Videogaming Research Paper
Journey: An Interactive Art
With the advance of technology, videogames have changed over the years. Graphics have vastly improved and it helped shape such really immersive and visually appealing game worlds. Through this advancement of technology there has been new developments in digital media and interactivity. Video games can function as tools for human expression and even have techniques for audience interaction. Different production techniques have been utilized to better express the creator’s vision. In addition to audience interaction, they also include narrative, point of view, and character development, all these things are unique qualities of this computerized medium. Video games present themselves as having potential for new artistic designs, with so much to learn from the interaction developers that video games as art exhibit. Through the ages video games has went through technological advancement like no other. However, video games rely heavily on traditional methods and strategies of storytelling through narratives. By examining the strengths and weaknesses of video games, there is one thing that is clear. That is, the potential effects of the artistic fundamentals within interactive media and the methods that certify its successful application.
Video games, through the twenty- first century, have many ways that have a way in educating or even enlightening an audience. In some cases, video games like Journey has an original narrative experience, which is altered by interactive storytelling. Interactive storytelling can be used to help a person’s decision-making process, as the player’s choices writes the story throughout the game. When using interactivity, it encourages the player to contribute in the experience of the story and the game. This artistic design goes on to educate and help the interaction of video games. The art of interactivity through storytelling is to transform the different ways that people examine and engage these stories through human experience.
Critical analyses of video games are as undeveloped as the medium itself. The full impact of interactivity with the new features is only evident in the contrast between traditional and interactive art. In “Deikto: A Language for Interactive Storytelling,” Chris Crawford, who is a game designer, writes, “Interactivity is not a feature to be tacked onto an existing medium. It is the very essence of a new medium of expression. Interactive art, whatever form it takes, will most certainly not compete with or be seen as in any way related to any of the existing art forms” (Crawford). The view that Crawford has, the new interactive media that is developed is a new art and striking new form. Crawford even believes that this new development will not even compete on any level or recognizable as any existing other art form. This usually means that there will need to be a new method of studying. Conservative artwork, which ranges from drawing to painting to sculpture, cannot have interactivity merged into it and still have the same function that it is always had. So, Crawford’s statement sets the foundation for the discussion of interactive media and digital art, like video games. The difference between a new and improved view on the effects and design of interactive media is necessary for the developers and video game players.
Digital art has many different categories, the central focus of Crawford’s critique for interactive art in video games is for one reason. That reason is because computers can only function with an interactive user and video games are at the most basic level of simulations of computers. Crawford’s description within the relationship of computer simulations and interactivity, he states “I give interactivity this special place because interactivity is the one element that is unique to the computer. All of the other nice features of the computer – its graphics, its sound, its animation – are all offered by other media” (Crawford). Traditional media, like books and movies, interactive media formats such as video games start off with the interaction between the player and the game world. Video games use the tools of media like visuals, sounds, and animation. However, the main focus is on the player’s experience in the game.
Crawford gives an example that shows the difference between the techniques through traditional and interactive media and how they each affect their audiences is Michelangelo’s pieta. Crawford explains that this statue uses imagery of a Virgin Mary’s grief to demonstrate despair and misery from the loss of her one and only son. The visual imagery has its effects on any audience. Crawford asks the audience to imagine how this statue may be presented interactively. This was his answer, “That would require us to create algorithms for the processes attending the loss of a child: the circumstances that created it, with possible parental culpability or inattention; the nature of the death and the intrinsic horror of all human loss; the means by which the news of the death is communicated to the parent; and the means by which a parent can express grief. All these factors must be determined at a level of abstraction previously unaddressed in art” (Crawford). All these factors help contribute to the emotional response that a player of a video game feels. This shows that interactivity is such a great step in art. Interactive narrative, as an experience, requires the creator and the player to look at any game in a different way than the visual imagery of traditional art. Determining these factors make it challenging, but as Crawford says, this is one of the greatest potentials artistically, within interacting narratives.
