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Your lips are intriguing, a sheath for your teeth,
a curled pearl snarl or wrap around rocks,
singing a song or intoning a poem,
bent up in symbols known only to you.

Cheeks rising with lips and eclipsing the eyes,
similar shapes shared in joy and dismay,
skull sockets packed with radial muscles,
and dark skin draped eyelids to hold in the ball.

Brows beetling and bristling make facial creases,
rising in surprise and bowing with frowns,
indicating which way your day is now going,
an arrow pointing up or one pointing down.

Your nose in repose stays smooth as breath flows,
sides flare with your temper, your bridge draws together,
in anger and sadness, over troubled waters,
sorrows salty like seas and easier to drown in.

Lines define the edge of the mouth,
up to the nose, lips out like a bell,
then around down the sides and under the chin
sometimes invisible, but seen when you yell.

Skeletons and paintings can't choose when to smile,
but you do,
these lines can't choose to lie,
but you can.

 

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QWOP

What role should frustration have in the player’s experience of a game?

It’s a tricky question. For a while game designers assumed the answer was ‘none’, that frustration was an inherently unpleasant experience with nothing to offer, that it stood opposed to everything that players play games for. This opinion seems to have eroded over the years, as attempts to reduce player frustration ended predictably in tepid, milquetoast game experiences.

This question is made more complex because frustration is such a personal reaction  The game can present the challenges and the unpleasant surprises, but whether the player finds them frustrating is a matter just as much of their personal outlook as it is of the content of the game. Some people get frustrated by even the slight puzzling challenges of a narrative adventure game, while others find the die/restart loop of ultra-hard ‘maso-core’ platformers relaxing. Sometimes these may even be the same people! In fact, being frustrated has as much to do with how hard we think something should be as it does with how hard we think it is. Thus, the unexpected challenge presented by the narrative game feels like an affront, while the repeated deaths of the hard platformer feel like, well, pretty much what the player signed on for when they booted up the game.

One reason why Dark Souls has done well from being difficult is because it’s extraordinarily up-front about being difficult. This has a number of unfortunate side effects, such as its more ignorant or obstreperous players believing that because they’ve beaten a video game they know what real adversity is or putting down players of other games as being somehow lesser gamers – or, conversely, the game’s reputation scaring away potential players who might otherwise be amenable to its patient and minimalistic, if unforgiving, approach to gameplay and storytelling. Demonstrating to people up front what they can expect from your game, what kind and what degree of challenge, is a way of nipping unpleasurable frustration in the bud, of saying beforehand “if you’re having trouble here, it’s because you’re trying to do something hard, not because there’s something wrong with you.” That is, at least, on the first playthrough: After a hiatus, I’m always dismayed when I come back to Dark Souls and find that all of the things I’d remembered being easy have suddenly become difficult again. I was supposed to be good at this, dammit!

Thus, as designers, we can reduce player frustration, not by making everything easy, but by making it clear what is going to be challenging and why. Which answers one question, but leaves another open: Players are still going to be frustrated, even if you make efforts to reduce this, but can frustration be a rewarding experience itself? I would contend so, for the same reason that it’s impossible to completely remove frustration from the gameplay experience: Being frustrated is a big part of life, and learning how to cope with that in a safe environment can be useful and interesting – even, dare I say it, fun. Working past the frustration, finding the calm within the storm, not just solving the problem but addressing the anger that is keeping you from solving the problem, these are moments of epiphany that games can offer.

Conversely, as a player – no, rather, as a person trying to solve a problem – avoiding the expectation of being great at something, avoiding the belief that something should be easy for you, is the best way to avoid frustration. This is, I believe, why humility is a virtue: It lets you approach problems as they are, difficult or easy, without preconceptions as to how hard they should be. Come to that, it’s also why confidence is a virtue, since if you believe something is too difficult for you that is also an obstacle to performing well. Confidence and humility, together, let you tackle a problem as it is, serene in the knowledge that you either will or won’t be able to solve it, and the only meaningful way to find out is to give it an honest try. These two concepts, believing in your ability to handle what’s coming and knowing that there are things that you will find difficult or undoable, are difficult to resolve, but powerful in tandem.

