The Average Gamer

Indie Rock: The Two Paths Of Modern Game Design

Nothing You Have Done Deserves Such Praise
Well done! You’ve followed a link to an article and you get to read some words as a reward!

…but should you have clicked the link at all? What if reading the words is a bad thing to do? Getting here was a choice you made of your own volition. Perhaps the true way to read this article is to stop before you’ve even begun?

Game designers have astutely spotted that their narratives hinge on player involvement and they are going to town with that realisation. You’re now no longer just controlling the character and jumping on a flag or whatever, you’re personally inhabiting the lead character as if you’re a tapeworm but, like, the kind from that Futurama episode that lived inside Fry’s brain improving his actions. You’re responsible for the successes, failures and consequences of whatever your avatar has wrought. Even if you’re just plodding forward in a strictly linear manner performing tasks as required by context you’re still either King of Games or a massive prick.

There are two main ways that this self-aware trend is impacting design. Either you’re continually informed how special you are for personally saving the whole ruddy universe by manning a 50. Cal and taking down the enemy chopper, or you’re later told you’re the worst person who ever lived because that helicopter was someone’s mom (and a day away from helicopter retirement). Occasionally you’re exposed to both sensations at once, celebrating the awful violence while being subtly reminded how naughty you’re being like you’re supervised by a babysitter who doesn’t give quite enough of a shit that you’re 9 and watching Robocop.

Some indie designers are even more clever than their AAA counterparts and they’ve they’ve made short little pieces of commentary on these self reflective tropes. If you’re keeping score, that means these two games I’ve selected are ironic extrapolations of existing tropes which are themselves toying with our existing perceptions from the medium.

Finally, video games have their Adaptation.

Nothing You Have Done Deserves Such Praise

At a surface reading, today’s initial adeptly-curated independent video game seems like great, longform, biting criticism. You figure that pretty much immediately from the name. Jason Nelson’s game rewards you constantly with praise like it’s a grandmother who doesn’t see you enough but also doesn’t really feel like slipping you money for a bag of penny chews.

Nothing You Have Done Deserves Such Praise - Landing

The game’s visual style wants to make you feel uncomfortable and confused, which might be a step too far. It establishes that the praise is utterly pointless because you’re getting it for everything you’re doing, but doesn’t provide the same tone that an authentic game would. Maybe the criticism would be better suited if it were simply just overloading you with compliments and providing a fun pointless world where nothing matters.

I like that it makes you feel gross, having you look at medical diagrams and listen to blasting sounds while your movement speed spurts uncontrollably, but it doesn’t always stick to that sensation. The between levels song might potentially be the cutest thing ever included in a video game and I’m even counting any game with an inbuilt camera that will let you take a photo of a pug. It’s too conflicting a piece of work to be all that effective.

Basically what I am saying is that a game called “nothing you have done deserves such praise” doesn’t actually deserve all that much praise itself. Christ, this is getting meta.


You monster. You did the thing… but the thing was not a good one to do!!

You Were Hallucinating The Hole TimeDarius Kazemi has taken on a bunch of traditionally-understood games and abstracted your actions to instead be the worst thing possible, like you’re a double-fascist. You don’t have full consciousness of your actions but still you’re responsible for the outcome. If you played the game already, you’re a monster. You did all those things. It was you!

I like that he’s ostensibly saying, through limited design, that all it takes to be considered an excellent game is to have an unexpected negative twist. It’s especially great that all he’s doing is drawing from games that already exist and adding on this hidden narrative that’s almost a hidden layer despite being so overt. On the surface he’s just using iconography we recognise in order to immediately explain the actions you have to perform in order to achieve the goals, but hidden beneath that he’s literally doing exactly the same thing as games that already exist but pretending that the work is somehow above them because it’s satirical and inward-facing.

Again, if you’re still hanging on to that scorecard, this is satire that’s satirising satire. Fucking hell.

Oh, Also

Play Skateboar or we aren’t friends.

It doesn’t tie into the theme or anything, it’s just great.

I like how the control system means you’re constantly de-selecting the window. I like how doing an ollie is basically shorthand for “fuck everything up”. I like how you can still flip the board around after you’ve bailed.

It’s just a fun game. Wow.