Beyond the edge of the screen

Illustration by Bec Todd

Illustration by Bec Todd www.bectodd.com

Here in 2011, say the word ‘game’ to people and it’s likely they’ll imagine some sort of digital and screen based experience. Whether it’s someone playing an Xbox or PlayStation game curled up on their couch, or a quick burst of Angry Birds on public transport, games have come into their cultural own through the mix of technology and art that have given us videogames.

This screen-centric view of the world is perhaps not that surprising when you look at the world that videogames were born into; one where film and television were the dominant entertainment industry on the planet  and one in which many contemporary game creators grew up.

With both of those things as constant pressure, is it any wonder that we frequently hear of games trying to be interactive movies or cinematic? Is it any wonder that when some filmmakers turn to critique games, they say that games can’t tell stories therefore are inherently a less worthy?

Telling stories is worthwhile, but if we use that as the benchmark for what is and isn’t worth creating, then we’re missing out on a whole range of human expression that doesn’t tell stories, and doesn’t feel the need to either.

Theatre, dance, music, visual art, and literature, all have a lot to teach us about how to create unique game experiences, as well as connect to our audiences in ways that building on a screen-driven or cinematic way of thinking can’t.  For example, a piece of theatre can construct its own internal grammar through the layout of the space, the sense of the abstract versus the concrete, the way it works to draw attention towards points of interest while never being able to entirely control the audience, and the way it engages with the audience’s imagination to fill in blanks deliberately left in the production. Dance is very much about form, about through the action and reaction to musical stimuli, and using physicality to express emotion and experience. It is about space and movement rather than about narrative or story. Music is about repetition, rhythm, assonance and dissonance, about expectation and harmony. Visual art is about form and composition, about scale and colour, about texture, and line and shape. Then, finally there is Literature which has long upheld the techniques of metaphor and structure.

The wonderful thing about all of the above is that videogames are at a point where they can draw from all of them, creating a whole world beyond cinema that’s just begging to be explored. New technology such as motion control lets us borrow from physical art-forms like dance; touch input lets as draw from tactile art forms like sculpture or painting; a leap back to older adventure games lets us exploit the metaphorical strengths of literature while creating contemporary experiences; pervasive and physical, almost theatrical, game design uncovers fascinating mixes of rules and fictions that draw players into real world interactions with powerful consequences.

It’s an exciting time to be a game developer. There are free middleware and tool solutions, tutorials and assets online, but most importantly a worldwide audience looking for unique and captivating experiences. Looking beyond the edge of the screen is one way of finding out what those experiences might look like.

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