 

Grumpy_Snail

Something I’ve learned anew with each new medium I tackle is that, as much as the breadth and reach of human imagination is amazing, imagination is terrible at the details. Starting out, when one has an idea for a piece to create, it’s nice to imagine that it’s all planned out, set out and mapped in the mind, immaculate and ready to manifest. It’s a nice illusion, isn’t it? The truth is, whatever is constructed in our mind is a summation of symbols and shorthand, a patchwork cardboard cutout version of an actual artistic creation. When you try to draw that out, to sketch an image of it on a pad or to turn its tones into notes and instruments or to codify its behavior into a set of rules, you quickly spot the holes in what you believed you had imagined to completion.

The trick is, when we look at something in our mind it’s constantly changing shape. If you notice a part of it isn’t detailed enough, the very act of noticing makes that detail take shape, while still adding nothing to the completion of the image overall.

This is why everyone says ‘idea men’ are useless. Everyone has ideas, and most of them are skeletal and, in many cases, self-contradictory. It’s the job of artists and engineers to fill in that skeleton. Okay: This may seem obvious. But my point is that, contrary to the conception of the idea as being the model of the piece with all the work going into realizing that model, the idea is more like a note scribbled on a napkin – even if it’s your own idea – even if you think you’ve thought of everything – it’s an illusionary completion, and the more work you put into it the more holes you’ll find in the surface that once seemed perfect, smooth, pristine.

Our imaginations are so robust that they imagine themselves to be more complete than they are.

Here’s the upshot. If you haven’t actually done the work of being an artist, if you haven’t tried to take your idea and turn it into something substantial, you, to be blunt, basically don’t know shit about your own idea. If there was a machine that could reach directly into your mind and translate what you’re thinking into a real solid object, to record your thoughts directly to a film reel, it would be an incomprehensible mess. That’s what thoughts are! That’s what all of us start with! And, if you had this miracle machine, if you practiced with it day after day, maybe you could make the stuff that comes out of your brain start to take the shape you want, the shape you thought you were imagining. Maybe, eventually, you’d have something you could share with everyone else. And in the process of creating this, the way you see the world would start to change – you’d notice more, analyze more, interpret more…

That’s art. That’s 80% of the work right there, filling in those gaps, figuring out the little details, making everything solid, consistent. The rest is just mechanical, all in the wrists and the ankles, a list of facts and formulas, a bunch of friends and connections, and/or a budget. Depending on your medium.

If you haven’t tried actually creating something, instead of just thinking about how amazing the thing you could make would be if you made it, I recommend it. It will change you. It will make you realize, in a way you simply cannot if you don’t try yourself, both the incredible patchy shallowness of imagination and its indescribable reach and flexibility.

Whether you end up actually creating anything, in the end, is incidental.

TombofGiants

I would almost say that fear of the unknown is the only real kind, but that seems difficult to defend. Certainly, the fear that the guy who told you he would cut your arm off at 3:15pm next Tuesday will definitely do exactly that – this guy being famed, far and wide, for his punctuality and efficacy when it comes to scheduled mutilations – would be a very reasonable (hypothetical) fear, and I think most people would feel it under those circumstances. I will go so far as to say, though, that fear of the unknown and fear of the known are two emotions so wildly different in tenor as to make it absurd that we would call them by the same name.

I’m not even sure that a known fear is exactly fear, though, or that it remains such. Certainly, at first, the idea of having an arm cut off is terrifying. However, as you have time to reflect upon the inevitability, you can resolve yourself to it. You can begin to plan for your new life as a one-armed person: Cancel those piano lessons, order a left-handed mouse, join your local ‘The Fugitive’ re-enactment club. As you think about it more, the mystery drains away, and while you’re certainly not looking forward to it, it becomes easier to regard the loss of an arm as more akin to a scheduled surgery than an unjustified mutilation.

It will hurt though. Like, a whole lot – but I digress.

Let’s talk about uncertainty.

Let’s talk about dread.

Let’s talk about the fear of the blank white page. Let’s talk about being scared to watch the last episode or fight the final boss because you don’t know what you’ll do with your time afterwards. Let’s talk about staying with the job you hate because you don’t know what you’ll do with yourself if you don’t have it to go to every day. Let’s talk about why not all slaves want freedom. Let’s talk about why people get angry if they’re forced to think they might have made a wrong decision.