The certain method that a designer for video games is that they must impact a player in a different form from any other original media works. One example that shows the difference between conventional and interactive is seen in original or unusual narratives, which is a unique interactive approach through video games. In “Games, Storytelling, and Breaking the String” by Greg Costikyan. Costikyan compares conventional stories and narratives he writes, “those who view story as perhaps important but tangential to understanding the nature of games, and those who view it as essential” (Costikyan). Costikyan defines traditional literary stories as linear through a controlled observation that needs to occur in an order. A game, on the contrary, Costikyan writes “A game is nonlinear. Games must provide at least the illusion of free will to the player; players must feel that they have freedom of action – not absolute freedom, but freedom within the structure of the system” (Costikyan). This analysis shows the illusion free will is necessary with maintaining the certain relationship relevant between the player and the game, itself. However, Costikyan expresses one factor that separates interactive and traditional art, the illusion of free will, this draws the player into the narrative as an active player. While a conventional narrative determines the sequence and appearance of the story.
Costikyan says that a video game makes it complicated on storytelling since, “the structure constrains what they can do, but they must feel they have options; if not, they are not actively engaged. Rather, they are merely passive recipients of the experience. If they are constrained to a linear path of events, unchangeable in order, they’ll feel they’re being railroaded through the game, that nothing they do has any impact, that they are not playing in any meaningful sense” (Costikyan). In a text from a movie or a book, the author’s track through linear progression is what helps creates the impactfulness of the story. But, as Costikyan shows, a player track of events will not make the game meaningful or rememberable. The players experience with the game that Costikyan expresses that is completely the opposite to the original narrative structure. Costikyan sees interactivity as the most rememberable aspect of any video game experience.
Interactivity is only one part of the experience that video games offer to the players. The large portion within any video game come in two ways: content and form. Video games are usually seen as a simple escape mechanism or just for pleasure. In “Prismatic Play: Games as Windows on the Real World,” by John Tynes, he states, “Elves and orcs, spaceships and robots: any survey of well-known works of interactive storytelling reveals that most are set in worlds very different from the one we live in, worlds of visionary futurism or fantastical imagination” (Tynes). Tynes states that video game narratives exist in fantasy worlds that have elves or robots, “This inevitably consigns such works to a metagenre: escapism” he goes on “But while escapism has its joys, it also carries with it a connotation of irrelevancy” (Tynes). The fantasy elements of video games may be primarily seen for entertainment value, but these elements undermine any apparent artistry.
There is a solution that Tynes presents regarding irrelevancy, he debates that game development will transform escapist into engaging works. He defines this as, “an engagist work is one that uses the modern world or the recent historical past as its setting and that provides tools and opportunities for participants to explore and experiment in that setting in ways that real life prohibits or discourages” (Tynes). This quote suggests that escapism happens from unintentional factors from the development process, while engagism uses a developer that chooses game scenarios, settings, and even goals. In other words, a poorly developed game will simply create a game world for a player to exist within. However, an engaging artistically well-developed game would be designed in a way to use the virtual game world to affect the player’s life outside of the game world. Escapism has no lesson or progress on a player while engagism is capable of educating, enlightening, and making the experience for the player enjoyable. Escapism and Engagism is very different from one another.
Interactive media has value in artistry. However, it’s not to be found in it’s ability to provide an escapist fantasy. There is so much interactivity within the format in its effects on the player. Video games are limited by three things: the player’s experience, lack of critical examination, and/or the lack of the creativity that the developer’s have for visions of video games. If a game is not directed or engaging, the game will be seen as an escapist fantasy. This usually leads to negative comments regarding the artistic aspects of video games. However, there is a high potential for video games to merge entertainment and enlightenment and reflect on what the player experience. With a high amount of engagism, it can increase the output of games that achieve a greater and better purpose than just having games as entertainment.
