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Persuasive Games: Videogame Vignette


February 12, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3
 

The jerky eye movement required to scan the screen for the appearance of the next letter in sequence likewise betrays the calm, slow movements of comforting a child. The literary aphorism "write what you know" is surely overused, but one wonders if these budding student developers have any firsthand experience rocking a child to sleep.

Taking a lesson from Cisneros, vignettes in any medium become most powerful when they bring out the subtlety and distinctiveness of individual experiences.

Several structural elements that bookend the game further spoil the its vignetted style. The first is the tutorial, a short level the player must pass successfully before beginning the game in earnest. The fictional context for the mechanic is only introduced after this tutorial, and the mechanic is hard to perform accurately at first, making the experience feel arbitrary.

The second is the game's concluding statement. Video games about difficult or controversial topics run the risk of drawing criticism for their concept alone, even if the execution is thoughtful and sensitive. A disclaimer of sorts appears at the end of a successful run of Hush. It is respectful and thoughtful, anticipating possible objections to the very concept of a game that addresses the Rwandan genocide.

I appreciate why creators wanted to hedge a bit here, but doing so at the end of the game rather than the beginning does little framing work for the video game illiterates who really need it.

Moreso, the disclaimer offers an unnecessary explanation of an experience that needs to stand on its own for its full aesthetic power to come to bear. Perhaps if it read like epigraph rather than moral this textual punctuation would integrate with the rest of the game more fluidly.

But perhaps the most bothersome structural sabotage is wrought by the splash and end screens that USC appears to demand its students include in their work. The film-credit style announcement "USC Interactive Media Presents" that begins the game is contradictory to the vignette.

The overt copyright notice and both USC and GarageGames logos that precedes these credits infects the game with an unwelcome foregrounding of the legal moil surrounding students' rights to the work they create at universities.

These lessons issue a challenge for future vignette-styled video games. The vignette, it would seem, runs somewhat contrary to the conventions of high-polish user-centered production.

The cinematically-influenced splash screen, the process of slowly introducing game mechanics, and even the commercial packaging of video games as commodities risk overpowering the delicate aesthetic of the vignette. This is a powerful representational mode for computational expression, but one whose mastery lies in the future.


Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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