“Designers know what they are doing. They know when they show up in the office: 'My goal is to degrade the player’s quality of life.'” Luddite bleating of an anti-game campaigner? Conspiracist ramblings from a faded 8-bit star? No, that’s just the opinion of Jonathan Blow, author of the critically acclaimed indie game, Braid. But Blow's not done. When asked by PC Gamer to qualify remarks he made last year about the social-gaming phenomenon, his reply is unequivocal: “There’s no other word for it except evil.”
Above: Jonathan Blow, dressed a la Bruce Lee and (possibly) about to kung-fu a fool
Whoah, whoah. Is Blow actually telling PC Gamer's Brendan Caldwell that the oft-derided shallowness of titles like FarmVille is, in fact, the banality of evil itself? “Of course you can debate anything,” he allows, “but the general definition of evil in the real world... isn’t like the villain in the mountain fortress. [It's] selfishness, to the detriment of others or to the detriment of the world.” And that, he opines, is exactly what drives many social titles.
Above: The crime in Mafia Wars is pretend – but the evil, Blow argues, is no simulation
A wise man once said that if good men do nothing, evil triumphs. (It was Dhalsim, at the end of the Street Fighter movie.) The “doing nothing” bit sits at the crux of Blow's argument: whereas a good game gives players more than it asks of them, he sees many social games as demanding a lot – time, effort, the decidedly antisocial exploitation of friends – and offering little in return. Most social titles, says Blow, “very deliberately... string the player along and invade the player’s free time.”
Above: Braid, the title that put Blow on the map
It's not just the 21st-century “social game” genre that comes in for some stick. A big motivation behind Blow's upcoming adventure puzzler The Witness was a frustration with old-school adventure titles, a genre that he says has never evolved. “The core gameplay of a racing game, for example, has been refined,” he says. “A first-person shooter... all this stuff. It’s been iterated and refined. Adventure games are still what they used to be... It’s not an accident that they died.”
Above: The island setting for The Witness. Hydra Island this ain't
The Witness, Blow promises, will apply sophisticated modern sensibilities to a long-dormant genre he loves as much as anyone. Presumably that means going a bit deeper than well-received resurgences like Sam and Max or Zack and Wiki. And after publicly placing designers' obligations in such high standing, we can reasonably expect that the title ought to offer players a bit more than the occasional new cow.
Feb 17, 2011
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