domingo, 29 de maio de 2016

Context and intertextuality in games

A game, as any media in the contemporary times, needs a context to happen. One important thing in this scenario is to understand the player as the co-author of the narrative. Different players with different motivations will experience one game in different ways, and so it is in the movies, books, theater, comics etc. It’s very naïve to suppose that one game will be interpreted and reinterpreted in an equal way for different people.

On the other hand, one powerful tool to contextualize a game for an audience (or many audiences) is the intertext. Sometimes, the using of specific references from other fields like literature, cinema or even other games could be very useful to create a dialogue with the players.

This way, if we want “to make sense of digital games, we must determine in which context they are supposed to make sense and in what way this meaning changes if they are removed from this context. For example, many games manufactured today are meant to make sense within the cultural context of Western society. Games such as America’s Army or Conflict: Desert Storm is likely to be understood differently when played by an American or an Iraqi, respectively. From the perspective of literary studies, however, it is more interesting to focus on a game’s contexts in a more literal sense, that is, the texts that the game in question refers to explicitly or implicitly. These contexts, often called intertexts, are not limited to literary texts, but might also include legal, scholarly and journalistic texts as well as films, song lyrics, urban legends and myths”. (RUTTER; BRYCE, 2006, p.105)

To talk about context and intertext, I want to present three excellent and distinct examples from different fields: one small tale, one short comics strip and one mobile game.

1) The first example comes from literature and it’s the short tale “A Woman Alone with Her Soul”* by Thomas Bailey Aldrich:

A woman is sitting alone in a house. She knows she is alone in the whole world: every other living thing is dead. The doorbell rings”.

This is an incredible exercise of imagination, context and references/intertexts. Are we talking about a nuclear holocaust? Is it a futuristic tale in a distant future or is it a story about the dead knocking on the woman’s door? The brilliant thing in this example is: there’s no right answer. Each person, with his or her references, will find one different explanation for this situation.

2) The second example is this very clever comic strip by J.C. Duffy . Starting from the same idea from “A Woman Alone with Her Soul”, Duffy presents us an absurd and comical situation where the character Jim receives a letter from someone (or something) inside his closet.

Once more, we are confronted with the exercise of context and intertext. Who sent this letter? Is it a creature? Is the closet a portal to another dimension? Is someone from the future trying to contact Jim in the present and the closet is the link between them? Every single person, with his or her knowledge, will tell a different theory for this funny situation.

3) The third example for this post is the mobile game DEVICE 6. We’ve already talked about this awesome game, but it fits perfectly in this discussion. Check the trailer below:

The game explains little or nothing about what is happening to the character you command. You wake up in a strange room full of enigmas and your mission is to solve them. But, as in Aldrich’s tale and Duffy’s comics, the player is called to use his or her imagination. Each enigma solved presents only little information and – strategically – the game authors invite the players to fill in the blanks and explore the references behind the narrative. Once again: the context will generate different experiences and some players could search for references from other fields embedded in the gaming narrative.

The intertwining of games and literary theory is a thought-provoking subject. We will discuss more about this theme in a near future.



RUTTER, Jason; BRYCE, Jo. Understanding digital games. London: Sage, 2006.

*Reproduced from the entry in The Book of Fantasy, which reproduces it from Aldrich's Works, Vol. 9, which was published in 1912.

quinta-feira, 19 de maio de 2016


Cengage Learning has just launched my new book in Brazil, today. GAME CULTURA: COMUNICAÇÃO, ENTRETENIMENTO E EDUCAÇÃO (GAMING CULTURE: COMMUNICATION, ENTERTAINMENT AND EDUCATION) is a study addressing educational aspects, narratives, questions and marketing strategies involving games. The final words were written by Uruguayan game designer and researcher Gonzalo Frasca (¡Gracias!, @frascafrasca!).



segunda-feira, 16 de maio de 2016

Missile Command: a game design class in Atari platform

I have played many Atari games in the last weeks. From time to time, I have this nostalgic feeling and I start to remember the good old classics from my childhood. In these “archeological sessions”, I once again played this masterpiece: Missile Command. Well, this one has special importance for me because it’s the very first game that I have ever played in Atari and I can perfectly remember the experience.

