deconstructing game play

I should probably start by saying I am a terrible video game player. Despite three obsessed brothers who coached me through countless hours spent trying to play everything from Super Mario Bros. to Final Fantasy (I think the furthest I ever got in a game was about halfway through Oddworld), I am a miserable gamer. To me, even winnable games are unwinnable. In searching for pieces for creative responses earlier in the semester, I found one of Jason Nelson’s pieces:  evidence of everything exploding. After spending a solid half hour trying to get beyond the first screen, I gave up on the game and went about looking for another piece. It did not occur to me that a designer or artist might make a game with the intention of frustrating the player. However difficult, I assumed the failure was mine–not an element of the design.

Reading Wilson and Sicart’s piece for this week (and seeing Nelson on the syllabus) I was reminded of my previous experience. We’ve previously discussed the physical book as the un-discussed element of text. The materiality of the book seems to go without saying until the author or designer forces the reader to confront its physicality either by restructuring the page (mirroring the text so its backwards or upside down) or closing it off entirely (a book enclosed on all sides so that it cannot be read without being literally broken apart.) I see abusive game design as forcing the same kind of dialogue between the player and the previously un-discussed designer. Relative to the book, the video game is still in its infancy, but we still have established modes of interacting with it: start up game, play game, win game (eventually.) This is, as the authors point out, a fairly conservative approach to play design and well-worth interrogating.

While the author remains privileged within the text, the player (in my limited experience with conventional gaming) appears foregrounded in the game.  Abusive game design flips that dichotomy. The player is still there, the structure of the design also reveals itself in order to question the conventions of traditional game design. That said, I wonder if this goes as far as a personal conversation between the designer and the player as the authors suggest. Instead, I would suggest that abusive game design uses the gamer in order to in order to de-center the conventions of game play. Another poster (Zach?) compares the way this piece privileges the designer to what Barthes advocates against in Death of the Author. I like that, but I don’t see gaming as having previously privileged the designer. If anything abusive game design kills the player.