The Game I Want To Make

An exploratory piece about how systems-based games could be meaningful.

The world you are entering is a system. Its rules are not the same as the rules of the normal world, but it's consistent. It's not trying to trick you. It doesn't change randomly, even though some patterns of behavior might seem stochastic.

What makes it consistent is that it is a causal system. You can't remove one aspect of it without rendering a whole lot of other things nonsensical. Everything is embedded in the world, interconnected - however indirectly - with everything else. It is necessary that things be as they are -- not because they have to be this particular way, but because how any one thing is is dependent on how all the other things are.

Your sense of this world comes from your expectations going in; from your preliminary understanding of the role you typically play in virtual worlds; from your very local interactions with the things in your small, causal spehere of influence; from your experimentation with the objects and forces around you and with your own body's causal embeddedness in the world.

You are, in a sense, an infant.

manifold garden

Nothing that you can sense in the world is not causing. Light is not a "medium" of perception -- light is smashing into you continuously, setting off avalanches of perception. You are not "experiencing" -- you are being caused upon by everything around you, including your own body, which is causing upon everything else in return. Your body is not in any meaningful sense separate from everything else.

The world you've entered is obviously really complex - and sometimes totally surprising - but you start to get the sense that you might know what you're doing here; what you're about. When you do this, that happens. Wait, no it doesn't. Oh, but it didn't that time because that was like that. If you adjust for that and do this... Yep. Works every time. And your process - your infant-scientist process of testing out hypotheses and switching things around and re-testing and re-hypothesizing - works every time you use it.

starseed pilgrim

But what are you trying to do here? Is the goal to get out? Get in somewhere? Travel somewhere? Enable something to happen or disable it? Save something? Destroy something? This isn't the normal world, so there's no such thing as nihilism here. This world exists by virtue of someone creating it for someone else to enter it and do something. It is a creation - a meticulously systematic, consistent creation - so purpose is built into it, right? It is, by its nature, communicating with you.

In what language, though? It's certainly not using words. That thing about communicating -- maybe that's a lie. You don't know the creator personally or anything. Maybe the creator is just messing with you to see how much time you'll waste moving around and causing things. Well, you're not going to do that for long. You're going to do that for exactly one hour and fifty minutes, as a matter of fact -- and if it doesn't make any more sense by then, you're going to get a prompt Steam refund.

But maybe the creator just isn't communicating directly. Maybe the creator created this complex, intricate system in such a way that it's the thing communicating with you. Maybe it doesn't need to be talked "about" or "over" by someone because it itself is doing the (admittedly wordless) talking. That would make a whole lot of sense, actually. The world is already communicating with your virtual body in this tiny, locally causal way that you're using to figure out how it works (at least at the tiny, local level). Maybe there is a higher causal level of things happening, in the same way that a bunch of molecules bouncing around can be an ocean wave at a higher causal level.


But if that's true, then that whole thing about there having to be a point or a purpose is kind of out the window. In the normal world, there's no writer to tell you what you're doing here. There's no cut-scene to fill you in on the mission. There's no pre-defined purpose that came with the metaphysical Humble Bundle that is your normal-worldly existence. If this virtual world is trying to be like the normal world by being a god-awfully complex, consistent system, then where does the story come from? Where does the meaning come from?

Probably the same place stories and meanings come from in the normal world -- from stuff happening, without a narrator to make sense of it or suggest how you should think or feel about it. Prime Ministers are assassinated in the normal world. Flights are delayed by self-involved celebrities. Lovers are cheated upon, wait-staff unexpectedly tipped a week's pay, and dissertation defenses interrupted comically by birds that accidentally flew through the doors.

One obvious possibility that strikes you is that you can start by figuring out why this not-normal world is not-normal in the particular way that it is; how many higher levels of causes there are; what sorts of ocean-level waves and continent-level avalanches there are, waiting for you to surf them or set them off with a pebble. You - the infant-scientist, shoving things around and watching them move - can grow up to be the Nobel Prize-winning Theorist-Of-Everything of this weird, virtual universe.

You suspect there will be plenty of adventures along the way.

toki tori 2

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