Our image of the world is of paramount importance to us. Our symbolic representation of our environment is what we base all of our decisions on. Whenever something disrupts that structure, the ground moves beneath our feet and we start barking like dogs. Uncertainty goes beyond mere fear. It becomes painful, almost physically painful, to be uncertain. It cripples productivity and mental health.

Uncertainty underlies anxiety, emerges when we are uncertain of our environment and our future.

Uncertainty underlies depression, emerges when we are uncertain of ourselves and our place in the world.

Happiness is doing things that you believe need to be done and seeing the results you expected emerge from your actions. If you’re forced to do things you have no interest in, you will feel shitty. If you get results contrary to your expectations, you will feel shitty.

This is what games are. This is what games offer. They give us a place where we can pretend we’re doing things that need to be done, and where actions are promised to always produce a consistent and expected result. This is what we crave.

The more we reinforce that brick building, though, the heavier it is when it falls.

tomodachiI’m not sure what to say any more. I want to say something new and insightful, something beautiful and deep. I want to riff on an idea, to take it and transform it and expound upon it, want to pounce on something we’ve been taking for granted, excise it and expose it, explain it, define it.

Or maybe I want to say something funny, something clever. I want to draw an unexpected comparison between two apparently dissimilar concepts and evoke amusement. I want to take a picture that illustrates an idea and then caption it with something that recontextualizes the image in a manner both unexpected and droll.

Perhaps I want to be honest, want to expose my insecurities, to describe what I’m scared of, what I hope for, try to seek or share some degree of common humanity with the rest of the world. I want to show that I am human, but with perhaps an emphasis on my own quirks and idiosyncrasies, and build a bridge of common-ground differences between us.

I don’t know. I’m tired. I think I want to want to write something new, now. I want to find the place that I don’t know where to look, and I don’t know where to look to find that place. I’d like to expand beyond my comfort zone, but honestly that makes me kind of uncomfortable.

I want to know whether I’m writing for me or for you.

I want to know whether I’m writing for the past or the present or the future.

Actually, maybe I don’t.

Maybe I don’t care whether I say anything insightful, incisive, cutting and clear, cunning and clever. Maybe I think that all of that boils down to sophistry, games we play with words, insignificant and self-indulgent. Maybe it just appears to have significance because that which it commentates upon appears to have significance. Maybe the chain goes on forever, a who-gives-a-fuck pattern of irrelevance, pompous jackasses all the way down..

Maybe I don’t care if I’m funny. Maybe I suspect that the scope of humanity which happens to share a sense of humor with me is almost vanishingly small, and most of the time my effort is wasted. Maybe I’m not sure if I can be amusing consistently enough to make it a worthwhile pursuit.

Maybe I don’t give a shit if what I say is the truth. The truth is not a monolith, it comes in many pieces and the shape of those pieces shifts and melts like chocolate when they are held too hot and too close. A truth today is a lie tomorrow, and pretending honesty only makes you twice the liar in the long run.

Maybe I don’t know if there’s anything new under the stars. Maybe it isn’t important to me whether there is. Maybe the extent of the future is constrained by the past and my capacity to see what exists beyond myself is constrained by my many years of habitual self-ness. Maybe it’s not important.

I don’t want to know how stupid I am.

I don’t want to know how irrelevant I am.

I just want a moment in time where I know who I am, and what I’m doing, and why.

Which is probably too much to ask.

verbose

I like the in-between things. I like how we have names for the different ways things can be, but there’s always an infinite, if infinitely precise, difference between those states, and a tremendous spectrum spans that in-between space.

Maybe it’s because I keep ending up living in that space. I am an extremely stationary nomad.

Most people are not comfortable with the in-between.

There is a process which seems to occur. First, a thing exists, or comes into existence. This thing arrives naked, with no name, so sometimes it takes a while for people to realize that it is a thing. So, they make a name for it, they try to describe a box around what it is and what it isn’t with a label.

This is useful. People have a word to call this thing which they were aware of but had no way to talk about, and people who weren’t aware of said thing can hear its word and from that discover what the thing is. This is the birth of a word, the beginning of language.

Words change as people use them, but they also resist change by the same mechanism– a word that changes too readily is near useless because it can mean anything at any time. However, a word that never changes carries a risk: As the thing it was invented to describe expands and shifts, it may one day be too small to carry the range of meaning it was invented to span. It may, even, miss the mark completely, and describe something which has long since disappeared and no longer exists.

