On Perspective

Rather than cognitive and computer scientists needing to develop more advanced machines, according to Murray, we instead need to develop more advanced writers, writers unafraid of multimedia technology, writers undaunted by collaborative, nonlinear environments, writers flexible enough to create an entire virtual world rather than the linear textual representation of the world. [1]

Now replace ‘literature’ and ‘writers’ with ‘videogames’ and ‘game designers’ and you’ll get games like:

AntiChamber:

Braid:

The Stanley Parable:

Portal:

The Bridge

and arguably…

Metal Gear Solid II:

Most computer games out there don’t do much, like novels or films they’re a form of escapism. We sink into our computer chairs or our sofa after a hard slog at the office and relax into a make-believe world. For these games, the fictional world must have a degree of believability; it must act rationally, it must play by the rules it sets. The issue with mainstream gaming is this: they always make the same rules:

  1. Shoot the bad guys,
  2. Save the princess,
  3. Lead an army to victory,
  4. Outsmart the opponent,
  5. If your health is low heal/find health,

When the rules are set, they are rarely broken. This changed not too long ago (I’m not going to delve into videogame history to find out when) and things started mixing up a bit. Maybe the bad guys weren’t really the bad guys? Maybe so-and-so was lying? Maybe the princess doesn’t need saving and can handle herself? These were welcome changes, but now? Now they’re old hat… the fact of the matter is that they are simply new rules from those first rules.

  1. Don’t shoot the bad guys (they might be good),
  2. Don’t save the princess (she’s harder than you are),
  3. Don’t lead an army to victory (because war is slaughter),
  4. Don’t outsmart the opponent (because that’s what he expects you to do),
  5. If your health is low stand still and wait (yeah…)

So where do we go from here? We could just add more characters? More princesses? A prince maybe?  Rather than healing how about just standing around a fire? How about we exit the environment of the game itself?

Perspective:

[Perspective] From inside the machine...
[Perspective] From inside the machine…
... to outside the machine.
… to outside the machine.

Nothing new here really, the transition from inside the machine to outside has been used many a time, as has the transition from 2d to 3d (I’m thinking of The Simpsons) but it’s a little more varied in that we become aware of a gamer – that we were controlling the blue spaceman through a character who was operating the arcade machine – which makes us, in extension, a gamer controlling a gamer controlling the protagonist.

But of course, it doesn’t stop there – one of the core mechanics of the game is the ability to manoeuvre between these dimensions, which is far too complicated to explain with just text and images, so here’s Yogscast:

The gamer in the 3rd dimension aides the blue spaceman in the 2nd, and when the blue spaceman reaches an exit (only accessible to him) the gamer progresses with him. As the game progresses we begin to see that by flipping between these two dimensions the blue spaceman can reach areas that are inaccessible to the gamer in the 3d by exploiting spacial distortions that emerge from the gamers perception of the environment (phew!). He can therefore access high walls, ceilings and alter his size according to the gamers position.

The big...
The big…
... to the small.
… to the small.

It gets harder and harder (as puzzle games do) until you reach the finale, which I’m now going to spoil for you…. so: IF YOU HAVEN’T PLAYED THE GAME AND INTEND TO PLAY IT STOP READING! YOU CAN DOWNLOAD THE GAME HERE (It’s Free!).

So you’ve got to the end of the game, you’ve completed all the levels and the credits are a’scrolling, and the little exit point below the ending screen you view just warps you back onto the little blue platform. The credits end and you’re left there, so you figure you have to quit.

Right, let's quit...
Right, let’s quit…
Ah, the desktop. Wait. What?
Ah, the desktop. Wait. What?
Urrrrm.
Urrrrm.

Then one of the desktops fall flat to reveal…

The Exit.
The Exit.

Ah, I see what you did tharrrrr…

So, to put this is in *ahem* Perspective, we quit from the game [virtual 3d environment] to the desktop [2d environment] in which we become the blue spaceman; when navigating our desktop, the internet, word processors we operate a cursor that is restricted to 2 dimensions, something we don’t think about everyday. As we attempt to navigate the desktop we suddenly realise we’re still in 3 dimensions (a la Flatland), when one desktop falls flat and we (as gamer) walk through it we break the fourth wall – the 2d blue exit icon we have become used to becomes 3d, implying that suddenly we are the figure trapped within dimension.

When playing the game you start to get cocky and feel really clever when you’ve managed to solve a puzzle. You are helping the blue guy to escape the arcade, but you never really think about your escape – the blue man aides you as much as you aid him – in order to progress you must navigate in accordance to the rules of his dimension as much your own, yet, when you understand this you completely forget that there might be levels well beyond that of exiting the arcade game and relating with the gamer.

This is what the conclusion is getting at, it’s an attempt to make the gamer aware of him/herself and their relationship with the game. It encourages us to look at the world around us and appreciate it from new perspectives, to think a little widely, to break the fourth wall. We don’t quit to desktop, we quit to the figure operating it; we move through the screen and out like the little blue spaceman.

The Turing test can never be passed by a machine, precisely because the test’s terms are under human control; as Helen points out, no machine-embodied creature could ever fully comprehend “sounds and sweet airs” or the visceral experience of fear […] the test was never about her at all […] Powers, not Helen, was the subject of the reverse Turing test, an experiment designed not to see whether a machine could be trained to read and write as well as a human, but whether a humanist could be trained to believe that a machine was alive. [1]

[1] Kathleen Fitzpatrick, ‘The Exhaustion of Literature: Novels, Computers, and the Threat of Obsolescence’ in Contemporary Literature, Vol. 43, No. 3 (Autumn, 2002), pp. 518-559

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