Monday, November 23, 2009

Game Reflections - Qualia

Can you translate a private experience into public language? How do you describe the way a thing seems to you to someone? Can you share your conscious experience with another person? Some say it is impossible because it's indescribable and only if we could remove natural language completely, bypass it via mental/neuron bridges from person to person, we should be able to share qualia. As far as neuro science and doctrine might have come today it seems to be a while before man will be able to implement anything like this. So what happens when you're explaining a personal experience to someone? Whether you use speech, writing, signs or any other natural language, there are fundamental elements of your experience that are bound to be omitted, untouched and untold, hence not giving your audience the full experience of your experience. It doesn't matter how eloquent you are, you're simply not equipped with the capacity to pass on your intrinsic perception, humans are communicatively and mentally crippled by default. Things will be lost in translation but new unexpected elements will be gained in the residuum. The audience's own qualia and awareness will interpret your message and put a new cultural coating on it. By this unpredictable defect of communication the audience might become even more invested in and attached to you are saying. It is a gamble, being personal in the public space as you will inevitably win some and loose some. But if you take that risk then the ones that you win, especially by happy accidents like these can be individuals that you touch very deeply. And moving your audience in a profound way even if your initial message has been somewhat lost, skewed or reinterpreted, is the highest accomplishment of any art form.

Majoras Mask - The most bizarre and personal entry in the Zelda series to date. Steeped in melancholy, Japanese Honne/Tatemae tradition and the acceptance and preparation for death. Video games, where the premises and subjects tend to be simple and in back and white this was indisputably heavy and gray. Majoras Mask was something of an Trojan horse, by wearing one of the most beloved brand names in the industry and riding high on the road Ocarina of Time had paved out before it, gamers who simply expected more of the same where in for a surprise. A cold shower for some or a welcome visit to a fresh and exotic onsen to others. It was breaking the mold. It was breaking conventions. This time around the world was ambivalent and strange and the very time itself was your greatest opponent. 3 days until the world ends. It gave a serious and anxious tone to the game, a sense of urgency, it made you weigh the importance of your actions. The 3 day cycle and a Groundhog Day rewind time-mechanic was an incentive for you to get to know and interact with the characters throughout the world. You stood by their side and helped them deal with life during these final days. This social focus together the fundamental mask mechanic was an interesting reflection on relationships and the roles people plays. The quest through this alternate Hyrule called Termina felt private yet grand in its own peculiar way. The classic Zelda formula was deconstructed, it felt distilled through the mind one person rather than playing it safe and sticking to the path that had been laid out before it. Perhaps a risky move by Eiji Aonuma, the game director, but by being honest to his vision the gamers was taken on a very different, memorable and engaging experience.

Death Note - Not a game but an anime based on the manga series of Tsugumi Oba. What could have been your ordinary suspenseful cat-and-mouse thriller gets offseted by an overarching supernatural component and becomes an intense depiction of a human mind deceiving itself in believing it has ascended to a higher being and thereof having the rights to act accordingly. It is an disturbing journey but not necessarily for the controversial themes, acts and events that unfold but for how they are set in motion initially. Evil actions in society are carried out by innocent playfulness and curiosity of a juvenile mind residing in the private atmosphere of a child's room in a warm and happy family home. By being placed inside the young individual's personal space you get a exclusive and intimate look on his/hers most secret desires and actions. It starts out with a test which soon grows out of proportion thanks to that the inexperienced and self-absorbed mind is proved right in its faulty logic. As the ego is growing so does the evil radius, and so does your insight of it's warped motifs and reasoning to a point where you almost is sharing it out of shameful fascination and sympathy.

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor - As a game in the MegaTen series it has the usual trappings; troubled teens, it takes place in Japan, demon fusing, moral choices, Jack Frost and it is tough as nails. The series expect you knowing this going in. In these days when many games is trying to appeal to a wider audience by lowering the difficulty, streamlining and simplifying the controls, interface and the overall experience, it can be refreshing to take on the challenge that SMT Devil Survivor, and the likes, gives you. What sets this game apart from the others in the MegaTen series is the tactical RPG nature of it and the strange and fitting meta game/real world angle. You're a character who has a device similar to the DS you're playing on, this device called COMP (Communication Player) gives you access to an online auction site where you bid, buy and trade demons. The DS literally becomes the COMP when you enters it from the ingame menu and the line between the game and real life is crossed. It is an intriguing concept. Browsing and reading up on the demons before you buy them, navigating around the menus, getting brief tourist guide style information about Shibuya (where the game starts)and other locations and landmarks, really brings you into the game. However this aspect of the game isn't something that Atlus stresses very much and it depends mostly on your level of immersion. As portable games with ad-hoc multiplayer has almost become the new standard in Japan with Monster Hunter and Dragon Quest IX, Atlus could implement and combine that with this meta game/real world system to push it further. A Shin Megami Tensei game fused with Ghostwire!

Qualia. Just like in the movie Strange Days the mind is the inner theater of experience,
depending on what you put in you can enhance or corrupt it, make it curious or dull. Feed it.