Few days ago I was talking to one of my co-workers in my day job about a GTA San Andreas reference and as he described what he did in the game, more specifically how he played the game. He said he walked around, shot people and stole cars like there was nothing else to it. He said that to prove to me that he really played the game. I got intrigued. GTA was always considered a violent game, therefore rated M. San Andreas was rated AO due to the Hot Coffee "bug". But this rating is only about how explicit the game is. Not about how deep it can explore human nature. It intrigued me because he could not see past the actions themselves or the message they conveyed. He did not see through the character`s eyes, he just used the character as a virtual scapegoat.
Before the pitchforks are risen, I acknowledge that GTA has artistic meaning and have already written about it in another blog. I`ll translate when I can and post here, but feel free to use translation tools at your own discretion. And there are games that can deliver meaning through gameplay only, like Limbo. There are games that are helping this cause, I just want to raise awareness to this issue.
You see, children play any king of games not looking for any meaning on what they are doing. They are just learning how the world works, and how they can interact with it. Adults already have a pretty good idea on how the world works and how they can interact with it. They usually are looking for the reasons why the world is the way it is or other moral dilemmas. Artistic expression is about presenting a meaning though a point of view, and while strictly fun gameplay is fine and should have it`s place, I think we should practice imbuing more meaning in the mechanics we develop. Making our games mature not only in rating but also in message. Take our medium to the next level of expression and explore it`s true potential.
I do not have a magic spell to do this. The best way I found to do this is to try to predict what the players will feel at certain situations and how they will react to the options they`re given. It helps to have a message you want to discuss. Games allow for a discussion between the players and the designers. Through the game players can show if the message designers intended is what he believes or not and them the game may adapt to that. And this is not about just moral choices or dialog trees. This is about allowing defeat to not be the end of the gameplay. Allowing out of the box thinking. More than creating corridors, giving the player a tool-belt to shape a world, that no matter how small and unbelievable it is, can still be defined as a world.
Of course there are those days were all you want is play something to forget your troubled day, or surpass a great challenge, but we should look into the meaning of the actions we make available in our designs. This is part of a great personal quest to rely on combat as little as possible in my games. There is so much more we can do to have fun. We can build as Minecraft showed us, we can explore as in The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion and we can thrive just like Simcity made us do.