terça-feira, 1 de setembro de 2020

Three basic layers to observe/analyze games

There is a very complete (and complex) way to analyze and understand games proposed by Nitsche (2008) that I have already discussed in here. I have used this idea from Nitsche, semester after semester, in my game-designing classes, and it is a very didactic way to explain to the students the different planes in the gaming ecosystem.

However, since 2018 I’ve been teaching a discipline named “game essentials” in my university's IT course. It is an introductory (and general) approach to understand different bases of the gaming universe. Trying to synthesize some complex concepts, I’m discussing with my students the three fundamental layers to analyze games: the mechanical layer, the narrative layer, and the aesthetical layer. In an attempt to create the habit of always trying to identify which layer is predominant in a gaming experience I ask my students to grade – from 0 to 10 – these three aspects of the game. I’ll use as an example below, a short analysis that I made using the indie game “She remembered caterpillars”. Don’t know the game? No worries, you can watch the trailer below and understand the central idea of this title:

She remembered caterpillars” is a color-matching puzzle game with an unsettling organic aesthetic. In my point of view, the mechanical layer is the protagonist in this experience (grade 10) because all the gaming experience – in its core – is about solving the puzzles by positioning the characters in the right places of the scenario, respecting the color rules (ex.: blue character can go through a blue bridge put can’t go through a blue arch); another interesting point about the mechanics is the fact that you start the game using characters created with primary colors (red, blue and yellow) and, as the game progresses, you start mixing the characters to use secondary colors (purple, green and orange) to solve the enigmas.

In “She remembered caterpillars”, the aesthetical layer is just as important as the mechanical layer (grade 10 for this aspect too). How the characters were conceived with distinct colors, how these colors are always highlighted in the scenario, and how the layout information about the goal of each stage is always clear are nuclear features. In this game, the aesthetic aspects go hand in hand with the mechanical aspects all the time.

Last, but not least, we have a very curious narrative layer inside the “She remembered caterpillars” example. In this title, players eavesdrop on what appears to be one scientist’s quest to save her father. The surreal landscapes filled with organic elements, fungi plants, and cute characters look like some kind of metaphor for the despair to reconstruct some brain connections. In this case, my grade for this layer is 5; it’s a great narrative (if you stop to read the texts and pay attention) but you can play the whole game ignoring all this metaphoric information and have a great gaming experience.

It’s a simple starting exercise to observe/analyze games in a more critical way, but it has worked very well in my introductory classes. Hope it helps you too.



NITSCHE, Michael. VIDEO GAME SPACES - image, play and structure in 3D worlds. Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2008