What the player wants? Tribulations of a in progress developer

I talk in this article about the duality "ludologism" vs "narrativism", the real relevance of narratvism in videogames and the gamers.

NOTE: This text is a translation of a in spanish original article. I 've put all my efforts to make a good translation, but it’s possible that I have committed numerous mistakes, all my apologies. Thanks for your sympathy and I hope you enjoy with this article.

I am a game developer, this is a very strong affirmation that I usually use quite carefully, I think that someone is not really a “professional” until he lives of his profession, I am in process of getting it, I hope. I am currently developing my first "serious" videogame, Far (Away), it is still a long way. But well, yes, I am a game developer, especially in the angle of the videogames design.

Certain video games researchers have shared the idea that there are two types of videogame developers, which we might call "ludologists" and "narrativists":

The "ludologists" are the game designers most anchored to the traditional creation of videogames. They give greater importance to the ludic aspects of the videogame, to the game. Usually they relate directly the entertainment with fun. They are focused on developing a solid mechanics, the story and other artistic sections are subordinated to them. The ideal example of “ludologist” designer is Shigeru Miyamoto and his game Super Mario Bros.

The "narrativists" are the game designers most focused on exploring the expressive aspects of the game, especially to the narrative aspects, both textual and visuals, the mechanics are subordinated to them. An example of "narrativist" designer may be David Cage, and his game Heavy Rain (with all the Cage flaws, he is one of the more pure "narrativists”, because he clearly subordinate all the mechanics to the narrative expressiveness of the game)

These two designers models can be defined from a first phase of the game design: while the "ludologists" usually initiate the game design based on a mechanic, the "narrativists" tend to design their game based on a story or a narrative concept.

There are many people, from inside or outside the industry, extremely pragmatic, that give lessons of what a game must be like to work, as if were magic rules that would guarantee success. My rule is simple: I will do what I want to do, without any rules beyond the self-imposed limits of my own criteria and knowledges. Failure may be paved with good ideas, but also with empty content marketing products.

If I had to define myself as a designer, it would be like "narrativist", but I really don’t like to limit myself with a definition. I'm interested in exploring new ways of videogames making, trying to get away my design from the industry tropes, not because I'm forced to do it, but because it's really that I'm interested. I'm not here to make a profit, but I want to use videogames as a expression way, just like I do with my other art works, and to do it is not worth for me just copying or imitating others.

One of the things that distances me more from the traditional definition of the narrativist designer, is my interest in the visual narrative more than in the textual one. We are talking about videogames, so I think that the game should told us more playing and less through the text or the screenplay, just like that the game will be more pure, more authentic.

The game should let the player discover the story for himself. I do not mean to read it in the descriptions of objects as in Dark Souls, but to live it, to discover the story playing the game, as in Half Life 2 for example, without interruptions.

Interactivity should be the center of everything, that is the language of videogames. The screenplay is a add-on of literature and the same happens with art or music, the mechanics are techniques, such as a traveling in cinema or a rift in music, the important thing is what is counts with the mechanics and visuals.

As a developer people encouraged you to work in the mechanics (in the technical sense of the word), in entertainment (defining and assimilating forcibly entertaining as fun), to think about what the players will like... The trainers and the representatives of the industry force to the designers to repeat the same videogames tropes of allways.

But really I’m not sure why the video game industry seems to evolve so slowly. We continue talking about Half Life 2 when it is more than 13 years old and on narrative level the story of Half Life 2 is really simple, almost a context for playable mechanics incredibly well polished. Bioshock or Batman Arkham seems to remain perfect masterpieces to most of people and only some of us seem to understand how badly they’ve carried the pass of the years.

Why don’t we turn this around? What if we are the ones who are wrong? Most developers remain primarily "ludologists," most successful games focus on exploring novel mechanics or joining known mechanics in a new context ... Or simply exploding successful mechanics over and over again.

There is a concept that usually appears in my readings of video game design and this is that the designer should think about what the player will like and not what we like ourselves as designers (as if we were not ourselves players and ours opinion was invalid).

Actually I understand why this conception is constantly remembered, I understand why we need to think about the player. If we forget the player we can create absurd designs that ignore them and ruin the game experience by our own "artistic interests". We must remember that we talk about interactive works and the player is a fundamental element, if there is an emitter and a medium but not a receiver, communication fails.

On the other hand, are we really thinking about the player when we request a evolution of the videogames towards a more narrative language? Is it not possible that we are seeking our own personal satisfaction in that petition without caring about what the people really want?

Each year more and more videogames are sold, the industry is every year more massive and successful. Recently it was reported that the mobile videogames market, packed with games that would enervate almost any critic, had been for the first time which most money generated, above the PC and, of course, the consoles market.

Usually the most selling games are not the best rated for mostly of the critics. Meanwhile, a lot of "good games" according to the critic, have stayed in the way. Certainly games like Firewatch, the Witness or Inside, have been some success, but perhaps because they are masterpieces created by well-known authors. But it is becoming more common to see commercial failures with very good reviews and notes. Is it the indiepocalipse or simply we are not really listening what the people demand us.

As reporters we must spread new concepts, trying to enlarge the knowledge of our public. But we must also try to be objective. Of course no one is in a hundred percent objective, it’s usual that to believe in the whole truth is the first sign of being completely wrong.

Are we really looking for a videogame evolution to narrative expressions because we want to improve the videogames? or perhaps, are we looking this because we want to satisfy our own desires? Are we being objective when we are valuing videogames? Would we be supportive if the evolution of videogames took a different path than we wanted? How can we connect with the public and be innovative?

Finally, as developers it is our obligation, if we want to have an audience, to understand this audience and their motivations. This does not mean, I think, limit ourselves in the creative level, but simply do not forget that the videogame must be played by someone, so we should try to avoid putting rocks in the ground. On my way I have one thing clear, I have no interest in being a billionaire, I will not turn my game into a product that "sells well", no one has the key of success. So I will try to do what I know how to do, I will try to be absolutely free and responsible with my freedom to offer the best possible videogame.

This text was originally published on my Medium profile:

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