Ok, since I owe a blog post for this week I’m going to take a stab at talking about the particular interaction and theory that I think I’m going to bring into class on Tuesday.  This may be sort of a train-of-thought post as I’m trying to figure this out as I write it!

Interaction: the game Passage


(This is a super-small game, is it too big to call an interaction?  Maybe I should just pick one element of the game?)

Passage is an “art game” where you start as a young man and, in walking around the screen, become an old man and eventually turn into a tombstone.  There is a score in the upper right-hand corner and there are a few different ways players can get points.  Walking horizontally right racks up points slowly.  If the player walks down into the more labyrinth-like part of the level (space? game?  I’m not sure what to call it) then they do not automatically increase their points total as they walk but have the chance to discover treasure chests which might give them big points boosts.  Players have the chance to pick up a female companion who will walk with them (a “spouse”) and will increase the number of points the player gets from walking but who makes it more difficult to walk through the maze and may block the way to treasure chests.

Theory: I’m going to go with Hebdige as described in Barnard.

Hebdige’s account of understanding focuses on how it is generated by individual consciousnesses (their ideas, beliefs, hopes, fears, etc).  He discusses how Vespas can be understood from three different perspectives: the engineers and designers who created it, the advertising and marketing departments who decided how to present it to consumers, and the Mods of 1960’s England – a particular sub-culture for whom the product had meaning.

Interaction + Theory:

My first question is, how do I decide what groups from which to analyze different perspectives?  I’m curious as to why Hebdige didn’t talk about females in particular, since a few of the branding tactics were aimed squarely at them.  Let me come up with a list of all the possible groups I could think of for Passage: game designer who created Passage, artists, game designers who are part of the games-as-art movement, game designers who are not part of the games-as-art movement, average gamer, non-gamer, gamer who follows the games-as-art movement, games journalist who believes games can be art, and people in general who do not believe games can be art.

I think that Hebdige chose the groups he did because they were the groups for whom the Vespa has the most meaning.  So I’ll choose: game designer who created Passage, those who are part of the games-as-art movement, those who are not part of the games-as-art movement but who have been exposed to this game.  (Are those last two groups too broad?)  Ok, let’s get our analysis on:

Game Designer: Jason Rohrer.  He has an artist statement about the game here:


which certainly makes my job easier!  Jason designed this game as a “momento mori” because he was apparently having a pre-mid-life crisis.  He describes the game “an expression of my recent thoughts and feelings” about life and death.  The whole game represents life with one single point of death at the end of the game (as compared to most games where you can die lots of times and it just sets you back a bit.)  Players are given lots of choices as to how they want to spend their life but ultimately they all die at the end and the score turns out to be pretty “meaningless”.

Those who are part of the games-as-art movement: (The designer put this game up as an iPhone app so for this category of people and the next I’m going to use comments taken from the app page on the iTunes store)

A lot of people responded to this game very positively.  Some quotes: “More than any game I’ve ever played, it illustrates how a game can be a fantastically expressive, artistic vehicle for exploring the human condition”, “Passage may look primitive but it’s an absolute pinnacle of videogame development”  “This broke my heart. ❤ if there is one app on the app store not lacking insight, it is this.”  It seems for those who “get” it (likely people in the art-as-games movement, people with wide exposure to art in general, people with a wide conception of what games can be etc) this game is sort of a “proof of concept” that games can be art, can probe deep human emotions, and can go beyond the current paradigm of games as entertainment.

Those who are not part of the games-as-art movement: For those who don’t “get” this game, the response seems to be mostly confusion and anger/frustration at all the hype the game has gotten.  These people are likely: typical gamers not exposed to the idea of games-as-art, people not convinced games can be art, and people resentful of the idea of games-as-art being “better” than other games.  Some more quotes: “Need to remind yourself that you are more sophisticated and emotionally complex than the average everyday tetris playing chump?  This game is for you”  “If you look online, you’ll find a dedicated following for this “game”.  However, there are just as many people who hate it (myself included)… If such a program moves someone to tears (as recounted by several players), I fear perhaps we’ve all become too sociopathic.” “Okay.  I don’t get it.  Or perhaps I get it and just don’t like it.  Not visually appealing.  Boring.  And I can find better uses for my $1.”

So using Hebdige’s theory we can understand the meaning of Passage from these three different perspectives as: expression of thoughts about life and death, proof-of-concept that games can be art, and stupid meaningless game that has been overhyped.