Games

Announcing The Walk Game

You know what I haven't done in a while? A proper project launch announcement. But GET READY, because this one is awesome.

I'd like to (somewhat belatedly) announce I was involved in a game called The Walk, a fitness game along the general lines of Zombies, Run! --Which should be no surprise, because as with that game, it's a production of Naomi Alderman and Six to Start. Here's a description from the press kit:

The Walk is a smartphone fitness game and audio adventure released on 11 December 2013. It combines exciting gameplay with a high-octane thriller story, encouraging players to walk more every day. When you're playing The Walk, every single step counts in a journey that will save the world.

...

The Walk begins in Inverness station. Through a case of mistaken identity, you the player are given a vital package which must be couriered to Edinburgh, but as you're about to board the train, terrorists blow it up and set off an electromagnetic pulse! None of the cars or trains are working - you'll have to walk - but now the terrorists are on your trail because they want the device you're carrying, and the police are after you as a suspect in the bombing. To survive, you'll have to join up with other escapers from the city - but how many of them can you trust, and are they really who they say?

I am stupendously proud of the work that I did on this game (and in fact that the whole team did.) And I'd like to share a little bit of behind-the-scenes on The Walk, the production process, and various things that influenced me during writing.

What Did You Do, Andrea?

My credits are a little clunky; they read "Storylining, character creation, early drafts and additional writing." So what does this mean, exactly?

The process of writing the game was like this: Naomi Alderman and Adrian Hon came to me with a general seed for a story. Some things were clear from the beginning: it would be a walk beginning in Inverness; there had to be a reason you had to walk rather than taking any automotive transportation. We threw around a lot of ideas (fuel-eating nanobots!) and ultimately settled on an EMP blast that's disabled meaningful mechanized transportation.

Then Naomi and I talked generally about characters and overarching plot, and she set me free to write the first draft of about a dozen initial scripts. After I delivered that first draft, she went in and did a revising pass in which she changed almost every single word (literally!)

...Which sounds horrible, but I promise you wasn't at all. Most of the heavy lifting I did was preserved; the characters are roughly the same, the shape of the plot is the same; Naomi fine-tuned to add in additional depth and emotion, to revoice for authentic Britishism, turn some dials up to eleven, and so on. Her mid-season finale is soooo much better than as originally written, I can't even tell you. The combined result is, in her words, finely layered like a croissant, a blending of our talents that is arguably much better than either of us might've done on our own.

Naomi and I, we're a great team, is what I'm saying.

The rest of the scripts worked mostly the same way, except that the absolutely amazing Bex Levine stepped in to break story with me for the scripts on a scene-by-scene basis. She is brilliant and absurdly good at this, and I wish I could keep her to help me outline everything ever from now on. Also, I've become an evangelist convert to outlining; the scripts that were written from this tight outline were so much easier to write. (And indeed, I prefer writing in this kind of team-based collaborative environment, as well; I wish I could work with other talented writers on everything ever.)

Finally, I wrote a few of the extra pieces of story you can find along your journey -- the odd newspaper clipping or postcard. No surprise, this kind of storytelling-through-documentation is always one of my most favorite things.

So basically: I did a lot of writing but I wasn't a solo writer. Whew!

Living in an EMP

They say you should write what you know. In high school, I went to Scotland with friends for a week one fine April, and actually did a lot of walking through the countryside. (Freezing my tail off and listening to Pretty Hate Machine on repeat, as a matter of fact.) Alas it was not as thrilling as The Walk needed to be -- you can only make so many jokes about fields of sheep watching you pass by. Clearly my personal experience wasn't going to cut it.

So in the run-up to initial writing for The Walk, I did a lot of thinking about what it would be like to live through an EMP blast zone, and working through the logic. Some older cars would work, to be sure, but the roads would be clogged with electronics-driven cars stopped wherever they were when the pulse hit. Some electronics might be shielded, somehow -- cell phones, cameras, radios -- but a lot of the infrastructure to run them might be functionally dead: cell phone towers, radio stations, power plants and substations.

And then I had an experience uncomfortably close to what I'd been writing -- my delivery of the first batch of scripts for The Walk was cut short by Hurricane Sandy. Suddenly I got to see exactly what it was like when a major urban region didn't have power; we were out for nearly two weeks in my town.

