Game critic John Brindle recently interviewed me for a piece at the New Statesman about political games. We ended up speaking for nearly three hours and most of our conversation didn’t make it into the piece, so he’s also posted the full transcript of the interview at his blog.
I like doing interviews because they force me to make my thinking explicit in a way that I’m otherwise rarely required to do. Here, John confronted me about the intentionality question with reference to lim, an issue I’d been intentionally avoiding commenting on since the game’s release.
A) how much of this stuff was completely unintentional and how much of it became intentional when you noticed it but then thought “fuck it, that kinda works”? B) what responsibility do you feel you and other devs making things like this have towards the unintended consequences of the systems you create? (go litel boke etc)
I’m not going to pretend that Lim represents a perfect expression of my will. It’s the second game I made and I think the results speak to that, in a way. But it’s not just a reflection of my inexperience at the time, I think that systems have a tendency to get away from us. So we intend to portray or produce one thing but the systems we’re creating seem to resist or reshape our intents – at least that’s been my experience. I definitely had some intentions when I started making the game but by the time I released it there had been this back and forth process of trying to map my imagined game onto this system, the system resisting or fighting back or doing something different, my reacting to that, and so forth.
I can’t speak for other devs but for me this quality of systems makes making a game very different from working in some other media, because there’s this wrestling or dialogue with the system as it’s being built that shapes the final direction of the work. Sometimes the unintentional consequences can be illuminating and useful, and sometimes they’re just experienced as bugs. For me the distinction between bug/feature then isn’t what the developer didn’t intend versus what she did, but more of, is this useful or interesting to the player, does it fit within the experience the system has been developing or does it break it. Maybe that’s just me as someone without much programming background speaking – I don’t encounter systems as someone who has command over them, which might be the experience of someone who is a trained programmer.
The interview closed with this exchange, which is a line of thinking I’d like to explore further:
Is there a production difficulty with procedural politics? is it easier to build a big model if you’ve got a fuckload of time and/or resources? Twine for instance is the hyperdemotic medium du jour, but is typically used for quite different things (although I’ve yet to play this new batch of twine jam games that are challenging the CYOA stigma). How feasible is proceduralism for outsiders?
Yes, good question. So if you check out that latest batch of games, I think you’ll see that quite a few do involve systems (the one I put together does, though it’s not meant to model any specific real-world social system). As scale and complexity increases, so does the difficulty of putting the model together. But I think the barrier to entry is actually not that high. I mean, I don’t have a programming background and Lim was the second game I’ve made, and people have done interesting procedural things with Twine. I think it’s often less a matter of specific coding knowledge and more of an ability to think procedurally or systematically, which can be a very difficult and counterintuitive means of thinking.
Actually, and this just occurs to me, but I think people who have experiences of marginalization are often forced to see things systematically in a way that people who are privileged on particular vectors aren’t. And I think that experience might actually lend itself to an ability to craft more compelling procedural systems, if only the same people weren’t told over and over again that coding/math is something they can’t or shouldn’t do. That’s one reason why tools that abstract code in such a way that they’re less intimidating are so exciting to me.