Art Games and Boredom

I’ve been thinking more about the concept of the “fun” that my group talked about in class.  Patrick mentioned how the universal perception of what “fun” should look like, sound like, etc. has naturalized a single prototype of video games as the ideal form for the entire industry.  Is what we consider fun conditioned by a simulacrum of fun that gets manufactured somewhere in the interstitial spaces between the realistically radically different individual perspectives on fun? 

Since it’s supposed to be the case that “gaming” is what we do to relieve ourselves from the stress of “working,” gaming should inherently strive to be “fun,” right? And that supposedly means that the most statistically popular games share the most characteristics with the simulacrum of the ideal form of the “fun” game.  Some of the properties of the so-called “fun” games share, as we discussed in class include spectacular visuals, immersive experience characterized by perspective-based control, and narrative with a clear objective.

 Specifically, the goal-oriented aspect of mainstream games is challenged in the art games that we played for class.  Some contemporary examples of video games focus on the experiential aspect of gameplay, as opposed to putting the entire emphasis on competing towards a singular objective.  In fact, more than a few games deliberately and overtly obscure what, if any, the player is working towards, and makes statement out of it.

The experience of playing Between, for example, did not involve any kind of dramatic emotional rollercoaster riding towards pre-determined climactic moments, but rather, was an experience in itself.  The lack of a explicitly designated endpoint, or a presence of a very murky one at best, forced me to make decisions in the present moment for their own sakes rather than deliberate a future moment which may-or-may-not exist.  The prospect of not having a satisfying finale perhaps fulfills exactly the expectations for the antithesis of the conventional “fun” in video games.  Lack of objective also connotes a lack of consistent validation or approval, which conventionally encourages and fuels the player through some of the less “fun” parts of “fun” games, and without any of that, the game is essentially empty of “fun.”

 So why are we drawn to these games that are not “fun”? I am not returning to Heidegger’s notion of “profound boredom” now.  I spent a lot of time not doing anything, or, waiting while playing Between, both because I literally did not know how to proceed but also as a strategic tool, and those in between moments of silence and stillness began to dominate my gameplay experience, more so than the actual kinetic, active moments.  As opposed to in my experience playing spectacle-based, fast-paced RPG games, where I am busy making sense of the myriad of events exploding in your face at any given moment, I was doing a lot more internalizing of what was going on, as if my digestion of the game was as much the part of the gaming experience as the game itself.  It’s as if we are taking the “grinding” moments in traditional RPG games and expanding that into its own universe, and enhancing it, as the “grinding” moments at least have some kind of ulterior purpose in RPG games.

 A particularly impactful example of a “boring” art game, I think, is “Everyday the same dream” (http://www.molleindustria.org/everydaythesamedream/everydaythesamedream.html).  The graphic design of the game is very simple and basic, and so are the game play controls and the progression.  In this specific case, the inanity of the gaming experience marvelously mirrors its subject matter of the repetitive and droning routine of a modern working person.  Going through the routine within the diegetic world of the game over and over again without encountering any surprises or changes for a long while, I was being evoked the similar sentiments of frustration that I feel in my own real life routine.  At that point, I realized that I kept on playing the game as opposed to quitting it not to be thrilled or laugh, but to interrogate my own bodily experience in reality.

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