As a result, I think the later scripts are richer in lived-experience-of-power-loss. I suddenly knew what it felt like to be cut off from the world, how lonely and isolated that feels. How local communities banded together for mutual good. How hard it is to do simple things you take for granted -- showering, washing dishes. That modern gas pumps need electricity to operate even if you could find a working car. How generators fail horrifyingly often, and how short a battery life seems when it's all you have. What happens when calling an ambulance or police for help isn't an option anymore. 

And that wasn't even an EMP.

I like to think this experience adds quite a lot to The Walk, especially as the season goes on and the impact of the EMP really sets in. 

In Conclusion

In the coming weeks, I'm planning on playing through The Walk myself with fresh ears. I've only just heard the first couple of episodes -- I have a lot of trouble listening to recordings of things I've worked on, performers making the story come to life makes me weirdly emotional and weepy.

I'd really love to hear what you think about The Walk, too. It's always a joy to see when an audience picks up on something small you put in, and an even bigger joy when they find things you didn't even know you'd left there. And... hey, I hope you love it.


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Games and Romance: Made For Each Other

It's no secret that I have an enormous crush on Alistair from Dragon Age. Enormous. 

I've also developed a few secondary crushes on some of the characters in the Mass Effect series in recent months. Now that I've about run out of single-player Bioware games, though, I find myself longing for more: more banter, more awkward or urgent or heartfelt moments. More obstacles to overcome together, more emotional drama. More romance.

Unfortunately, the state of romance in games is pretty dreadful. The closest you get as a standalone genre are dating sims, some of which are more like sex sims. (The latter are almost invariably designed only for male players.) But whether you're talking about the mild Princess Debut or the explicit Ganguro Girl, both types of game follow a similar pattern: the player makes choices about how to spend time and money in order to develop a romantic or sexual relationship.

If there is any element of effort to these games, it is in solving the puzzle of what words or objects might be necessary to begin (or consummate) a relationship with the would-be object of your virtual affection. Mechanical elements of the game typically require minimal skill or knowledge. They're meant to be wish-fulfilment and not challenges.

On the surface, these love sims look like they're adequate at modeling how relationships are formed. You meet, you try your best to make a good impression, find out how to please your would-be love, finally bust a move, happiness. There's just one thing missing. But it's a pretty big thing: feelings.

Games and the Emotional Journey

As an art form, video games have the corner on an incredible and under-rated market. In the discussion about are-video-games-art (and peace be with you, Mr. Ebert), we talk about whether games can make you cry as if that were some unassailable and objective benchmark for quality. But that's selling short games and what they're best at. Games can do something books and film can't: evoke emotions of agency. These are feelings you only feel when you've had a hand in causing a situation.

Books, movies, plays, TV shows can make you laugh and cry. (Well, the good ones can.) But a game can -- and probably has -- made you feel frustrated or proud. Games can also make you feel guilty (Shadow of the Colossus.) Or betrayed (Dragon Age 2.) That's because you're the one calling the shots. You're the star, the protagonist, the hero. When there is a difficult decision to make about how to treat Little Sisters or which squad member to send to death or which suspect to finger for the crime... the one making it is you, and the one who has to live with the consequences? Also you.

When well-written -- and without a doubt Bioware sports some of the best writers in the business right now -- that also means that interactions with a character feel like an actual relationship is forming between the character and you, the player. You become teammates. Allies. Friends. And maybe... maybe more.

Romance Novels Aren't As Good

Don't get me wrong. I loves me a good trashy romance novel. Even a mediocre one, if I'm honest. My Kindle is full of 'em. There's something primal about the story of one human being making a connection with another, falling in love, making it work despite the odds. That story speaks to a desire in all of us to not be alone, the hope that no obstacle is insurmountable.

But video game romance is way, way better.

In a game, one projects the self into the avatar being controlled. You're more likely to say "I died," or "Hey, watch me get that guy. BAM!" than to say "Lara died," or "Hey awesome, Chelle knocked down that turret." For the duration of the game, you're not playing the game so much as living it.

And by extension, when a character tells you not to die because they love you and can't live without you... the one they're speaking to, the one feeling that poignant brew of resolve and regret, is you. Novels? Hah. No romance novel in the world has ever -- could ever -- make me feel like I'm the one embroiled in the love story.

But... that's not so different from a dating sim, right...? Is is just a matter of better writing and clever relationship-status algorithms? No, no, a thousand times no. The reason the Bioware romances work so well is a function of excellent writing, to be sure, but also the fact that the games aren't fundamentally about the romances at all

The straightforward arc of a successful romance is somewhat dull and small. That's why every romance novel printed has some other plot going -- stories of espionage, engagements to the wrong person, opponents in the courtroom, enemies by circumstance or culture or tradition. Conflict is the engine of drama, and a dating sim doesn't generally have much conflict beyond "how do I make this person like me?" 

