essay, video games

Coding Controller

Who should have a greater voice, the designer or the user? That is what the first post in the series Gamer’s Rights sets out to decide in the case for version control of video games. Sets out, that is, but maybe does not get there. Not because of the good work of the author, but because of the medium in question.

My very first reaction, just upon reading the thesis of the argument, was that it was wrong: users do not have a right to a certain version. As a designer myself, the worst thing I can do is to completely listen and execute on all feedback I get about a project. While trusted opinions might matter more than others, it is the responsibility of the designer to follow their own dream and create according to what their intent is… while also limiting the number of interpretations of their work.

One of the worst arguments you can get into with professionally creative people is over the “intent” of a project. Thousands of books have been published on what certain authors intended while creating any number of famous works of art. The designer’s job then is to limit these responses from the work. Writing about the designer is fine, but a designer can never go and tell people what the interpretation is of a work is. For a designer to say “You didn’t get it” is a frequent and terrible transgression. A writer cannot go around and tell people how to feel about a novel. A painter cannot go around and tell people how to feel about a painting. If the audience for the work does not understand the message of the creation then, in some way, the designer has failed. In any other medium than video games, this would be a tragic but necessary part of the evolution of the designer. In the next work, the designer will try again to evoke certain emotions, at certain times, for a certain audience. Video games however are very different in that they can be revised.

Much was made of the fact that Stephen King changed things in his Dark Tower series. For the first book, he added about 35 pages to “resolve continuity errors”. That is what I think of when users talk of a designer changing a work. They wish to bring the work more in line with the overall intended aesthetic experience. In order for the audience to understand the greater picture, the designer steps in and prevents confusion, limits interpretations of a work by introducing changes. Put in gamer speak, the designer patches the work.

I agree with Ross (Boss1000) that companies should fix bugs, patch multiplayer games and add content. These are all things that decrease the likelihood of invalid interpretations and bring the creation closer in line with the intended product. It is never the goal of a designer to ship a game with a bug or some imbalance of the rules between parties. These, whenever possible, should be fixed in order that play continue according to the rules of the game. We both agree with this view of version control. My problem is not with the designer but the user.

A designer creates with an intent for a user. This is where video games become very interesting in this conversation. If a prevalent interpretation of a work is in contrast to what the designer intended, the designer can often do nothing about it but get angry. Video game designers though can force an experience, if they want. The problem though is that video games, more than any other medium, has to maintain the attention of the user throughout the experience of the work. If a player permanently leaves the experience, for any reason due to the mechanical level, then the designer has failed.

Aesthetic responses can often be predicted but not controlled. If the play elicits an emotion from the player and the player, from that feeling alone, leaves the experience then the player has made the choice to disengage. If a subset complains about a feature or aspect of the experience, should the designer change it? Shouldn’t the work of the designer speak the message? This is questionable. Is enough of the audience confused about the experience that the designer should take steps to help or is a vocal minority trying to maintain something that has become meaningful only to them? This is the Runescape example that Ross uses, a certain part of the audience paid for the right to have a certain outdated version of the game experience.

I think, while I have taken a harder stance, that Ross and I agree in the end that the designer should be trusted with shaping the experience. I side much more with authorial choice than the need to just “make the game fun” though. A designer may work for a user, but they also craft the responses from their own subjective tastes and experiences. Designers get paid to work for a reason, their choices in the process of creation makes a valued product.