With the possibility of interactive art becoming ground-breaking for video games, there will be other ways in writing the rules of the narrative and storytelling in the games. Video games use many kinds of perspectives that function like angles from a camera. The perspective allows the player to view the game through the eyes of the character or over-the-shoulder view or a fixed camera angle. Narratives in video games function by placing the player into the position of the character that is part of the story. Jeremy Douglas wrote an article based on interactive fiction, he explains the impact of a narrative on the player. Douglas states, “rather than the process of simulation occurring as if from the player’s viewpoint, the simulation is addressed to the player from the simulator (“You are in a maze of twisty little passages”) creating complementary thoughts in the mind of the player (“I’m in a maze!”) (Douglas) The effect of this statement is having total immersion in the game world that the game presents.
Let’s take a look at a game called Journey. An indie video game developed by thatgamecompany back in 2012. It was released for the PlayStation 3 via the PlayStation Network. In the game, the player controls a robed human like figure in a vast empty desert. With the view of the mountain from a distance, it presents the players destination and embarks on a journey to reach it. Other players on the same journey can meet each other but cannot communicate directly via text or speech. This can only be done through musical chime like sounds. Names of your fellow characters are not displayed either and would only be revealed at the end. The creators wanted the game to look minimal and at the same time keep the player’s sense of wonder all throughout the game. With the limited communication with the other players, the game hopes to create emotional connections with the people you meet along the way. The music supports this too for it, develops as the player progresses in each section of the game.
The visuals of this game can be considered simple but somehow is presented in layers. At one point, it has rich watercolor or pastel like colors but then it can also be something of a realistic representation of how things are in real life. It combines the visual appeal of minimalist art and high-level graphics which demands attention and drives the game world’s realism. With the ability to change camera angles and go around the setting freely with no time limit, the game world is presented as a living and breathing world rich in detail and polished meticulously. The robed figure that you control seems to blend in beautifully as elements of this character can be seen all throughout the game like the scarf which has illuminating runes that enables flight. The music also works hand in hand with the visuals as it somehow evolves and swells whenever you progress in the game. Each level seems to present a certain mood or a certain stage in the life of your character and the sound design helps with keeping the scene alive and infectious.
It’s undeniable that Journey is something a game that demands attention since it’s a game that has garnered a lot of awards. From the surface, it can be said that it’s simple. But its simplicity is backed with its unique and fresh way of storytelling. It has been well praised for its rich and beautiful visuals, game design and music. Whether it’s visual art, story-telling, music or an even a combination of all these like movies. In videogames, the player is indeed given the wheel to experience the game world. But the places or things that he/she can possibly experience have been designed thoroughly by a collection of artists that worked together to present a unique story and concept.
In Journey, the player is engaged with a certain type of storytelling where the narrative is not based on dialogue. Typically, in books, there are characters that are introduced. With these characters, there are dialogues. And to present the setting and how these characters relate to each other, there is narration. In the game, it’s quite different. Aside from the game play which presents the journey itself, the robed figure you control is presented with certain scenes that introduce the game world’s culture and history. It’s not really presented directly but that’s what demands engagement. The player is free to define or interpret whatever he/she sees. With the limited interaction with other players and characters, through musical chimed like sounds, the player is somewhat is stuck with a constant feeling of wonder. Because you would always to know what the others are saying, so you try to interpret it or try to find ways to make the message clearer. It can be daunting to some but most people think it’s charming. The setting of the game starts in an empty desert, where the game spends its time teaching the player the mechanics on how to move in interact with the game world. Soon after the game picks up, the level design becomes more intricate and you see more polished and awe-inspiring settings. It’s composed of different structures that present the unique culture that the game presents as well as elements which make it recognizable and relatable in the real world. Like in one level it’s as if you’re inside the ancient ruins of an Egyptian pyramid and in another level, a dark and dreadful forest filled with villainous beings to hinder your progress. The game presents these settings as a representation of where you are in the journey, and helps with how the game is recognized as a whole. In a way, it’s like a movie which spends its time in some scenes to present different emotions and emphasis in a character’s life to further stress the ultimate message of the story. The setting is also helped with the music which includes various haunting themes which make each level memorable.
