Thursday, 17 January 2013

Cactus Block, Momentum, and Our Tools

I recently played chuchino's Cactus Block 2013, and there are things that warrant discussing.

We tend to think of mechanics as systems that should "work." We use that word, "work" a lot, like games are systems that exist exclusively for our use. I get it because a mechanical system shouldn't make it difficult for me to engage with content intellectually. If I can't walk in a game when it expects me to walk, I can't play the game, and therefore can't properly engage with it. Same thing with a broken DVD, or a book with ripped pages.

But just because its justified doesn't mean the expectation doesn't exist! I feel it's possible that  because of the mindset of "working" mechanics, we stop thinking about the systems or tools that constantly produce consistent results for our use. It's the simple idea of not thinking about where your tap water comes from, or where your food is made.

If the block making thingy in Cactus Block 2013 always made blocks, then it just becomes a static object that we stop thinking about. It becomes nothing but a means to block making, a square outline on our screen. But with the simple addition of the cactus, the box's antithesis, the game opens up this weird middle-space between us, and the block/cactuses that are made. That cursor outline is its own thing, an entity that we're now forced to have dialogue with.

I feel like when a system is consistent and reliable, we can produce strings of interactions to the point where we aren't thinking anymore. There's a momentum that players can develop, to the point where we can stop really paying attention. I can't develop that in Cactus Block 2013. I'm too busy accommodating  for an imperfect system.

I mean, what does all that momentum breaking allow? In a game like Street Fighter, if I get into a certain zone, I stop paying attention to everything else. Because of that, I never really get to see the small intricacies around, like how the music changes when health is low, or subtle quirks in the stages. I didn't notice these things for a long time! So perhaps momentum, in a sense, is myopic. It focuses my attention to a few specific ideas, to the point where I ignore everything else. Yet because of a very simple design choice, Cactus Block kind of becomes the opposite.

If this is true, maybe a game like Cactus Block would allow elements that would feel subtle in other games to be more pronounced? Intricacies in environments and aesthetic that could forward a narrative. The problem with a lot of games is that they carry these intricacies, but I'm too busy moving around, shooting, developing a momentum to pay attention to them. Hence, a narrative is never built.

It's possible that, for narrative to happen outside a player's actions, you have to reject their momentum. You have to get them to actually pay attention. I really like the way Cactus Block rejects my momentum by creating inconsistencies in its systems, and I think there's opportunity there to make something really interesting.

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