the objective, the very goal, was not to match shapes or make chains, but to create an interesting visual composition.
I had very little experience programming, though, so I never took it upon myself to make that game. Time passed, and one day there was a special event, hosted by a friend, called the Super Game Bakedown, that simply consisted of creating a game for the duration of a single month, in the spirit of the NaNoWriMo. I knew I couldn’t achieve such a feat, but I joined anyway, and made it my goal to finish a design document for this dream game of mine. I even added a secondary characteristic to the game, which was an idea that had intrigued me for a while: The game would not use words (or numbers) whatsoever. In the end, I didn’t even finish the design document, but I did get a clearer idea of what I wanted to, and could, achieve.
Then it was March, current year; the time when I had to find a topic for my final project. I knew that it wasn’t exactly a conventional idea for my school, especially since I wouldn’t be tackling popular issues of society or our environment, but it was still my chance to devote a year to a whim I was very interested in pursuing, so I did manage to contextualize my videogame project and make it something bigger than just a personal endeavor. I took what I had been pondering over for some time in my continued disillusionment in the what is the state of the industry and the art of videogame-making, and put it to good use. Sure, since I was a kid I played because it was fun, and that is what most people do; but as I grew up, I still loved games, but wanted more from them than primal gratification. It is the bane of an art that has not outgrown its origins as technologic entertainment, whose fundamental form of refinement has been in the chips and displays, and not on the themes, the messages, the teachings.
Society cannot seem to grasp that play is not separate from life. Johan Huizinga, the author of a book entitled Homo Ludens (from ‘ludus’: game), did, though. He realized that play permeates culture in all spheres; the only problem I see is that we don’t acknowledge it. So we live lives where there is work hours and break hours, school days and holidays, duty and fun. There should be more game to everything else in this world—and there should be more everything else to games. Games should have fun only as their byproduct, because by being engaging and interactive they’re an ideal vehicle for learning, communication, understanding, insight, experimenting, training and, well, everything. Much like good food, which is nutritious and tasty, we could be receiving so much more while we enjoy our time with games. Isn’t that the way things should be?
The videogame I am in the process of making does not attempt to bring the ultimate solution to all of our society’s problems, no. What I do want to achieve with it, though, is to push ever so slightly the limits of what a videogame can and should be, by contributing my unique experience and knowledge in the field of graphic design, and hopefully passing a bit of it over to the player. By creating a unique kind of game that does not stick to the current paradigm, I hope that I will inspire people to break more barriers and stretch the possibilities further.
In a later post I will describe with greater detail what my project consists of, and how it has progressed so far.
- Polarium is a videogame developed by Mitchell and released for the Nintendo DS. It’s an abstract puzzler whose objective is to turn every row, from a rectangular grid of white and black squares, into a single color, by means of tracing a path that flips white tiles to black, and vice versa. This simple premise, intuitive during the first few stages, gives way to mind-bending puzzles that test the player’s ability to analyze and recognize patterns. It includes a level creator. There is also a free-to-play Flash clone called Blackflip. ↩