But because Bioware's romances are just the B-plot, the emotional dynamic winds up feeling deeper and truer than any shallow dating sim can. You're not just hanging out with the object of your affection on dates or at parties. You're risking your lives together in fighting for a common purpose. You're sharing horrors and triumphs. You're bonding through shared experience, the way human beings are wont to do.

Thus the quality of romantic drama on offer by Bioware winds up feeling richer, more complex, and truer than games that are supposed to be about love through and through. The relationships have more complexity and texture to them because the characters are all bigger than the love story. They have a place in the world that doesn't revolve around how much you want to date them.

It feels more genuine, more really real. It feels more sweeping and epic. Dating sims simply don't create the kind of romantic drama that makes you feel all of those powerful feelings. 

Bringing It Home

There is, alas, a stigma to simulated relationships, both in making them and in desiring them. No doubt some readers are speculating by now that I am a sad, lonesome spinster, probably homely and without prospect, whose only chance at true love lies in pretending. Hah, no, don't shed any tears for me, I'm OK over here.

It's true that I feel a little uncomfortable playing through romantic story beats with my husband in earshot. But regardless of embarrassment, I'd venture that a good romance subplot in a game has a halo effect that benefits him and our own very real and meaningful relationship.

Let's back up. I, at least, consume stories because of the emotional journeys that they allow me to have. I like to feel things, you know? Odds are I'm never going to save the world. I'm not likely to be initiated into an elite society of dragon-hunters, either, or be run through potentially fatal "experiments" by a crazed AI. But in a game I can pretend. I can feel all of those amazing things, those fears and hopes and so much more. I live those lives, and when the game is over, I put the memories safely away and happily carry on with the real business of living. (And I measure the success of a game's narrative based on how well it evoked those feelings... or any feelings, really.)

Romance is the same. I certainly hope I never fall in love again, because I couldn't be more delighted with my life and my marriage. But oh, those feelings when you first fall in love! The excitement, the uncertainty! It's nice to feel that again, for a little while, just to pretend. And later -- the dark moments when you have to make a difficult choice that decides the fate of your digital beloved. I'm just as happy for that to always be pretend, but the act of going on that emotional journey opens me to be more compassionate to the real experiences of others.

Yeah, it's dorky to have a crush on a video game character. But it's also a safe way to experience a dynamic range of emotions that are either unavailable or just a really, really bad idea in real life. This is something video games are uniquely suited to do among all media. Here is where we will earn our merit badge declaring that Games. Are. Art.

When a game is over, the drama ended, I return to my real life and relationship, and I am grateful for all of the feelings the game has let me experience -- and doubly grateful for all the ones I don't have to feel for real, because drama is fun for pretending, but it's a terrible way to live. And back in the real world, with my real and wonderful and safely drama-free husband, I fall in love just a little bit more.


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Some Thoughts on Games Addiction

Some weeks ago, the phenomenal Mez Breeze interviewed me on the topic of games addiction. The full article, which ran in The Next Web, is available here, and I hope you'll click through and read it. Some great stuff there.

A lot of her questions were incredibly thought-provoking and I responded at much greater length than she could ever have hoped to use. Rather than let all of those words and thinky thoughts languish in the deeps of our email, I thought it might be interesting to let you have a peek at the full text of the interview. So here goes!

Can you briefly outline your professional background and how/if it relates to the concepts of addiction or gaming?

I'm a writer and game designer, with a particular emphasis on transmedia and alternate reality games. I'm also a lifelong gamer who has engaged in some addictive behaviors in the past.

Do you think contemporary game production companies are deliberately producing computer and Internet-based games that are geared towards compulsive or unhealthy game play?

Yes, at least some game developers are intentionally trying to induce addictive behaviors, without question. It's common for a game design spec to talk about making a game "more addictive" in positive terms, as shorthand for "highly engaging and fun to play." There's also rampant and intentional use of the compulsion loop, which is a term ultimately derived from Skinnerian psychology: You train a rat that something nice will happen when it presses the lever, in order to get it to keep pushing that lever again and again.


