Games and Perceptual Apathy

A while ago I had an interesting discussion with Krystian Majewski on his blog post about The Hardships of Location-Based Games. He's been working on a game called Illucinated, which uses real photographs for its graphics so he has to actually venture out into the real world, at night, and sneak past security guards and giant spiders and such to acquire these precious goods. Someday, I hope to be as cool as that.

But in the meantime, I can write about it. One reason games are cool is that they change the way you look at things, as this article suggests. At the very least, they change the way you look at things on the screen, which goes from a confusing mess to a dazzling field of opportunities and dangers. And if the game takes place in the real world, well, that's where things get interesting. As Krystian Majewski commented about his game-like outdoor excursions, "You start seeing places in different ways. Going by some piece of architecture you wonder how it will look in the night and you start appreciating seemingly mundane routes in the cityscape."

That sounds like fun. Wouldn't it be cool if there were games specially designed to enhance your experience of the real world, designed to let the fun from the game itself spill over into your real life? Let's see what we had to say about it, way back in 2008.

axcho said...
  • That sounds so much more exciting than anything I'm doing. Thanks for that 10 Gnomes link - really interesting. I never realized people were doing things like this, except maybe IvoryDrive. I like these games using real-world environments and visuals and such - lets you use your perception to a much fuller extent than usual on the computer.

    Speaking of perception, I really like that last paragraph, about the activity becoming like a game and restructuring the way you see the world around you. In fact, I'll quote it right here because I like it so much:

    "But the experience is amazing at the same time. It brings so much physical experience into the Game Design. It becomes almost like a game itself. Like a strategic version of Parkour. You start seeing places in different ways. Every time you see a path in the bushes your reflexes to investigate kick in. Going by some piece of architecture you wonder how it will look in the night and you start appreciating seemingly mundane routes in the cityscape."

    This way that games can force your perception to come alive and appreciate what's there is something I'm really excited about. Once people have a framework of goals and interpretation of affordances and obstacles, their perception starts popping out in ways corresponding to the game structure. I'd even say that all of perception can be thought of as structured and brought into being by games, for a rather loose definition of "games".

    One thing that really opened up my perception with respect to appreciating the world around me, particularly plants, was when I started making musical instruments out of bamboo. I'd start noticing bamboo wherever I went, evaluating based on size and quality for harvesting and such, practically salivating at the sight of the better specimens. It turned me on to the aesthetic qualities of bamboo.

    Then as I learned about L-systems I started noticing the aesthetic qualities of other plants. And once I started browsing deviantART and doing photography I became even more aware. Going through the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain opened it way up, and so the process has continued, until I can see just about everything around me as beautiful, if I take the time to do so.

    I want to use games to help people see the beauty around them (among other things). A few games to start punching some holes in one's perceptual apathy, and hopefully the process will accelerate... The interesting thing is that it often takes exposure to a new environment (like a new game, or a vacation to another place) where your old perceptual habits and blindness does not apply, in order for you to start opening up. At first I would take photos only on vacations, but then I eventually started seeing the beauty of my everyday world. I want to be able to make games that allow people to transfer their transformed perception back to daily life.

    In short, I am inspired by your bold exploration and reinterpretation of the real, physical world you exist in. I wish I would let myself spend more time in the real world instead of squeezing my mind into such a small computer screen every day.

    I think that's my cue to stop typing. ;) Thanks.
    August 30, 2008 11:28 PM

Krystian Majewski said...
  • Wow, thanks for the detailed comment! I've noticed IvoryDrive over on Kongregate. Interesting how he seemed to have similar experiences. These 6 messages could come just as well from me.

    I noticed too how getting out - especially on vacation - usually inspires me to do games. I know that I'm not alone too - the first Prototype of Braid was also created on holidays.

    As for noticing things. I guess this is some kind of reverse-inattentinal blindness. I noticed it too on several occasions but it never occurred to me that you could use games to intentionally to "teach" people to see things differently. Good thinking! Another good reason for using real environments.
    August 31, 2008 3:37 AM

axcho said...
  • Oh, you're welcome. I guess it had been too long since I had written a decent blog post of my own, so I went ahead and relieved myself on yours. :p

    IvoryDrive's an interesting guy. I don't think I'm cool or exciting enough to be like you or him, but at least I can admire from the sidelines. ;)

    Reverse-inattentional blindness is basically what I'm talking about, yes. I've come to believe quite strongly that being able to put more conscious effort into perception, and to be rewarded by finding beauty, is a very important skill to have.

    As another dA artist artbytheo said to me, (and I hope he doesn't mind if I quote him here)
    "...I think what's happening in our world today is that 'they' are trying to convince everyone the world is a horrible place. 'They' want us to keep our eyes closed and not see the world is actually a beautiful place, so we keep watching 'their' stupid tv shows, news broadcasts, and buy endless supplies of clothes, cars, and other useless shit.

    The goal of the game would then be to make people realize this."

    And as he clarified later,
    "There really isn't a 'them' as an evil body of powerful rulers that is actually controlling the show. It's all of us working all together in a huge body called humanity (and smaller cultural bodies of course)."

    Reading books such as Awareness by Anthony De Mello, and Beyond Civilization by Daniel Quinn, is what has really focused my thinking on this subject.

    You'd think I'd have enough on my plate trying to make cool new experimental games and games to transform education without also trying to use games to get people to open up their perception and save the world... :p

    Anyway, I still owe you an email about the Adopt an Invader concept. I'll start on that right now.
    September 2, 2008 2:56 PM

How about that? The world is a beautiful place... if you can learn to see it. Are you ready? :)

A few games to start punching some holes in one's perceptual apathy, and hopefully the process will accelerate...


Aaron Miller said...

It kind of reminds me of the Harry Potter series, and Mr. Weasley's fascination with Muggles. "Tell me, Harry. What exactly is the function of a rubber duck?"

As a Catholic, I'm used to the idea of a world behind a world, of knowing the wind is there by seeing the things it moves. It would be cool to see a game focused on noticing hidden objects and meaning in the world.

Have you ever seen The Devil's Advocate? or Fallen? Those are good examples of a setting being familiar and strange at the same time. Freud called that phenomenon the uncanny.

axcho said...

I have not seen either of those, but I'll try to check them out some time, thanks. Exploring the feeling of the "uncanny" in games is certainly something that interests me. And noticing hidden places and meaning and such.