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Silent Conversations

With online interaction becoming richer and richer, can less be more?


Online multi-player interaction has grown exponentially in a short space of time. Players can communicate through voice and text chat, customisation, tags etcetera. Friends lists, clans, social media links and other community building features let players interact more than ever before. Despite all of this communication, the times I’ve felt closest to other players have occurred in games with none of these features, one occurrence that comes to mind is Mario Kart DS.
Lakitu floating over my head, thumb ready to hit the accelerator to get a precious boost start. I prepared myself for a tough race. After a blistering start I was clipping apexes and power sliding like a pro. Suddenly I realise that my opponent is nowhere to be seen on the mini-map. How strange!
Ever the one for an interesting race rather than an easy win, I go back to the start to find my opponent bunny hopping on the start/finish line. At that moment we both understood, contrary to the “point” of the game, we weren't racing. From there we proceeded to explore off road,  trying to push each other off of the track and generally play around until the timer ran out. And it was good.

There is something akin to mind reading when you try to extrapolate the actions of others, trying to understand their intent and predict their actions. It’s inherently rewarding. Whether it be intercepting a pass in football, a checkmate in chess or an ambush in Call of Duty: understanding the situation and making a prediction is key.

The Mario Kart example stands out to me because our intent was so divorced from the implicit aim of a racing game. Most of the time the overall objective is obvious from the win condition of the rule set: you know they are trying to beat you. When the players intent is more ambiguous the process gets more interesting. Rather than “how are they trying to beat me” you have to ask yourself ”are they trying to beat me?” and then “what are they trying to beat me at?”.

Communication in games is often seen as a utility, that it should be as explicit and efficient as possible. The process of communication can be inherently game-like in itself, especially when trying to do so with very limited non-verbal means. The prospect of exploring this kind of interaction excites me a lot.

With thatgamecompany’s upcoming “Journey” reported to be dealing with some similar themes I’m looking forward to its impending autumn release.


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