But as terrible as this sounds when you put it this way, there is a core moral dilemma for a game designer. Even if you don't want to be predatory, you want to produce the best, most fun, most engaging game that you can, right? So let's say you make an amazing game, purely as an exercise in art. People love it, they play for hours a day, they don't shower, they skip meals, they stay up all night. They fail tests, they get divorced and fired. Surely there is a point where you can't be held culpable for the behaviors of your players, who are, after all, responsible for their own lives. But at the same time you're not clearly NOT responsible, either, because you left the loaded gun lying around, so to speak.

It's a quagmire with no path through. No side of this debate about gaming and addiction is entirely right or entirely wrong. The solution can't and shouldn't be "stop making fun games," though.


In your opinion, are certain gaming platforms more addictive than others? What types of computer, console or device-based games are the worst offenders? Eg. First Person Shooters, App-oriented Social Games (such as those produced by companies like Zynga), MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games), Strategy Games, or Transmedia/Alternate Reality Games.

All of these are offenders, but the problematic behaviors each are likely to provoke can manifest differently. FPSes and MMORPGs tend to maximize length of play session; whereas Zynga-style social and casual games maximize number of sessions -- returning to the game as often as possible.


I do find the Zynga-style social, mobile games more evil, if you will, just because many of these games are very close to compulsion loops and nothing else. Not a meaningful sense of community or competition, not a narrative, not a sense of exploration. I'm playing a game right now called Jetpack Joyride (not a Zynga game!). In this game, you do the exact same thing every time: You ride a flying jetpack down a hall and avoid traps like lasers and missiles. The game keeps you playing by offering minor variations in the mechanic. After you play enough times, you can upgrade to gadgets that will make it easier to avoid some of the traps, or collect more coins along the way. And if you don't feel like playing that many times to get the next gadget you want, why, they're happy to take your money instead of your time. And the game is constantly giving you missions to fulfill to "level up": having close calls, going a certain distance with a particular vehicle, and so on.

But really, every single time you play it's the same exact thing: One or two minutes of the same randomly-generated hallways. There's nothing there but the loop.

Still, even games with nothing resembling an overt loop can produce compulsive behaviors. The Beast, an alternate reality game meant to market the film A.I., was my first step into transmedia gaming. And at the time, for all that I played and loved that game so much that it changed the path of my career, I wrote an essay lamenting how all-consuming it was. 

Playing that game was essentially an unpaid part-time job for me. The amount of content created for it was overwhelming -- but I don't think anything since has produced quite the same volume, and so as a result the perceived intensity declined, as well. These kinds of games tend to have limited active lives now, usually not more than a few months, and usually only a few hours a week (at most!) of new material to engage with. That's probably because it's expensive and difficult to make content at that pace, and not because of any moral superiority, but it's interesting to see that trend toward requiring a lower commitment from your players.


Do you view the immersive nature of computer games as similar to that encountered when gambling? If yes, what are the similarities?

The core appeal of gambling is the compulsion loop, too. And indeed, when B.F. Skinner was studying how to reinforce behaviors -- such as pressing the lever on a slot machine -- he found that a variable reward schedule resulted in much more compulsive behavior than a predictable schedule. So if you won every other time you played the slots, it wouldn't be as much "fun," and you'd be less compelled to keep playing.


It's that tension of knowing you might get the treat, but not knowing exactly when, that keeps you playing. The player develops an unshakeable faith, after a while, that THIS will be the time I hit it big. THIS is the time it will all pay off, no matter how many times it hasn't so far. Just one more turn. One more minute. But it's really never just one more.


From a game developer/game theorist perspective, what do you consider factors that contribute to compulsive or addictive game play?

A number of factors all combine, of course. Low perceived effort and high perceived reward are the foundation. At any moment, the ask has to seem fairly modest; just a few minutes, just a few dollars. You don't tend to rationally step back and recognize that the cumulative cost to you in time, money, or energy is much, much higher. Another factor is a steady flow of easily attainable goals; that's why you see missions in Jetpack Joyride, or various kinds of badges and achievements in most other kinds of game. They create the feeling that you can accomplish something if you keep playing that one... more... minute.

Zynga and other Facebook games in particular add on the feeling of opportunity cost. You get so many action points per hour, but you have a cap on how many you can have at once. That means if your action timer completely fills up in four hours but you're spending eight hours at work -- why, you're losing four hours of potential play! So maybe you should check in from work at lunch, just for a minute, just to use up all of your action points... It's one of my least favorite game innovations of the last several years.

