[It’s time for another Monthly Musing — the monthly community blog theme that provides readers with a chance to get their articles and discussions printed on the frontpage. — CTZ]
In most relationships, there can be seen a dualistic nature in which one participant controls, while the other is under control. We go to school and answer to our teachers. We go to work and answer to our bosses. And when we die, some suggest that we answer to God.
For those of us who play videogames, we find ourselves in a similar situation. We follow the rules of those who create the games, and live within the set boundaries that the game’s creator puts in place. Teams of writers, directors, artists, programmers and more, take on the role of Gods. They create these worlds. They define a set of rules in which the inhabitants of said world can exist. Without this enormous cast of Creators, the virtual Garden of Eden could not exist.
It might be appropriate to reassure the reader that the term control mustn’t be viewed as implicitly evil. Control, to a certain extent, gives us structure and safety within our daily lives. We follow political laws to determine whether or not an individual should be punished for theft. We also follow physical laws that define our abilities to travel in space. This sort of restraint defines the condition of a person under control, and without restraint there cannot exist a desire to break free of it’s grasp.
Even though there is a bit of wiggle room for a Player to interpret their Master’s intent, the fact remains that we ultimately cannot change the way a given game’s world operates. We bend to the will of the Creator, and press the buttons they ask us to.
So, if I’m just the Player, who is it on the other end of this relationship? And who are they to tell me what I can and cannot do? After all, aren’t I the one holding the controller?
Without being Creators ourselves, we can never truly be an author of a story, unless we distort the Creators original vision. We might be able to fantasize about the inner dialogue of NPCs, but otherwise the rules of game play are often too limited. When the Creator says “Jump” we don’t ask how high we should jump. Instead we ask “Why can’t I do a double jump?” or “These controls suck. Why isn’t the jump button B instead of A?”
These are the kinds of questions that make me feel as though videogames stand alone when compared to mediums such as film or literature. In such mediums, the user is able to absorb a plot and to question the authors artistic motives. They can examine metaphors, and question thematic undertones. But in videogames, we generally have to try much harder to distort the creators intent by creating something of our own. We can use the tools that the Creators have given us in a different capacity in which they were intended.
I wonder if I were to cut every single word out of a novel, and rearrange each piece … would I be able to create something as meaningful as the original story?
Game developers have handed us the technology who’s intent was to excite the a player’s imagination. And in turn, the Players have responded with actions that sidestep the Master and Slave axiom. Perhaps it is time for the Players to realize their potential, and assume the role of a Creator.
One of the first experiences I had with altering a game’s world was while playing Sonic The Hedgehog. After almost a year of playing, kids from my neighborhood told me that there was a mode of game play beyond what I had known. They had let me in on the secret of the Debug Code.
Now, with Godlike abilities, I was able to move about the screen without the inhibiting barriers such as solid objects. I could rule the economy by placing rings wherever I pleased and could create an opposing army to annihilate, simply by placing enemies wherever I desired. With each tap of a button, I felt a power surge within that ultimately led me to a believe that I was above the Creator’s law. No longer did I need to abide by the programmer’s code. I was assigning whatever rules I deemed appropriate.
In the late nineties, there existed a group of experimental artists and musicians who called themselves the Carbon Defense League. Their artistic intent focused on the manipulation and exploitation of popular electronic devices, including the Nintendo Gameboy. In 1998, they created a game called Super Kid Fighter, who’s subversive plot led players to sell drugs, work for the mafia, and kill cops. The end goal of the game was to achieve free access to the town’s new brothel.
Once the game was completed, members of the CDL programmed Super Kid Fighter’s ROM onto preexisting Gameboy cartridges. They re-sealed the packages, and placed the boxes of seemingly standard Gameboy titles on store shelves, to be sold to unsuspecting customers.
Such manipulation of an organized system had baffled me when I first became aware of it’s presence. I didn’t understand the implications behind a group of radical leftists creating something truly exterior to a Creators intent.
Nintendo didn’t want me to perform acts of crime. It was not their intent for me to rob, steal, and kill. But here I was, doing exactly that by simply tapping a few buttons.
Australian musician/mad-scientist, Little-scale, never ceases to amaze. As one the most prolific musicians within the chip music community, he has used almost every vintage console imaginable to create music ranging from danceable tracks birthed from the Sega Mega Drive, to harsh noise tortuously pulled from the bowels of the NES. Although his process is highly technical, the results of his labor are of greatly enjoyability.
Chip music is one of my favorite genres of music. Songs created from micro chips of archaic gaming consoles, that breathe new life into the systems themselves. I never would have imagined, as a child, being able to manipulate the sounds that came from my Atari. But thanks to current technology, the game-music-loving-child that I once was can now grow up become the composer of my own imagined game soundtracks.
Jonatan Soderstrom is a game development luminary who goes by the moniker of Cactus. He exists in a world where boundaries between game Creator and game Player have been destroyed To date, he has created an array of videogames that defy both genre, and console dependency.
To quote from his Web site:
CACTUS IS A SWEDISH GAME DEVELOPER, BASED IN GOTHENBURG. HE SPECIALIZES IN DEVELOPING GAMES OF AN EXPERIMENTAL NATURE. WETHER IT BE THROUGH BIZARRE PLOTS, NEW GAME MECHANICS OR STRANGE GRAPHICS, YOU’RE ALWAYS BOUND TO FIND SOMETHING OUT OF THE ORDINARY IN HIS GAMES. HE IS WELL KNOWN FOR HAVING A CONTINOUS OUTPUT OF GAMES AND HAS DEVELOPED OVER FORTY GAMES TO DATE. HE HAS REACHED WIDE ACCLAIM THROUGH HIS GAME, WHICH ARE OFTEN FEATURED ON WEBSITES, BLOGS, GAME AND ART FESTIVALS ALL OVER THE WORLD. HE HAS RECEIVED TWO NOMINATIONS AT THE PRESTIGIOUS INDEPENDENT GAMES FESTIVAL AND IS OFTEN FEATURED IN MAINSTREAM GAMING MAGAZINES.
Cactus software has made it evident that anyone can create games in a widely distributed method. No need for the run of the mill Wii-ware. Simply upload your creations, and allow the world to enjoy.
It seems apparent that those that play video games can put themselves in a role in which they create them. We don’t need to idly sit and mash buttons. Instead; we can gently manipulate our controllers, keyboards and consoles to create worlds and experiences of our own.
I’ve often wondered what it would feel like to have absolute control over my surroundings. To design the cities around me, to mend the clothes of my neighbors, to decide which way the wind would blow, and whether or not the pollen in the air would follow it’s current. I’ve wondered to what lengths I would have to go to make a world that thrives independently. Would it be easy to decide which inhabitants of my world were poor? Would I have the guts to decide who would die of cancer?
Creating this world would be difficult. It would take a person of infinite wisdom. It would require a person with a vast depth if vision, if they were to create a fair and just world. A world where the good were rewarded and the evil were punished. This person might have to be a God. Or maybe they would just need to be a good game designer.