But this is all speaking in generalities. Let’s look at specifics, shall we?

“It’s not really a video game, just a movie with some interactive bits”

“She’s not a real gamer, she just plays social games”

“Look out man, that’s not a real chick, just a dude in a dress”

Pictured: True Scotsman

Pictured: True Scotsman

Our words are failing us terribly quickly.

People are not comfortable with the in-between.

This causes a number of different problems, but what makes saddens me is how artificial most of the problems we have are. People get angry at art because it doesn’t meet the requirements they have for the term ‘game’ or the term ‘first-person-shooter’ as though simply fitting that criteria were innately desirable. As well, inversely, they get angry at games because they don’t fit their definition of ‘art’, and never mind that it is the ways in which these things exceed our understanding that makes them really amazing.

We get angry at each other, too, as we see our comrades exceed the bounds of gender and genre we set on our fellows. We accuse these things and people of not being ‘real’ because they exceed our understanding of what those names can describe.

How cruel, to find the words we use to describe each other more important than each other.

Of course, that’s only one perspective, the perspective of language. I find this perspective comforting and understandable, as language is basically where I live, but to everyone else these similar structures may be couched in some other understanding, some other descriptive structure which comes to supersede that which it describes.

Tradition.

Family.

Nation.

But still, why is it we seem to believe these institutions are more intrinsically valuable than those humans which make it possible for them to exist?

We are convinced we must fit square pegs into round holes, and we inconveniently keep forgetting that we’re the ones who made those holes in the first place and it is quite feasible for us to remake them, and maybe make them square this time. Or, better yet, create something with more than one kind of hole, since it may well be that the round pegs fear that there will be no place for them in this new square-holed world.

But we are afraid.

This has a cost both in terms of human happiness and our capacity to innovate– not to imply that those things aren’t intimately tied together in the first place. The spaces in between the definitions that come quickly to mind are where we can find new ideas. New ideas have, by definition, no language available to describe them. Find a new word with a new meaning and you have a new concept.

CannedLightbulbs

New ideas, fresh from the idea store

I suppose it’s not interesting to observe that people fear new things. I suppose it’s well understood that this is the case. What is interesting, though, and mentioned less often, is the way people fight novelty by sectioning things off with language.

“It’s interesting, but is it ART?”

Language drives ideas drive language drives ideas. Insistent and exclusionary terminology is a way to enforce a status-quo.

As always, I am not angry as much as I am disappointed. I understand that it is frightening to try to construct a new world, a bigger one than the one we had before, and it’s never going to be easy. It is always hard to believe, as an artist, that if we have made something once that we can make it again.

The magic was in you all along.

Change begins where language ends. Change begins when we begin to perceive the edge of our ability to describe our world. As long as we clutch our vocabulary to our little hearts and prescribe proper usage and get angry and feel betrayed whenever something exceeds the language we use to describe it, we will never be able to conceive of a world better than this one, much less realize it.

I will grant, I am sometimes pedantic in my usage of language, I am sometimes prescriptive. I will correct people. I do think it’s important to know the rules before you break them. But it’s also important to realize that some rules do need to be broken, and to respect that not everyone may be as diligent as I am in regard to learning those rules before breaking them.

If no rules are ever broken, we will never exceed the language we use to describe ourselves.

People are trying to express something to each other, and sometimes that expression exceeds our pathetic dictionaries. Try to hear the words which don’t exist lying under the words that do, try to perceive the description of future ideas unsaid. It may sound like gibberish, it may BE gibberish, but under it there’s an idea.

Maybe not a good one, but a new one.

Shall we name it?

These few days here are super intense, and I didn’t have time to update the game today. I will be back on the job starting Friday.

In fact, all things considered this seems like a good time to shift over to the new update schedule, wherein I target DevBlog updates for Sundays. Along with that will likely come a different update for the non-DevBlog posts as well. I think perhaps a 500-1000 word update on Monday and a 1000-2000 word update on Friday may be a good target.

I don’t like missing updates, but I think what’s most important is to stay on the case. I’ll make posts like this on DevBlog dates even if I am unable to get any work done during the week, because it’s important to face that. It’s gonna happen sometimes, and it IS the Holiday season.

Anyway. Enjoy your holidays, all. Next update on Saturday morning as usual, next DevBlog on Sunday.