Gameplay Art

This post is about the de­vel­op­ment of our game based on Eliezer Yud­kowsky’s “The Twelve Virtues of Ra­tion­al­ity”.

Are games art?

It’s an in­ter­est­ing ques­tion, but it seems that most peo­ple who an­swer that ques­tion in the af­fir­ma­tive are—in­ten­tion­ally or not—sub­scribing to the “hy­brid art” view. That is, that games are art be­cause they com­bine story-tel­ling, mu­sic, and vi­sual style; in­ter­ac­tion with the sys­tem of the game is in ser­vice to the sto­ryline, mu­sic, and vi­sual style.

I don’t like that. Here is why:

“Art” in gen­eral is cre­ative ex­pres­sion through a medium. The hy­brid-art view treats game­play as the ic­ing on the nar­ra­tive-mu­si­cal-vi­sual cake. When it should be that game­play is the cake, and ev­ery­thing else is the ic­ing.

Game­play, or in­ter­ac­tion with the sys­tem of the game, is a medium for artis­tic ex­pres­sion, just like paint is for paint­ings. I don’t think any­one can deny that in­ter­ac­tion with a gun dur­ing a hos­tile situ­a­tion reeks havoc on our emo­tions, or that in­ter­ac­tion with a loved one can run the emo­tional gamut. In­ter­ac­tion is pow­er­ful.

Games can take ad­van­tage of the power of in­ter­ac­tion to be ex­pres­sive. The art of the sto­ryline, mu­sic, and vi­su­als ought to be sec­ondary to the art of the game­play.

Twelve Virtues

I be­lieve that game­play is a very pow­er­ful way to learn, and so the sin­gle most im­por­tant de­sign prin­ci­ple for our cur­rent pro­ject is ex­pres­sion through game­play. We want to con­vey the mean­ing of each virtue through game­play. The player should be able ex­am­ine the method by which they in­ter­act with the game to learn the mean­ing be­hind the virtue.

For ex­am­ple:

Point of no return

In our Cu­ri­os­ity level which is where the game starts, the player must fol­low a mys­te­ri­ous cat that ap­pears. Very early in the level, the player is faced with a “point of no re­turn”. If they jump down to the ground, they can’t ever go back to the start­ing area. They must choose to fol­low the cat, or stay in their “com­fort zone” so to speak. They must em­brace their cu­ri­os­ity, or ig­nore it. If they choose to fol­low the cat, they will even­tu­ally dis­cover a much larger area full of mys­ter­ies to be solved.