Serious Play August 7, 2019

In the room: Nathan Humpal (playing), Kelly Brajevich, Josh Rivers, Thomas Malaby; online: Serious_Play, GameScholar, ludologue, and one other.

It’s August and the academics are warming up for the start of seminar season three weeks hence. Quite the session this was, covering open-world architectures, languages, code, the economics of magic, endings, the tension between skill and story, and through it all:


Nathan was nominally playing Witcher III, but the game was at this point almost entirely background. Our Witcher-guy did a lot of power-jogging through the main town, elbowing hoi polloi right and left. I kept expecting the groundlings to scatter as soon as the Dude came in view. The medieval urban realism is impressive, but we can still run up against a wall with our legs cartoon-pumping. Hello Uncanny Valley.

But you know, background. Only a game. Might as well be a pinball machine. Or think of Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and that fence. “Hey Tom, can I watch you play ‘Fence Painter IV?'” The fence is le necessaire pour la conversation, one says in bad French. It’s an occasion.

Still, we worry about choosing a game that will produce Good Streaming, whatever we mean by that. Should it be a game with strong week-to-week continuity? With lots of detail for commentary? With convenient pause-points?

IMHO, maybe the game is less important than the conversation? To recur to Twain: fence is a fence, but a smart con job is American Literature.

Josh Rivers noticed that he plays differently for an audience than he does solo, where (he says) he’s more inclined to stand around, admiring the environment, listening to the music or soundtrack. I recall feeling this way about Bioshock Infinite. The first levels are exquisite, partly because of the architecture, mainly because of all that high-altitude lighting (as if you could take a stroll through the clouds at 30,000 feet). If only they could have kept the writers out of it. But of course, I am recently back from Wandering Games, a lovely conference on walking sims. Writers are allowed only if they can tell a story without weapons.

Yooka-Laylee presented itself in the midst of this discussion, so that’s on the agenda for the next two Zones.

Play on.


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