Making the game that doesn’t exist

November 11, 2009

Changing Pic 2nd rolloverI’ve made two books, loads of websites, several magazines and a couple of podcasts. It’s been a sequence of interesting rooms and I’ve picked up essential pieces of equipment on the way… but the neon arrows are pointing at a new door, now. Because there’s something I’ve never done but have been thinking about for a while. My first book was based on one of my websites, the second is half-way to being a game (as you probably know if you’re here) – and for all its terrifying strangeness, the idea of making an actual computer game feels like the natural next step. I can see why Douglas Adams was attracted by the prospect too. It seems like it could be tremendously creative.

To my – maybe naive – eyes, there are other obvious attractions. The industry is enormous. There might be money available… and unfortunately money has to be a consideration. In spite of my on-paper achievements (hmm), I’ve had very little luck persuading anyone to give me any money to do their bidding for the best part of this year. It’s hard times for anyone, but those of us who tread more esoteric paths do continual battle against the army of sensibly qualified socially-functional superstars. An exciting battle, often, but a hungry one too. So with nothing to lose, I am pushed and happily pulled into a new project. And I thought I’d write thoughts on it all here, in the interest of our Big Brother age, work-for-you transparency and because I’ve realised that if I don’t have an (even imaginary) audience hanging on my words I find it very hard to motivate myself to get anything thought, let alone done. In this echo-chamber of my head.

One of my favourite ideas from my old jokes website worryfriends.com is “Use the comments section on someone else’s blog to start your own parasitical meta-blog”. Something I actually did, on Lily Allen’s Myspace blog for a while. There was another one about clicking on links to find they just opened a large, picture version of the words you just clicked on.

This is the stuff that interests me. For all our excitement about its possibilities, we are incredibly obedient on the internet. It says something that the odd cheeky rickroll is still considered slightly outrageous – its abberant mischief still capable of drawing a tut, and unmatched before or since. We label our Facebook friends accurately in their photos when it would be easier and far funnier not to. Despite the irresistable camouflage of bit.ly and tinyurls, we always link politely to what we say we’re linking to. It’s as though we have consensually agreed not to dick people around. But – and let’s face it, I’ve always been like this – to me, dicking people around is the funniest, most exciting thing it’s possible to do. Gently annoying people. Surprising them. Drawing attention to the assumptions they didn’t even know they had. And that thrill of not knowing how they’ll react.

So. What if there was a game that encouraged misbehaviour and abuse – isn’t that, after all, what playing is? Misuse? Adaptation? Improvisation? I am continually struck by how game-like the internet is. It’s a Chock-a-block-like wall of exciting buttons and devices. Infinite things to be pressed and fiddled, a Faraway Tree icecreamload of fun to be loaded into our eyes. So why don’t we play with it? We use it like a book, a newspaper, a film or a chat. We synthesise and abstract what we already have, and the machinery is being smoothed away to make way for a virtual reality – a reality with a wider, but thinner a horizon. We can have the pictures and sounds of anything we want, but hold nothing in our hands. The blocks themselves are gone. And in Chock-a-block, the chunky, satisfying, Yorkie-bar like nuggets of information, so reassuringly postable, were the best bit – weren’t they?

So I posit this. A funhouse-like game that looks and works sort of like the internet, but goes against all your expectations and encourages you to abuse it. It isn’t beautiful; there are no rendered landscapes or fictive worlds to explore. It’s a modern MUD, with pictures and conversations. It doesn’t try to simulate anything from the real world at all (other than the internet itself) so the effect is spare, patchwork and as unpredictable as a topple down a magic rabbit hole. If there are other players, you might talk to them along the way. There are things to be done and built, sketches to be encountered, encounters to be sketched.

I’d like to do a game that makes people imagine, and most of all shows its workings. In our fascination with reproducing the superficial features of reality, we forget what its skeleton looks like, and if you don’t know what’s going on underneath the skin you’ll draw a very poor portrait indeed. I think we need to see the bones again. Chock-a-girl checking out.

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6 Responses to “Making the game that doesn’t exist”

  1. Peter Says:

    It’s Google’s fault. Before Google the Internet was a large ill-formed mess with chaos around every corner. Now you can type the name of the thing you’re interested in and Google delivers it. What about Alta “random factor” Vista, or spending hours delving deeper and deeper into the bowels (literally, sometimes) of yet another hierarchically organised oracle time cave? What about them?

    Animated GIFs!

  2. James Adam Says:

    I’m reminded somewhat of ‘Nomic’, and specifically the developer versions of it (http://www.nomic.net/~nomicwiki/index.php/NomicOnRails) wherein you can alter the structure of the game in order to win. In fact, that *is* the game.

    Obviously it’s appeal is limited to those who might be able to program, but I feel like it’s somewhat similar in spirit.


  3. […] Making the game that doesn’t exist « Enemy of Chaos Play a Game with Mundane Imagination « The Usable Learning Blog Bunchberry & Fern: Simple but no simpler GCM #04 flip thru on Vimeo http://del.icio.us/russelldavies#2009-11-11 November 12th, 2009 […]

  4. enemyofchaos Says:

    Interesting. I was thinking about it more yesterday and something I forgot to mention was – it’s about accidents. The internet can replicate all the looks an feels of reality but not the accidents and surprises. Everything’s so fucking obedient these days.


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