Transcending the Interactive Conscious Gamer

October 9, 2008

This happens often playing games, where the player goes into a Zen state unaware of his actual presence while still functioning in the game world. It is a phrase 2K Boston Associate Producer Shawn Elliott refers to as savant gamers. In this particular example he is making reference to these genius FPS players that go into an almost automaton-mechanical state while playing games. People do this in WoW when their mind seems to shut off but yet they still can grind and raid.

But I do not want to have these players come off as brain-dead zombies that repeatedly perform the same robotic tasks. FPS players, in fact, actively function while playing in this state knowing how to implement patterns of movement, aim, strategy, and even teamwork. Outside the genre, a similar state-of-mind occurs in many synesthesias games and two stick shooters: Rez, Everyday Shooter, Geometry Wars, fl0w, and most recently PixelJunk Eden.

Games like Rez have, to an extend, unfairly been giving the burden of being examples of video games as art. This is easily attributed to the fact that it offers a passive experience similar to that of the spectator in cinema while retaining the players interactivity. I would disagree, however, because watching films can be an extremely active and intellectual experience. Rez, with its marraige of music and imagery is more similar to visual art than cinema. There’s a compelling quality that
attracts the player graphical nirvana on screen aligned with its audio experience as well.

fl0w is peculariar title because its notorious nature as a non-game among the gaming community. But as an interactive experience, there is an enormous sense of play with the controls, art, and loose objective of its design. While a game like Everyday Shooter is a visual and music experience in addition to being a classic two-stick shooter, fl0w runs almost like the classic arcade game Caterpillar, except the presence of score or clear cut level divisions. But the serene experience that fl0w provides is similar to the games I have mentioned before where the player will lose themselves conciously in the immersion this world.

And it is the world that sets these games apart from the kinds of experiences FPS, RPG, and Adventure games often provide. It is the fact that these are abstract worlds that provide little resemblance to reality. Especially Everyday Shooter and Geometry Wars which are merely shapes on a plane. These experience revert back to the days of the arcade, where abstraction was enough for games. One could say, that this unconcious experience is the foundation of what video games attempt to achieve from the player. But simply labeling these games as retro or nostalgiac debases the these games offer uniquely different experiences. The comparison of Everyday Shooter to Geometry Wars only reaches the surface. Anyone who has played both know that one cannot replace the other.

My latest addiction has been PixelJunk Eden where I can play for 30 minutes at a time unaware with the extent of time that has passed. It is a transcendent experience that not only contains this Zen quality, but also a quality that the previous games I mentioned have. It is the compelling sense of rewards and progression completely based off aesthetic. I want to continue because the next level provides an experience that is completely new yet familiar. It is the newness of the design and art, but the same unconcious interactivity that is relaxing and invigorating. It is an out-of-body experience of goes beyond the interactivity of the game. Like looking forever into a painting and understandings its aura beyond its visual appeal. It is an indescribable euphoria of being present and absent simultaniously that mediums, other than games, rarely can achieve.


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