The characters in the game which are limited in its forms of communication present quite a challenge. The reactions and movements of these characters are somewhat based from the fundamentals of acting. With no speech at all, the character should react on how one would in real life. The face of the robed figure you control reacts minimally but even just a simple rotate of his/her head already says something. Like when a certain event is presented the character’s minor movements suggests what he/she thinks of what is happening. The meaning of these movements is open to various interpretations though, which can make it touching and personal at times. This is pretty much the same in movies, where sometimes small actions should be enough to convey a certain message. A certain scene must be presented with different elements but the end goal should be about balance.
Journey is a game that is widely celebrated. People who have played the game have shared their thoughts on how the game has not just been enjoyable but quite a unique experience. People have said how the art style was captivating, how each element blended together to create a world you can get lost into. The mechanics are simple and easy to follow. The movements of the characters and the camera angles are fluid. The limited ways of interaction with other players gave the game not just a unique twist but quite a different experience. Like someone shared an experience about how he played the game for the second time and stumbled upon a portal which made him skip a lot of levels. Upon realizing what happened he almost pressed the reset button but he then sees another player who tried to communicate with him. His interpretation from this other player’s message was that he will guide him through this level and help him check out places he has not seen before. This started his journey with this newly found companion and he ended up enjoying the game even more. Discovering new stuff, interacting with someone he hasn’t met and learning more about the world. This just shows that Journey can be enjoyed in a lot of ways, the world can be vast and every play through can be a unique experience. What each player has experienced and how this game is appreciated is clear evidence that Journey is interactive art that is affecting people. The company has been flooded with letters about their experiences with this game. Critics have pointed out how this game has influenced the cultural shift of the medium that is gaming. People have been not only just looking for leisure, good graphics, action or any of the usual stuff that you get from a game. But now they’re aware that some games out there can deliver thought provoking and meaningful experiences that enrich the medium.
The game was set to explore the meaning of conventions in online interaction. Their aim was to make something more spiritual and reflective. The multiplayer aspect of it was something the company was not accustomed to but Journey somehow has shown a way for people to enjoy their time together in a beautiful game world with limited ways of communication. The soft visuals were intended for the game to feel more natural, and feel like it’s a piece of art that is moving. The levels were constructed in a way where each could represent a period in the life of someone who’s in a journey of self-discovery. Although the destination is inevitable, every step of the way to this end goal is unique and insightful. “Communication from the creator’s idea of how the world is delivered to the audience. The feeling of genuine wonder and excitement that people get from playing this game says something about what it was really made for. And that is to entertain, inspire and demand interaction at the same time. I think that’s what makes Journey so special. It has combined the beauty of interactive gaming and interactive art.” (Stuart) Interaction that was made simple to emphasize innocence and sincere drive to communicate. One who plays this game seem to be someone who’s not just trying to find something to do, but something to get lost into. The emptiness in some parts of the game shows how one can start from nothing and eventually learn the ropes. The bridge shows how one would transition from learning how to journey through life and eventually get lost to what everything life has to offer.
The challenges one must face to reach the mountain that is seen in the horizon. Whatever this mountain represents in anyone’s life, you will strive to overcome all obstacles to reach it. The people you will meet who will guide you, stick with you and share unique experiences along the way. This I think is the true beauty of the game. It inspires how everyone should cherish their own specific journeys, learn from them and enjoy each moment of it. Every time you play and finish this game or experience this, it compels you to look in yourself within and ask when was the last time you enjoyed the ride and felt good about it. And this feeling you get from experiencing a game like Journey is something that is precious.
There are many choices in video games and genres that are similar to Journey. Sometimes, games present a new medium, which gives the player an endless experience and open narrative. Video games provide their audiences with new and interacting experiences with the game world. The medium of video games receives a lot of critical review, whether good or bad. The mindset that games are an escape tactic and could possibly be replaced by an acceptance of designing of games with engagism in mind. Video games are groundbreaking and changing media every year, they have so much to offer any gamer from beginner stages to being a pro. Even though video games are an undeveloped medium, there are many opportunities for a player to reimagine the experience that video games can offer.