There was a fire of discussion about democratized gamedev when Super Mario Maker came out. It was short lived, of course, the implications cannot reverberate when the subject matter is a walled garden. With Super Mario Maker, you have sort of the tools to make sort of Mario levels. Since communication is filtered through the iconography and symbolism of Mario, the expressive endpoint, beyond making Mario levels, is exploring how those symbols can be stretched, transformed, or reimagined. Nevertheless it’s a game completely anchored to its brand relationship. In other words, Super Mario Maker isn’t really capable of protest. As the servers will close and all of the levels deleted, the levels in Mario Marker are effectively detritus to Nintendo. Regardless of stated noble intentions of fun and bringing people together, they don’t care about the transformation of Mario. I suggest checking out games that do care, before Nintendo DMCAs every utter mention of their mascot.
I’m assuming Nintendo’s recent harmful and unnecessary vigilance to take down every fangame has something to do with the success of Super Mario Maker. It’s not a complex speculation: there will be a sequel to Super Mario Maker and likely “spin-offs” featuring elements of (or exclusively) other Nintendo properties. Fangames thriving (despite the expertise required to make a fangame that does not at all overlap with the appeal of template “creation software”) could send a message that you can make Mario levels without using approved tools. These future Mario Maker installments may be powerful enough to effectively be a salve for people driven to make fangames, though I doubt completely. I still find it disorientating how little anyone cares about Nintendo exerting weight on fangames. In fanfiction communities, outcry is immediate and full-bodied, when for example George R. R. Martin expresses his reductive opinion on the harmfulness of fanfiction. There’s little defense for fangames.
Tool assisted gameplay recently went viral with the video “Watch for Rolling Rocks – 0.5x A Presses.” It’s a fantastic video that deserved to become memetic if anything ever did. Parallel universes, half-presses, building up speed for 12 hours; esoteric expertise and seams of impossibility showcased with catchy slogans and canned retorts. TAS—tool-assisted speedruns (though the acronym often refers to anything tool-assisted)—always transform a videogame. There’s no player or play necessarily, at least how we think of those terms. Through frame by frame slow down, quicksaves, rewinds, and real time memory watching, a performance that is theoretically possible, though physically impossible, is constructed. TAS is a recording, a showcase. Play itself is being scripted piece by piece. The process interpreting the game and the processes that cause the game to function are increasingly indistinguishable. The videogame now plays itself.
There’s a bit of existentialistic fear in there, I guess. Videogames don’t need players. (Do they? Don’t they?) Though, also, there’s an obsessive bent to TAS, that’s different from standard speedruns. It’s practiced, but because it’s knowledge based, the aura of being an impressive human feat or performance is absent. Human impulse masquerading as inhuman. Like modding or romhacking, such incredibly specific knowledge has low value or interest to people outside of dedicated communities or subcultures. The necessary obsession compelling their creation is difficult to understand and those unbreachable feelings make familiar videogames utterly unrecognizable. TAS is, in a word, absurd.
Though gaudy for a myriad of reasons, walking simulator is commonly used and to the point. It’s efficient as long as videogames are described ludically. Rather than policing other’s language when it is not harmful, I’m going to endeavor for more exact terminology. Right now for games that go outside genre boundaries, it’s still necessary to say, it’s a walking sim, and; or, it’s a shooter, and; but if new words are more developed and precise, their efficiency will win out. Different presentations and styles of play can be captured immediately, without falling back on old, tired, and unspecific definitions.
Matter for Better is a walking sim, sure. There’s no goals to achieve, nothing specific to do, nowhere to go. It’s just a place to be. I decide when I’m done being and I close the game. That’s unlike the mainstream conception of walking sims where travel does have a purpose and the game ends once the narrative wraps up. Other apparent walking sims like Matter for Better: Serenity and Vestige, don’t have explicit goals or any diegetic narrative. Notice comments on Vestige’s page at how, even for a walking sim, it’s not really complete yet. The level design is good but: what’s there to do? Like travel for the sake of it, living and being for the sake of it, there’s nothing extra but one’s thoughts.
I found Awkward Dimensions Redux incredible in the way I find most things that are so brutally honest and forward. A lot of my favorite things are confessional. Maybe because it takes a lot to convince myself that I’m not alone. What I found so valuable in this game is just how much of it lined up to my personal situation and so I have to admit it’s a really particular game. That’s what it is though, isn’t it? A particular game about the particular time and space you were in when you made it. It’s a diary, a crystallized youth. So I was wondering how exactly to write about something clearly personal and I guess I decided the best way was to try to be personal in turn.
In what is extremely clearly stated rhetoric, Austin C. Howe separates the player and character in what I’d simplify shorthand as the player actor relationship:
I have thought about this a lot and: the player is not the character and shouldn’t be thought of as such. Usually, there’s just Too Much Damn Text that makes the player character totally alienated from the player. Games are not immersive, they’re empathetic. They don’t make you feel like you’re “there”, they communicate what “there” is like.
An integral part of understanding videogames as metaphors, as meaningful art objects that fit into our lives, is separating a feeling of agency from actual, material agency. Establishing a divide between the virtual and the actual. During play of a shooter, I choose to make tactile responses that cause a character to commit murder. I do not commit actual murder. It sounds obvious, but I don’t think this is semantics for the sake of it, the difference is really important in both approaching game development and interpreting videogames.