This one isn't used as intentionally, but there's also some element of peer pressure. When you're playing a multiplayer game with a bunch of friends online, you dont' want to be the first one to leave to break up the party. And in an MMO, if you play four hours a week but your friends play forty, pretty soon you're not going to be on par with your equipment, ready for the same areas, or looking to accomplish the same things anymore. This was my problem when I played EverQuest, long ago; in order to keep up with my friends, I had to commit an unreasonable amount of my life to playing. In the end I just gave up playing entirely.


Do you see any ways to prevent gaming addiction, or have suggestions as to how to best deal with the consequences of compulsive game play?

In order to check my own problematic behaviors, I really prefer games that you can win, so there's a clear-cut end point to them. That means a lot of narrative-based games, like Dragon Age. I also like shorter and episodic games, like Journey or the Telltale Games list. No matter how much you love a narrative game, they're harder to pick up and fool yourself it'll only be for ten minutes... and eventually the game is over.

For the most part, I steer clear of multiplayer situations, MMOs, and so on because I just can't trust myself. With narrative games with an ending. I know I'll binge-play them, so to avoid the fallout of missed sleep and deadlines, I don't even start a game like that unless I have a good solid week with no serious commitments.

Casual browser and mobile games are easier for me to put down, but probably because I went clean through a very heavy Farmville phase some years ago. Nowadays I play a casual game only really until I feel like I understand it, I've seen all there is to see to it, and then they're no fun anymore. For a game like Angry Birds that might be "seen all the levels." For something like Jetpack Joyride, it's hard to say; I think I have the flavor of it in just playing for a couple of days, and I don't feel like I need to actually buy all the gadgets to feel like I've gotten everything I could out of it. Once you see the naked compulsion loop for what it is, it loses most of its appeal.


Are there any positive ways to harness the potentialities of addictive games?

There have been some interesting efforts in that direction, particularly in the way of fitness games. It's interesting to note that Dance Dance Revolution absolutely incited compulsive behavior in me -- and along the way, I probably became the fittest I'd been in years. Usually, though, the effort involved in actually getting exercise makes the loop harder to invoke. I can play just one more two-minute song on Dance Dance Revolution, but a mission on Zombies, Run! is going to take me at least half an hour. It's engaging, to be sure, but not in the same way.

There are also a number of habit-forming or breaking games out there. Health Month is one, and it aims to create a gamelike shell around things like flossing your teeth and eating less sugar. Again, though, this fails the effort-to-reward ratio to create an active compulsion loop. It would take a lot to make flossing your teeth an addictive behavior for your typical person.

Frameworks like Rock Band could be used to teach real music skills, too, so there are definitely educational applications lying untapped. Skinner himself was looking for educational applications of his research, you know. And the compulsion loop isn't a bad thing in and of itself. It's a fact of human nature, and we use the force of habit and patterns of rewards to do everything from teaching toddlers to use the toilet to studying. Sticker reward charts are a recommended tactic in parenting!

So the underlying issue here isn't "games are bad because they create addictive behavior." It's more like "humans are susceptible to having their behavior shaped by these frameworks of incentives." And now we know games are an effective way of creating those frameworks, whether we mean to or not, and we have to decide what we can do to make sure the lives of our players are left the better for experiencing our games, and not worse.


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Games, Story, and An Extended Metaphor

There's a thought out there that all games have a story, because even in a game without an authored plot, you're constructing a narrative in your head of what's going on. This is what is the most important part, say its adherents; the experience you come away with is the story.

This has never sat well with me. To my mind, this is nothing but a semantic argument intended to obfuscate a real and meaningful difference between games that do, and do not, have an authored narrative. I maintain this is an important distinction, and trying to erase it on vague philosophic grounds does us all an enormous disservice.

But I've been hard-pressed to explain why. On the face of it, these semantic arguments aren't wrong, not exactly. And yet agreeing with the idea that you still get a story even out of a game without a plot misses an important point.

Inspiration has struck! So here I have an extended analogy to explain why I find that way of thinking so insufferable, so dismissive of authored narrative, and why there is a qualitative difference between the two kinds of experiences.

A game with an actual story in it, like Mass Effect, is like a restaurant. A game without, like Minecraft, is a grocery store. They both have the same net result: You get a meal (or an experience). But the process by which that meal arrives is so markedly different that you simply can't elide the two experiences under the banner of 'eating' and expect everything you say about the one to hold true of the other.

