Saturday, February 27, 2010

On Emotive Games: Q&A with IGF Finalist Daniel Benmergui

In this Q&A, experimental videogame maker and IGF finalist Daniel Benmergui talks about his own approach to making games and the potential of games in eliciting emotions.

How do you make emotive games?

I never set myself the goal of making emotive games. It just happened that both I Wish I Were the Moon and Today I Die where born out of intense emotional impressions.

Something I discovered with those games is that you can build important experiences that involve audiovisuals, text and (weak, to be honest) gameplay, without "telling stories". There are very few of these "game poems", which is shame, because there might be a huge audience for them out there.

Do games have the necessary vernacular to tell powerful stories?

I think Jonathan Blow is right when he said that games are never going to catch up with cinema in telling stories like movies do. Any kind of interaction breaks storytelling horribly, despite the enormous efforts of designers to overcome it.

However, I believe there is a different kind of narrative which is based purely on gameplay. That kind of narrative is very unexplored and we mostly stumble in the dark when trying to "author" that narrative that is constructed between players and gameplay.

For example, take games like Braid: a kind of magic happens, where you being to understand and talk with the game in terms of gameplay, like learning a new language. You watch the game objects, with their sprites and animations, but what you really see is how the puzzle works as a whole, and all the possibilities of stuff you can try with the tools at your disposal.

Is there something important in that conversation, in the way a movie can be important? Or you are just learning to navigate a screwed up universe and have learnt nothing that matters?

Those are important questions, but to figure them out, we have to keep learning the true language of games... we can't expect to write good poetry in a language we scarcely understand!

What kinds of emotions can games generate in players?

Most games I've played involve either a high degree of abstraction (puzzle games) or a high degree of adrenaline. It's difficult to explore a vast range of emotions when you are pumped up or using logic brain functions.

But I think the appropriate question is "What can this game make me discover about the universe and myself?" Answering that question would involve a lot of emotions... both in the player and the game maker.

Is it even important for games to make players cry?

There are plenty of games that made a lot of people cry. Most Hollywood movies do that easily, given the proper audience.

But I would prefer games to shock people to the very core, which is something I know books and movies can do. Then there will be crying.

Experimental videogame maker Daniel Benmergui is the creator of Today I Die, an emotive game that brought him a nomination in the 12th Annual Independent Games Festival. `He can be reached at his blog Ludomancy.


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