After a discussion 3 days ago covering similar conceptual territory during a Pluto game dev session, this article really does target-resonate:
“Stepping into games is like arriving at a cheese-tasting party where most of the crowd is angrily murmuring that cheddar and swiss are always and objectively the best cheeses on grounds of utility and pleasure, that assholes offering a plate of mold-laced bleu are an affront to any real cheese-lover, that brie may simply be too soft to be a real cheese. It’s tricky to distinguish taste from efficacy in games, because the efficacy here isn’t about nutrition or blood sugar, it’s efficacy in the inculcation of pleasure–but we must distinguish the pleasure of a belly full of familiar fodder and the pleasure of the tongue.Business logic has desiccated this creative landscape and cut off its own potential growth with its usual local-maxima-seeking efficiency. Creators and critics struggle and scrabble here. Lovers of rich storytelling through games often bemoan the low quality of writing in games; in conventional industrial game development, storytelling is harnessed more as a tool to explain, bolster, and rationalize these gameful emotional payoffs than for storytelling’s own rich capacity for expression and feeling. Artists and critics who champion the expressive authorial potential of games are at loggerheads with a market ideology that relentlessly prioritizes emotional payoff for players over the intentional crafting of multivariate meaning. Wonk-headed designers who want to explore new terrain are hemmed in by consumer demands that their undreamt-of architectures manage to plop out nuggets of fulfillment, an appropriate level of challenge, an adequate amount of unique and unrepeated experience.
Is there a way out? Maybe we should talk more about tastes. We should all have our own tastes, and not just preferences for what “works” on our synapses. Taste is what ought to define someone as an aficionado, a “gamer” if you can still manage fondness for the word–not the volume of their howling demands, not number of hours played or dollars spent, not adherence or formulation of absurdly universal credos about what pleasure in games consists of.