Look at how this analogy plays out: In a restaurant, you get fewer choices about the meal you're going to have (but not none!) In return, you can expect the chef to provide you with a certain baseline quality of cuisine -- a story with good pacing, characters, internal consistency. In a grocery store, the choice you have is vastly larger, but you're also going to have to put a lot more work into the experience to come away with an actual meal -- or a story that compares to what a chef might prepare.

As with games, sometimes the home-cooked meals will be the most meaningful to you; the holiday dinners with your grandmother, for example. But few of us are professional chefs, and so if we're looking for a sublime and surprising culinary experience, heading to the grocery store is not our best bet.

But there are also hybrids; buffet-style restaurants, if you will. These are games like Skyrim; series of authored pieces, where it's up to you to determine whether and how to fit them together into a proper meal. Not quite an authored story, not entirely a sandbox.

And there is no value judgement here, either. Both are valuable and necessary components of the food economy. But they are not the same thing, no matter how many surface similarities they have. You would never mistake the one for the other.

The experience isn't the story. The story is the story.


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Press A to Jump

Playing video games is mostly a matter of pressing buttons and toggling joysticks in certain patterns. There are definitely exceptions -- from Dance Dance Revolution to Prop Cycle to Duck Hunt and on to the age of Kinect. But for most people, most of the time, playing a game is an exercise in learning new patterns for button-mashing.

We don't mind this, because the game has provided us a meaningful metaphorical overlay for reality: when you press A, you aren't pressing a button at all. You're jumping. When you toggle the joystick forward or press W on your keyboard, you're really walking forward. You press A or X or the spacebar to jump or shoot or interact with an object you're standing next to.

You see the same basic controls in Halo and Dragon Age and Glitch and Super Mario. It's what we're accustomed to, and so games take on these controls as a baseline assumption in the design phase. Maybe there's a design discussion about what the other buttons should all be doing -- but the basic walking-and-jumping stuff is taken as decided from the get-go.

But this widespread convention is damaging to innovation in games. Assuming that our controls will make us walk and jump and shoot means we're always making games where the mechanic is... walking and jumping and shooting. That closes us off to incredible potential for variety, and that's a creative tragedy.

Do you remember how amazing Katamari Damacy seemed when it first came out? Part of the magic is that quirky King of the Universe, to be sure; the upbeat music, the weird items you roll up. But the underlying mechanic would never have worked with the classic control setup. In Katamari games, one joystick controls which direction one hand is pushing, and the other joystick controls the other hand. This elegant control scheme is what allows the rest of the game to hang together. It could just as easily have used one stick to push and the other for the camera, as is the common convention; but the game mechanic would have suffered for it.

When Wii first launched, the promise of games allowing entirely new metaphors was a powerful sell. We bought Red Steel for the allure of swinging our controller like a sword. (Though it turns out Fruit Ninja is what we really wanted.) We bought Wii Sports to play tennis and bowl. In the end, though, even Wii games kept going back to Press A to Jump. They usually nodded toward motion control, but rarely was that a core element -- probably because the same games were often ported from or to other platforms.

And to be fair, players don't universally love motion control. It's novel, and fun, but also high-effort. It turns out in the end, sadly, those are games we buy and intend to play... but they're not the games we keep coming back to.

But that shouldn't spell the end of exploration for different metaphors for your control scheme -- even if you're using the same old basic console controller. If we're interested in what games can do and where games can go -- if we want to make art -- then every assumption must be questioned. 

And it turns out that "What else could we make a joystick or button do?" can result in some Molydeux-level creativity. Could A mean smiling and B is frowning, the joysticks are a measure of intensity, and the game is to navigate a political summit without starting a war with your inappropriate reaction?

Or maybe you're a weather deity; the joystick controls the direction and intensity of the weather, while the buttons control what kind of weather it is -- wind, rain, snow, lightning. Your goal is to aid your worshippers and smite unbelievers. Or maybe reach a high score based on how tall your trees get, how big your apples get, how bright the flowers grow.

What if A was an earthquake? What if A made you bigger and B made you smaller? What if the two joysticks were your feet on ice skates? Hey, A could still mean jumping!

There is so much we could do in games. So much that we could do, and so much that we're just not doing. And with the proliferation of touch screens, there's a necessity to shed those conventions and adopt new ones. But we should be wary of creating new conventions that mean the same old things. Tap to walk and swipe up to jump? That just leaves us with more walking and jumping games. And I think we have plenty of those already.


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