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Less is More. Minimalism in Games (Part I)

Taoism brings simplicity into our lives and now into our videogames.

Gabriel Lievano, Blogger

August 13, 2009

3 Min Read

There are a lot of cultural influences today from all around the world.  The western world has been surprised with a myriad of different customs and practices from the eastern side, these seen in cooking, fashion, design, medicine, philosophy and more.  Finally there's the influence in videogames, an influence which is of most importance since videogames in the East (mostly from Japan) have been of a cornerstone in eastern culture.

Eastern stories in anime has been characterized for its exaggerated action, extremely spiritual topics (sometimes going beyond western understanding) and a funny side so unapropriate sometimes that borders with perversion.  This has brought a great legacy in videogames, starting from Nintendo's games (Zelda, Super Mario, etc) to Square Enix's Final Fantasy series and Metal Gear games.

But maybe the Eastern's greatest legacy is not found in anime, maybe it is found in the Tao.  Tao is commonly known as "the way".  However as most things eastern, the tao is something that goes beyond concrete definitions and would require great understanding and reflexion to comprehend completely.  My summary is that the tao is the natural way of everything.  For this reason taoism is the philosophy of letting go, letting it happen, nothingness, simplicity and equilibrium.

Perhaps for game design reasons letting go, letting it happen and nothingness are attributes that could be used perfectly for relaxation games.  Games that could bring people some peace of mind like for example the Harvest Moon games.  I will discuss this type of games in other chapter of this blog but for now I will go into more general design and discuss simplicity and equilibrium.

The simplicity brought from eastern philosophy is widely used today everywhere.  We can commonly recognize it from feng shui, but as a more general approach is it known from the design trend of minimalism.  What minimalism states is that less is more meaning that more can be communicated from a simpler message (notice that simpler doesn't necessarily means shorter). 

As you may have considered, the concept of minimalism is of great importance for videogames because videogames are one huge part of them just communication.  Videogames are always of interactivity (richest form of communication) and most of the times about entertainment (taking as exceptions serious games and other similar forms of games).  So now it leaves us with the question, why is simplicity more effective in communication and how can this simplicity be achieved?

Simplicity is an effective form of communication because it leaves less space for confusion, it transmits the idea more directly, it focuses in particular things exalting them from lesser complements and most important, it lets the individual concentrate in the perceived message better. 

In videogames this translates as avoiding confusing interfaces, writing stories with bold messages, focusing in the most characteristic features of a games and letting other assets complement these, and finally letting the player have more fun from the game experience.

For this first part in the minimalism subject I will just summarize some of the ways in which simplicity can be achieved and will explain them in the next parts.  The characteristics which can be enhanced from using minimalism as a design philosophy are the following:

- Simple Interfaces: interfaces with straight functionality.  Each user interaction should go straight to the point described by the interface.  Assuming the right things is crucial.

- Strong Stories: stories with a coherent plot.  The main subject of the story should be easily recognized by the player.  Characters have strong personalities and its actions can be associated with the player's expectations.

- Centered Design: the design is centered in special features.  All the game components act as a whole to enhance the most differentiating characteristics.

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