A few weeks ago… no, wait, a month or so ago me and Armand from BnB Gaming had a brief chat about Cardboard Computer’s Ruins. If you haven’t played it yet then you might want to check it out here. It probably won’t take you longer than 15 minutes. Our chat went something like…
Armand: What did you think of Ruins?
Gregg: Loved the music, liked the look, enjoyed what I witnessed of the story/narrative, got really annoyed by the actual ‘game’. The “I hope you dream of chasing rabbits” was the only thing linking the actual act of running around collecting or bumping into bunnies with the story. It was kind of clever but didn’t really enhance the experience.
Armand: It was actually in the narrative in various places, you likely missed it; every choice you make changes the direction of the info.
Gregg: I wanted to explore the narrative some more but the moving the dog around finding the bunnies just irritated me.
Armand: I hear you. It’s more like interactive fiction/prose than a game.
Gregg: I dunno, perhaps I’m being too harsh.
Armand: You can’t think of things like this and Dinner Date as traditional ‘games’ or else you are bound to be disappointed. Instead, I think you need to approach them as a story telling device that uses some gaming mechanisms to achieve its goal.
Gregg: That’s the thing though, I don’t feel like the actual game mechanics enhance the message or story though. Every Day the Same Dream is a fine example of how gameplay can feed directly into the message of the game.
Armand: How else could you deliver branching prose like this though, aside from a ‘choose your own adventure’ book.
Gregg: Ruins could very well be a multiple choice text based game. I know that would suck the visual elements from the game which set the mood, but I think Chopin’s music does that very well anyway.
Armand: But then you lose the atmosphere. The visuals are a key part of the story. I mean, you could set the mood through text, but it would be something different, very different.
Gregg: There’s nothing to say that there couldn’t be visuals, it’s just the actual running the dog around didn’t really add anything — there was just the link of chasing rabbits. It felt like an arbitrary obstacle to the story.
Armand: Without that “obstacle” though, it’s just continuous text. You have no time in between each interaction to absorb and think about what just happened. It would be reduced to something that could work on a single sheet of paper, but would also lose the contemplative element. Forcing the reader to travel between text nodes gives you a sense of being a part of it. We’ve become so accustomed to information being handed to us instantaneously, and though it has its advantages, the lack of negative space in our minds is also troubling. The entirety of human evolution has seen us having “down time” in between receiving info, giving us time to think on it. Now, everything is immediate. Our attention spans are that of a goldfish, and taking five to ten seconds watching a dog run across a dream scape seems slow and hard to sit through.
Armand: I know my views go against popular game development theory by the way.
Gregg: No absolutely, I understand what you’re saying but I don’t interpret the space or time between the rabbits as meaningful negative space. Well, it has meaning with regards to the ‘chasing rabbits’ thing but I’m not sure it made me meditate on what I’d just been reading, if anything it distracted me from it because I found it tedious. I think what I’m trying to say is that the running from rabbit to rabbit doesn’t seem like it was put there for the sole purpose of making me reflect on things.
Armand: Imagine it as a text adventure though. Question is asked. You choose a or b, then the next question, then the next choice, and so on until it’s over. Almost every player will speed through it, going from one block to the next without a single break. Forcing it on the player is something only gaming (or prerecorded video) can do. It’s a tool gaming can use to separate information that might otherwise have no divides.
Gregg: I absolutely agree with you and admire the observation. I think after playing Planescape: Torment though I can safely say that the sort of player who’d mull over things would do that without having an artificial pause put in place. I know I sat there in Ruins re-reading lines and thinking them over but then I had to return to the dog chasing rabbits to get my next bit of text. Why am I doing this? Is this supposed to be engaging?
Armand: I think it’s a part of the overarching narrative. The game is an allegory of life. We follow our lives pathways, making choices that take us down different routs. One minor choice or chance (you being the first person on Taps contact list) can lead down an entirely different life path. Along the way, we’re chasing our dreams, our desires (in the game, the girl’s pursuit of relationship fulfillment) but like dream rabbits, they are elusive, constantly moving whenever we reach them, and in the end, are never really captured.
Gregg: I think your reading is interesting but it could just be conjecture. If that was the intention then I’d like to have seen that idea explored more if only to make it more explicit. I mean, I wouldn’t want the developers smacking me in the face with it like a giant purple rubber schlong but I think sometimes reading between the lines can be a bit… I dunno, optimistic.
Armand: “the sort of player who’d mull over something would do that without having an artificial pause put in place.” That’s the thing though. Where as an older generation, one before immediate information access like we have today, might sit and contemplate. The modern, younger generation can’t be assed to write out entire words in text conversation, let alone sit long enough to contemplate what they have just heard. It leads to knee-jerk reactionary responses that rarely seem to comprehend what they read. Considering the vast majority of media now is immediate, and that it is encouraged to be that way (streamlining game design), only reinforces in my mind why we need to force breaks now, to help people learn to not expect everything immediately. The execution may not be perfect, but I think it’s loads better than just text on a page, even with pictures.
Gregg: I think those people wouldn’t touch this game with a barge pole. You can take a horse to water…
Armand: It’s a free game, some of them will at least try it out of curiosity, and maybe get caught up in the narrative.
Gregg: I’d like to think so but for me it needed more time in the oven to really bring out those nuances and subtexts you brought up. Perhaps I’ll give it another try but… chasing bunnies.
Armand: I thought it was done well. With this sort of thing, nuance is very important, and when you bring it out too much, it loses the subtlety which gives it impact.
Gregg: But then it’s lost on more people. I love subtlety but there’s a fine line between reading things that aren’t there and identifying things that are there by design. The former I really hate, mainly because at uni I did an animation short which, looking back was utterly pretentious but there was meaning in it and I stood in a presentation and explained what it all meant. I nearly failed. Another lady on my course — my arch nemesis — filmed water going down a fucking plug hole and said in her presentation “It’s open to interpretation” and she passed with rainbows, stars and miles and miles of smiles. I’m not bitter at all.
Armand: Hah hah. Yeah I can see how that would happen. If you let people interpret something for themselves, they’ll see what they want to see, often confirming their own personal biases.
Gregg: I remember reading Lord of the Flies recently and reading some thesis on it saying how the three main characters corresponded to the three different parts of the psychic apparatus, the id, the ego and the super ego. It was utterly fascinating and made so much sense, whether that’s what Willian Golding intended, i don’t know. (Ed: He did)
Armand: Crazy! I was just thinking of that book like an hour ago! Too bad Dinner Date ain’t free. It’s another example of storytelling with an interactive element. Curious what you’d think of that one.
Gregg: Definitely. And hey, you make me sound cheap.
Armand: You are cheap.
The conversation devolved into yo mama jokes after that but Armand’s full write-up can be found nestled in his near-daily Indie Fix feature over at BnB Gaming. Go and take a look around, he’s covered all sorts of interesting indie titles over there. In the meantime, what the hell do you make of all this patent nonsense?
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