Chungking Espresso

Always a Good Sign

Posted in Miscellany by Simon Ferrari on April 23, 2009
image credit: Phaidon Press

image credit: Phaidon Press

So I’m writing my term paper for Bogost’s design class on The World Ends With You. I’ve written about it once before from the perspective of a playable interactive map. Now I’m tackling the controls and its ludonarrative coupling. I’ve decided to begin the work with an introduction arguing for recognition of a new thematic genre that I’m calling “the mutual reliance game.” I’ve written about the subject copiously before in regard to Left 4 Dead and (a bit tangentially) about Braid – where I think the player relies on the benevolence of the game’s creator to see her through. Anyhow, following Jason Rohrer’s assertion that game AI is “basically the same” as a second player, I’m going to focus solely on games with AI compatriots who are more than cattle to be escorted.

I feel like by critiquing this game a bit, we’ll be able to chip away at the essence of the difference between playing L4D with the AI, with friends, and with random pick-up groups. I kinda wished I’d saved writing about L4D for this class instead of for my 3D design one, but I feel like there’s a dearth of good writing about TWEWY. I need to do a bit more searching through academic writings, but the game is so relatively new and niche that I find it hard to believe that anybody with a professorship has gotten around to writing much about it yet. So far I’ve come up with a decent write-up (can’t find the link right now, my mind is burnt out) that Ray Vichot linked me from one of the only game blogs he can stomach and Yahtzee’s review as counterarguments. The first claims its a bit emo while covering at a surface level some of what I want to get at, and the latter is Yahtzee’s usual hyperbolic bullshit about ludonarrative dissonance. I paraphrase: “it’s a story about fuck-ing (that’s a British accent) Sesame Street values and all I’m doing is scribble-scrabbling with my stylus like a Japanese FRUiT maniac!” I love the guy, but he said the same thing about Braid.

I’m always afraid to write something in long form about video games, because I’m afraid what I’ll write has already been written about somewhere else on the web. I received a hearty bit of encouragement from Google! Typing in “mutual reliance” will list this blog as the top search. Typing “mutual reliance in games” will do the same, and it won’t turn up much else. Perhaps game bloggers have a problem with tagging? Get with web 3.0, people. In any case, I’m moving forward confident that I kinda came up with the idea on my own. This is an invitation to please write in the comment section: “Gotcha Bitch! (insert an academic’s name here) already wrote about it here (insert link here for me to build my citations)!”

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3 Responses

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  1. Krystian Majewski said, on April 24, 2009 at 5:29 am

    Hm, if you consider Braid to be a game of mutual reliance, wouldn’t that mean that EVERY game has a element of mutual reliance. Is there a game where the player can’t rely “on the benevolence of the game’s creator”?

    Haven’t played TWEWY yet. One of those games I ought to pick up, huh?

  2. Simon Ferrari said, on April 24, 2009 at 9:52 am

    We are in agreement, my friend! While I do think Braid is a bit of a different case – because really we’re talking about Jon Blow as God of his own universe – I elided it from my definition in the paper.

    I only use single-player games with cooperative AI. My comparison cases are Beyond Good & Evil, Lost In Blue, Left 4 Dead, and the new Prince of Persia. The idea is to amend Jason Rohrer’s argument that a good game AI has the potential to be as interesting as a second human player-but he only talks about competitive games, while I want to deal with cooperative ones.

    TWEWY is a mixed bag, man. I recommend not reading my paper on it, once I post it, if you want to play it. Your experience will be tainted by my readings of a few of my favorite philosophers and film theorists. That said, if you’re not into Japanese shit, you’re going to face a pretty huge roadblock when it comes down to liking the game. It verges on the annoying. When I did my introductory slideshow for the paper topic, I said, “I wanted to talk about Braid, but I’m afraid I’m not ready to do that yet. Instead I’m going to write about an annoying JRPG that I think represents the pinnacle of what has been achieved on the Nintendo DS.”

  3. Ben Medler said, on April 24, 2009 at 11:49 pm

    We should talk sometime Simon. I’m big on the theory that a game’s mechanics (including AI) form a sociological system with players both in single and multiplayer games. When Jason made mention of the AI as a second player I was like “yes, exactly” but then he didn’t go anywhere with it. I’ve been asking around for papers that look for insight into how players perceive and interact with AI characters. I have not found much so far but here are some leads:

    I know some of Ken Perlin stuff looks at how the visuals and animations of AI characters affect the player’s perception of them but I don’t know if they do into dialog or other game mechanics.

    Interactive narrative and intelligent agent papers often talk about believeable characters and may be a place to look for this type of topic.

    Also I know I have found papers on virtual pets before, how players treat them and such, but I can’t seem to find them online.

    Finally, one paper I wrote talks about how game mechanics work as other social agents in games. I define mechanics as having the job of a neutral mediator trying to provide a fair game for each player. Though this would generally be for cooperative games, in collaborative games they would work much more in the player’s favor.

    P.S. Never worry about writing something someone else has said. If only one person has said it then it is not ready for primetime, only through multiple people bring their own perspectives can an idea truly take off. Just be the one that says it the best 😉

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