Another Half-Step into Always Was

I’m trying to talk about a certain kind of feeling in videogames that is just as easily shattered and that I don’t have words for. Think of those horrible sort of game logic jokes for a moment. Jokes about there being containers full of money at every corner, treasure chests with no origin, healthpacks strewn about. Every guffaw and jab about characters holding things without anyplace for them. Ostensibly humor; ultimately a humorless observation of what’s represented clashing with what is imagined to be simulated.

I’m tapping into a principle like the “magic circle” or like “suspension of disbelief”—there’s established language, symbols, shorthands for representation in videogame space. A singular jagged rock model stands in for any kind of rock material when crafting… and whatever you know where I’m going with this. There’s a certain amount of trust and understanding with regards to symbols standing in the place of complex systems and relationships, built up through representing them the best technology could allow, repeated as memes and mantras (like the concept of a health bar).

If you take a step back and stop trusting those relationships they’re plainly nonsense. They’re not nonsense because we understand metaphor and symbol. Though, metaphor is meant to hold poetic or dramatic meaning, not a physical reality. What is real, what is a concluded meaningthat is to be said what is behind a metaphor—is, indeed, not metaphorical. Yet in a videogame it is. This tension, simulacra meant to be actual, exists in most contemporary videogames.

I try to meditate on what it would be like to not play too many videogames, anyway, but that’s futility, a joke of an effort, which I try anyway. I remember feeling like videogames were operating on dream logic as a child. This turned into a mundane and naturalistic understanding of them, an understanding of a videogame by what I can do in it and how it works. Now I’m thinking more and more in terms of the former, intimidated, naive feeling, having come full circle.

Though basically flailing inbetween. I know it’s not entirely productive to think about a game as a thing that purely overwhelms. But I also think there’s a self-seriousness that comes from having too much confidence in strained expression. There is an undeniable absurdity to videogame construction, each no more than a glass house. The games supposedly most grounded in reality are surreal, modular collages of uncanny valley.  

I would argue as videogames become more comprehensible, they become more assimilated, more like what is, and then their content of expression becomes less pointed and specific. A truly realistic game would maintain interest by being separate from the real and actual, enabling practice or observation in a sanctioned place, but would hold no kind of serious difference. There are none yet; “realistic” videogames are bruised and imperfect. They aren’t accomplishing what they’re supposed to be accomplishing (unfairly assuming that is what they’re striving for). I guess I still think they’re, for the most part, boring aesthetics, but they are also deeply weird, unsatisfying, and that’s shrugged off, because it has to be. Our emperor, videogames.

All I mean to say is that the taped together fakeness of a videogame might be its best, most essential part. Simulation by half-truths and arbitrary arrangements. Games shed light on concepts because they’re unable to manifest them. It’s not that they enable a new point of view—their presented view is so estranged that it is inevitably a new point of view. Like a mistranslation next to the actual text, holding accidental power and poignancy.

These fevered conclusions were inspired by Apventure of the Valkyries [sic]. It’s a simulation of an Apple II computer game environment, bent to feel autobiographical. A comment by the dev elucidates a lot about the intention.


It’s a game made to convey the feeling of being unable to play a videogame. I associate this feeling with childhood, when even my elementary school seemed massive and impossible. For clarity, this isn’t something limited to childhood. If I tried playing the aforementioned crpgs without documentation I would be just as lost, because they’re labyrinths of assumed knowledge.

Striking, sharp, crude, dithered graphics sit in the middle of my browser, a framing that feels like suspended matter. Playing the game is hitting each key on my keyboard until I find whichever arbitrary presses work. I’m reminded of other pc game “shortcuts”, where inventory was binded to “I”, look to “L”, talk to “T”, and so on. Before controls and UI were standardized, there was a tendency to use the entire keyboard, resisting a delineation between a videogame and computer usage. Though like using a computer at the time, games ended up considerably more technical and opaque. Associations had to be learned in outside documentation.


And yeah, if I spent an hour or whatever reading documentation (manuals or guides) acclimating to the environment of one of those old pc games, I’d gradually come up to pace with what the game is supposed to be representing. Which for emphasis, videogames are usually not operating through symbolism and metaphor, at least especially commercial ones, so clarity and communicability for what objects are being represented and how they interact is essential. Associations with the controls, symbols, and what they’re representing need to be established, if a game is meant to be comprehensible.

It feels like I’m writing to convince myself. Remember that tension I mentioned? Maybe tension isn’t the right word, it’s more like being conscious of your blinking or breathing (sorry). I’m hyperaware of artifice when I play, while being privy to the illusion the set of polygons or pixels are intended to create.

Picture a dot. Imagine a maze, imagine many dots. There is now, in literal terms, a drawing of a maze, littered with dots. Now, associate gold. Those dots are piles of gold. This image is now twofold: it’s a drawn maze covered with yellow dots and it’s a dungeon filled with gold. Without being told to associate meaning to the symbolic representations, the drawing would just simply be. Now it’s something of an oxymoron as it exists still as a maze of dots, while representing something it looks nothing like. Except, I feel and compensate for the symbols now that the associations have been established: it’s a dungeon filled with gold.

Why does this distinction matter? I like the suggestion because it loosens the grand objective of game design. I don’t mean to frame this as a revelation, but a frame and mode of thinking that I’m comfortable with. I’m not trying to simulate, or trying to create worlds. Those are lofty, pompous, and inaccurate goals. Therefore my correct objective of game design is to engender feeling, but saying as much omits the process of how feeling is communicatedfeeling which is communicated by associations connecting the tools and symbols placed by a game designer.

A videogame is a thing between representation and metaphor. Being together and neither; existing as an object and as its stated properties; I’ve decided a good noun for this is associations. Game design is a container for input and graphical associations. Centering relationships, associations, feelings: that’s the kind of game design I want to accomplish, participate in as a player, and write about as a critic.


glorious trainwrecks page for apventure of the valkyrie




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