Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Short Games

I wish I could think up something more clever for this new wave of games coming out on the internet besides “Short Games”. It gets the point across and most people will recognize the reference, but someone will probably think up something better 20 years from now when we’re all playing something else.

Given how few games there are to work with in this genre, the post is a bit garbled but I think the main point gets across. When you shorten a game, you make it so the player has invested less time and thus does not feel as violated when you screw with their sense of progress. So despite their name, the actual defining element of these titles, to me, is that they are all poking around with the notion of progress. G. Christopher Williams pointed out in my Eternal Darkness write-up that one of the scariest parts of the game is when it threatens to delete your save files. Which became the source of both a tacky joke but also the founding principle for how I explain these games: the player’s progress in the game is the one thing they are enslaved to. They may not care about Alyx Vance, they may skip your cutscenes, but threaten to take away their best items or confine them to an unpleasant decision and suddenly they’re wide awake. The problem with these threats is that they are mostly empty thanks to save files, ergo the terror Eternal Darkness invokes.

Most of the initial pokes at this relationship by these games is to either exaggerate the amount of progress required (You Have to Burn The Rope) or leave chunks of it out (Gravity Bone). Progress, in this particular instance, being defined as the options/choices the player is offered to make and convincing them that there will be more. Then it’s time to give The Graveyard a dance for old time’s sake because they gave a swing at this concept and did something serious with it. Jury still out on other things about the game, but they certainly experimented with lack of options.

I don’t know how much mileage the whole aesthetic can produce in the end. Eventually someone is just going to have a game where, after spending hours clawing you way to the last level, the game asks you if you truly believe you are the best. If you have faith that you are the chosen one. If you say “Yes”, it deletes all your save files and sends you through the last level. Which will be hard.

S***, could you do it?


SnakeLinkSonic said...

Nothing terribly insightful to say. Just that this has inspired my current posts, which I will be addressing once I make it to the PSX's MGS. I think your length-relevance statements is particularly applicable to that title. Then again, it's my favorite one so maybe I'm experiencing tunnel vision.


L.B. Jeffries said...

Thanks man, I'm slacking on my blog reading these days while I study but I'll be back up to speed eventually. Great work with the Metal Gear stuff, by the way, I was flipping through it yesterday.