Thursday, January 2, 2014

Accidental Game Mechanics

            It would appear that the time has come, again, for another unwarranted, self-indulgent journey aboard the video games are art thought train--today's destination: the unpredictable frontier of accidental game mechanics. In the vast majority of art forms, the development of a perceptive incongruity between the intent of the artist and the interpretation of the audience is an inevitability born of the base ambiguity of human communication and the uniqueness of the individual consciousness. Simply put, films, paintings, poems, etc. are more than mere vessels for  the narratives, philosophical messages, personal feelings, or other intended perceptual transferences of their respective artists; a work of art is a dynamic entity, deriving something akin to a life of its own from the skewed conveyance of the artist's initial intent to the public. That said, video games are no exception to the inescapable futility of attempting to constrain the meaning of art. In actuality, a fairly compelling argument could be made for the catalysis of creativity through restriction. For instance, if it weren't for the limited resources of certain game developers, the indie genre wouldn't exist, and gaming culture would be devoid of some of the most compelling and creative titles to grace the industry in the last decade. Similarly, accidental game mechanics are the product of limiting the player's choices and functional abilities within a game.

            In an attempt to disambiguate the indecipherable generality of the phrase 'accidental game mechanics,' allow me to specify that my usage of the phrase is meant to denote a conceptual aggregation of the interactive features present within a game and existing without the explicit intent of the developer--all of the glitches, exploits, bugs, or what have you that add to the player's gameplay experience, rather than serving as a detriment. Within this subset of gameplay elements resulting naturally from programmatic oversight, I find that there is a certain sense of self-deterministic triumph and creative elation to be found in the discovery and subsequent exploitation of these game mechanics to yield new and wholly unexpected styles of play--a feeling of accomplishment that accompanies the circumvention of the ordinary and the well defined. Moreover, if I may momentarily assume the pretension of possessing the ability to correctly infer the gaming community's general proclivities, I would imagine that I am not alone in my fondness for fighting the proverbial system in overcoming the adversity of gameplay restrictions. After all, if gamers, myself included, did not find themselves fascinated by the unerring ability of accidental game mechanics to invoke a sense of mystery--an organic quality that calls the finiteness of game's scope into question--gaming culture's long-standing curiosity in Minus World, MissingNo., item duplication glitches, seam-walking, and all manner of other historical programming aberrations would seem wholly irrational and indefensibly vestigial. In a sense, gamers are always looking for the metaphorical dragon that lies just beyond the next hill or even just through that pesky, locked door at the end of the hall; they yearn to see a game's fictional world unencumbered by the limitations of the game itself, and, as such, gameplay exploits serve as their moonshots, their forays into the vast unknown.

            Personally, I have always found games containing these accidental mechanics to be the most compelling in terms of replayability and community collaboration. Since I first started hex-editing my copy of Pokemon Red at age twelve, to catch 'glitch pokemon', I have noticed that the pursuit of gameplay, beyond the intended structure of the game itself, possesses the ability to draw gamers together to strive toward the common goal of discovering the hidden depths of their favorite games--to momentarily suspend the reality of a game's fantasy. Similarly, whispers, rumors, and hearsay of glitches, exploits, and hidden content discarded in the development process will always keep certain games alive, long after the majority have forgotten them. Sometimes, we never truly want the game to be over, and accidental game mechanics offer a vestige of hope toward that end.