Missile Command is a class in game design. Seriously. Everybody that is developing or researching games must, at least one time, play this Atari title. The interface is very simple, but the idea is elegant and instigating: you are in the control of a defense tower and must destroy waves of missiles to protect six cities. The game goes like this: you need to move a crosshair across the screen to launch a counter-missile from the appropriate battery. Before continue the reading, take some minutes to watch the gameplay below and play the game in this online version (click here).

Missile Command
offers some excellent points to discuss the game designing process. Let’s put them in a short list to dwell over:

1) Minimalistic design: with a few pixels is possible to create an instigating gameplay (the game’s cover tells the narrative to the player).

2) Procedural information: stage after stage the missiles become faster. It’s important to understand the patterns of the game to launch the counter-missile in the right place.

3) Elegant game mechanics: point, click and destroy. As simple as that. Missile Command has one interesting and inspiring mechanism. We can reimagine this process in lots of other situations (specially for mobile platforms).

4) Infinite gameplay: Missile Command has no end. You play it until all cities are destroyed. It’s a test for higher rankings, a very common logic in mobile games.

The simplicity from Atari is one point to be highlighted nowadays. In times of extreme complexity in many games, it’s good to look back and find inspiration to create objective, simple and rich new experiences.


domingo, 1 de maio de 2016

What do players want?

The exercise of game designing is not an easy challenge. Behind the gameplay, beta test sessions, prototypes, interviews with beta testers, meetings, information architecture and gaming art lies a player filled with emotions, wishes, wills and a great desire to experience something unique in their life.

Game Expo Bratislava 2016 - foto by @vincevader

So, this post’s question is: what does a player want when are experiencing a game (and here we are talking about any kind of game: blockbusters and indies)? It's a pretty broad question and, in my humble opinion, impossible to be answered in a simple blog post. However, we can find great insights from gaming theory.

Rose III (2001, p.2-18) in his book “Game design: theory & practice” elaborated a very interesting list trying to answer some questions from the player’s side. About the theme “what players want and expect”, the author has some good points that I’ll reproduce and comment below:

1. Players want a challenge
2. Players want to socialize
3. Players want a dynamic solitaire experience
4. Players want bragging rights
5. Players want an emotional experience
6. Players want to fantasize
7. Players expect a consistent world
8. Players expect to understand the game-world’s bounds
9. Players expect reasonable solutions to work
10. Players expect direction
11. Players expect to accomplish a task incrementally
12. Players expect to be immersed
13. Players expect to fail (this point creates good dialogue with the first one)
14. Players expect a fair chance
15. Players expect to not need to repeat themselves
16. Players expect to not get hopelessly stuck
17. Players expect to do, not to watch

Let’s take Star Wars Battlefront (EA DICE, 2015) as an example. Players want challenges to play online or the possibility to play alone if the Internet fails. In this gaming ecosystem, to achieve better rankings works as a very important symbolic currency. The Star Wars universe offers a consistent world and the game has clear rules about how you can up your level, buy equipment, kill an enemy etc. There are tutorials to teach each new movement in the game. From time to time, EA DICE launches new maps, new characters and new challenges to keep the community engaged and immersed in the experience. A player can play in a professional level or just for fun. The Star Wars brand surely helps a lot in the marketing success, but the details and the strategic game thinking behind the production is the point to highlight in this discussion.

With good humor, Rose III (2001, p.18) ends this chapter from his book with the following thinking: “Players do not know what they want, but they know it when they see it”.

This list is a brief example of a universe of possibilities. So, the games studies need to be more and more interdisciplinary. Different views on the same subject could generate good ways to research and develop.



ROUSE III, Richard. Game design: theory & practice. Texas: Wordware Publishing, 2001.