Occasionally, somebody says something in just the right way, using just the right words. The rarity of such moments makes me appreciate them all the more. When they occur, they invariably produce an involuntary affirmative response from me. Yes! Precisely! Brilliant!
Such was the case when I came across a statement made by game designer Clint Hocking in a recent issue of Edge Magazine. I heard Hocking speak in February at GDC, and found him similarly eloquent, if eloquence can be wrought out of a 90-minute speech delivered in 45 - which it can. Hocking is an incredibly bright guy with big ideas; you just need to put on your smart cap with the chin strap and be prepared to keep up.
In the Edge interview, Hocking discusses his forthcoming game Far Cry 2 and his sense of it as an open world game:
I don't really think of our game as a shooter, I think of it as an open world game. I think we have a lot more in common with GTA or Crackdown than we do with Doom or Quake, that's for sure. The genre's evolving and there are lots of different interpretations of how they should work and what the genre's conventions are. Maybe that's why they're so attractive - because there aren't that many conventions yet - it's so freeform that it gives a lot more room for expression. It's certainly that which attracts me to it as a player - an opportunity to express myself. The ones I don't like are the ones where I feel I am not expressing myself.
Brilliant! For as long as I've played video games, I've never quite hooked into the thing that's happening to me which keeps me interested. I've called it engagement and immersion, and these are suitable terms. But Hocking's notion that games provide me the "opportunity to express myself" hits it squarely on the nose for me. Brilliant.
Clearly, expressing myself in video games can happen in all sorts of ways - with open world games and RPGs, of course, but also with well-designed platformers and action adventure games. Hocking's statement utterly captures why I'm enjoying Spore so much, but it also helps me better understand why I'm so enamored of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. The Zelda franchise has always made me happy, but Wind Waker's oft-maligned sailing navigation mechanic and Link's expressive, animated presentation elevated the experience for me. I felt more free to make this Link my Link.
It also helps explain my affection for Zack and Wiki, a puzzle game that conveys to the player a strong sense of freedom to find solutions in his own way by turning the environment to his advantage. In this case, the freedom is essentially an illusion since there is typically only one solution for each puzzle. But how I go about solving it and the methods I use to explore and discover feel very much like my own.
And what is Portal, after all, if not an environmental puzzle game whose great innovative gift to the player is self-expression?
So, thanks Clint! :-) I imagine many of you found your way to the "games as self-expression" eureka moment long ago, but I hope you'll indulge me my little discovery. It feels like somebody just raised the light dimmer in my room to full.