You mentioned a cathedral. Sometimes the visual communication in games is less about communicating meaning, and more about communicating aesthetics, or information. Even though it's such a visual medium. Do you have any thoughts on why?
AH: That's interesting.
MS: I think one of the problems when addressing this issue is that we're dealing with a lot of engineers in this industry, or people with an engineering -- or sort of a more scientific -- mindset.
And when you talk about expressing meaning, they often take that a little bit too literal. [laughs] As in language -- I have an idea, and I tell this idea to you. That's not really what happens in a lot of art. It's often a lot more intuitive, and artists play with the aesthetics. They don't know exactly what this message is.
AH: There's a lot more ambiguity.
MS: Maybe they're making the painting because they want to find out what this feeling is that they have. And I do see that happening in games. There's a bunch of artists working in games, and they're not talking to the game designer or to the programmer, and they're just doing their own thing.
AH: But I think also the deal with games is it's not a visual medium. I mean, it's multimedia, to use a '90s word for it. So the visuals are not really the most important thing. And sometimes you see games that are an overweight of visual sensation to the detriment of, perhaps, the sound design, or the dialogue. I mean, how much bad voice acting have you seen in a really beautifully visually crafted game? So, you need all these things to work together, and to be brought up to the same level, and to support each other, I think.
MS: This is where the cathedral is a good example, because it's architecture, but also painting and sculpture.
AH: And sound and atmosphere.
MS: Theatre also. All these things come together.
AH: And I think that it helps if game developers think about all of these elements together, and don't sacrifice on the words that are being said. It's like you've got these characters that look great, but when they open their mouths, they sound like California surfers in armor or something. [laughs] You're just like, "Why did they write this? What are they saying?" Or the type of atmosphere that is created by the words or the music -- it's like, all these things support the visuals, and the visuals support the rest of it.
Aesthetics needs to be looked at as a larger area -- not just visuals. Personally, we think that aesthetics extend to the interactions that you do, like the way that you interact with the world, and the way the characters interact with you.
Do you think they need to look at it more holistically -- is what you're saying?
AH: Yeah. That's what I'm saying. Exactly what I'm saying.
When you talk about the aesthetics of gameplay, it's not an immediately comfortable concept. People don't think of gameplay as having an aesthetic.
AH: In fact, control schemes are taken for granted. I mean, most games are AWSD with the mouse, or something like that.
MS: They're taken for granted, but within very strict limitations. Like, you can't really experiment with that. So, if you deviate from the convention, players will respond, "Oh, that's bad!" Try doing AWSD, and change it to AZWD or something. People would freak out! And I would call that an aesthetic assessment, actually. Aesthetic appreciation is also about recognition...
AH: In a sense, that's what's kind of cool about new control schemes like the Wii or Kinect, or something like that, or the Move. You get to start over. There's not this convention in your way, so you can think about how the characters interact with you, how you interact with the environment, in a different way, finally. So, it's not all this weight of convention. And so then that's when your interactivity can become aesthetic, when you make the interactivity suit your world, suit the thing that you're making, and can make that, also, part of the expression of what you're working on.
MS: I really think game designers put a lot of effort in making the controls feel nice. Feeling nice is aesthetics. But I think they do it just for that purpose, and I think that's where, sort of, there's something lacking for me, where you could use these aesthetics to put other types of emotions than just "it feels nice."
AH: I guess that's what they were trying to do with games like Heavy Rain. This is kind of what we're talking about, when we mean aesthetics of interaction.
MS: That's definitely an experiment in that direction. I'm not exactly sure if it's a successful one...
AH: But I enjoy the effort. That it's an attempt at an aesthetic in interactivity.