I recently wrote a bit about my ongoing process of making a game, but I never specified exactly what it is that I’m making. I’ll start by saying that this is not the type of game that exclusively emphasizes starting at point A and skillfully navigating your way along to point B. Instead, one of my game design goals for this project is to create an experience filled with discovery — something this post discusses more in-depth.
Experiential gaming is a genre that is typically lighter on game play and heavier on the feelings that the game’s narrative or story evokes. Experiential games want you less caught up in trying to win, and more engaged in how you feel as a result of moving through the experience of the game.
Hopefully that doesn’t sound too highfalutin, but to be clear it’s not meant to be exclusionary, or sound like something that only an art snob/hipster would get. If anything, it’s meant to appeal more to what speaks to every one of us. If you play a horror game and die because you were too afraid to shoot when the monster jumped out, then I would say you “got it”.
There are many great examples of experiential games to check out, most of them made by independent game developers, and when I was teaching game design I always enjoyed spending a class session or two checking them out with the students.
The first experiential game I came across is Jason Rohrer’s Passage, a free game with simple pixel graphics that you can play start-to-end in about two or three minutes. Beating the game is trivial, but again that’s not the point. Instead, you guide your character through life and, maybe, are left pondering the outcome of the decisions you made against what you saw as the resulting happiness/sadness/satisfaction/regret/etc. that played out on the screen.
Experiential titles have stretched out from independent efforts like Rohrers into bigger budget titles like Journey and The Last of Us. These games injected heavy doses of the experiential genre, each tackling the formation of relationships in unique ways, into more traditional game set-ups to create something that felt very new and deep, maybe more satisfying, or satisfying in a different way, than some other games.
And that brings me back to my game.
I like writing, and I like writing characters and events that feel like they’re from a dream. That is, while the scenarios I write are based in reality, there are more than a few things that don’t quite connect or add up. Additionally, when these strange things do happen, no one even acknowledges them as out of the ordinary or uncommon. Think of movies by David Lynch or stories like Alice in Wonderland and you know where I’m coming from.
And so in my game I want the players to be a little uncertain about which way is up, and maybe to even be a little confused by what’s real and what isn’t. If people keep playing despite thinking “what is happening?” then I’ll know I hit the mark — especially if people think about it after they’re done playing.
I’ve now talked a fair bit about the game without saying anything too specific about it. Excellent, haha. However, in my next post I will write a little about some of the games that have more directly inspired my project, which should give you a more clear sense of the traditional side of my game (that is, the skillful-movement-from-point-A-to-point-B part of the game).