implicit messages, metaphors, and fishs

Added a new element to the game: jumping fish! They jump up from the bottom of the screen, and they bounce whenever you tap them. Three taps, and they give you POINTS. Mmmhmm.


I’ve been facing a bit of a dilemma lately. It relates to the nature of the player’s interactions. I’m a pretty firm believer in simplicity when it comes to game mechanics. I would much prefer a single idea that is developed thoroughly, rather than several ideas that are halfway implemented. However, if I were to reduce this rappelling game to a single element (jumping), that also effectively reduces the range of interactions to good collisions and bad collisions.

From a development standpoint, that’s not a bad place to be. Video game history is rich with games based around good collisions and bad collisions. Where it becomes problematic is when you’re choosing your metaphors. Because throughout most of game development history, good collisions are represented as collecting resources, and bad collisions are represented as physical harm. With those metaphors, the implicit message about that gaming universe (and, by extension, reality) is that everything around us is either trying to kill us, or it’s there for us to take and possess. And despite the cuteness of your sprites or the bounciness of your music, that message is extremely dark.

In reality, there is a huge range of possible interactions a person can have with the world around them. You can feed animals, grow plants, high-five your neighbor, whatever. It’s not always about survival or hoarding resources. Those are very visceral constructs, and maybe that accounts for their popularity in the medium. But sometimes I wonder if we desensitize the player by constantly throwing them into life-and-death struggles (the same way that film desensitizes viewers by constantly bombarding them with endless gunfights and collapsing buildings).

All that is to say, I think that these simple touch interactions (which aren’t part of the main jumping mechanic) enrich the metaphorical soil of the game. I also think they send an implicit message about the game’s fictional world: some beings want to hurt you, some beings are just there to flop around and wink at you. I like that message, but I worry that I’m weakening the game’s overall effectiveness by focusing on more than one mechanic.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been turning over in my head while I’ve been working on the interactive elements of the game. I have no idea if the fish is there to stay. But for now, I’m enjoying the silliness of trying to keep it in the air.

Posted: May 8th, 2015
Categories: Bloggin', Games
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