Death (or lack thereof) and pushing limits in games

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October 26, 2012 by rcthames

After our discussion about dying (or not) in games at the end of class, I made the comment that one of the things games are uniquely equipped to do is to allow us to push boundaries and test limits without consequences. Of course, as Jesse rightly pointed out, this is a gross overstatement. For one thing I realize now I should have said that games allow this without final or ultimate consequences (not with no consequences whatsoever). For another, it could be argued that sports, dance, and other movement arts/activities do this as well.


That said, I do think there is something unique that many games do which is not quite the same as these other activities. These other activities pose real risk of final consequence: broken bones, pulled muscle, the messing up of a performance which cannot be undone (perhaps redone, but by necessity differently, different time, different audience, millions of tiny details altered). Granted, video games tend to favor pushing designed rather than actual limitations, and we can argue whether or not this is the same sort of thing. The situations may be more extreme in concept but they are also virtual. Then there is also the player, who is different from playthrough to playthrough even if the setup within the game is not.


Still, I think there is something to be examined in the repeatability, the lack of final consequence in many games (any that do not introduce a great degree of randomness throughout). Such games provide a unique way of exploring the question “What if?” What if can always be imagined, but I am at a loss to come up with other examples of going through the exact same situation multiple times in different ways and seeing different consequences (though I invite exploring examples if others can think of them). In this way, a large portion of the games that are out there allow exploring some of the same themes that Braid does, albeit perhaps less consciously. I’m still thinking through this as a unique (in scale if not in type) potential of games (though perhaps you might argue other computer-based interactive media do this as well), and I don’t know quite where to go with it. However, I feel it is both more accurate and less insulting to other media than “non-trivial effort,” whatever that means. I should also point out that I am more interested in the various ways games can play with this than in just using it to bracket out a definition of games.


Anyway, thought this might prompt some fruitful discussion if nothing else. Thoughts?


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