On the Expectations of Games

February 23rd, 2019

by Danny Hawk

Imagine is, like most of my games, more the product of gut feeling than conscious intention. Starting from the idea that I wanted to make a game where the player had to imagine it, every other decision after that point was decided by going with whatever felt correct to me. So when I first presented this game to others I didn’t really know how to verbalize my intentions. This is often the case with me, but talking to others helps a lot.

The most common question I get is “Did you want me to peek or not?” And my answer is that I wanted you to do either! And as many times as you want. Imagine isn’t about making a player feel guilty for peeking, but just creating an opportunity for someone to peek. There is just so much intrigue in a peek! Peeks are absolutely wild. When someone decides to peek, their curiosity is more important than their current entertainment, which either says something about their curiosity or their entertainment.

So I made the game to create a moment where you peek or not, but why did I make that in a game and not a film? I mean the answer is because I’m in school for making games and it’s what I know how to do, but there’s something else happening here in Imagine. If the same idea about peeking was in a film, it would be a different experience with a different flavor. There is something inherent to a game that makes this peeking experience a different taste than a film or a standup routine and so on. This something is not intrinsic to the nature of a game’s rules or systems, but rather the expectations of games that any player has. You expect to do something. It’s here that the game plays around, with a control scheme of WASD and mouse to look around, it’s inviting a game player’s experience with video game conventions to fight against their obedience in closing their eyes. The mere presence of interaction changes the experience, just like how the mere possibility of another person seeing me dance stops me from dancing.

But it goes a little further too. When talking with Bennett Foddy about Imagine, we used an example of going to watch a film in a theater, and being seated next to a light switch that turns the house lights on. Bennett would argue that the presence of that switch in conjunction with the video would constitute this situation as a video game. What was originally just a video is not an experience in which you control one of the parameters. Even if you aren’t going to flip the switch, the thought in your head and the option to do so will alter the entire experience. Interaction is oftentimes the center of discussions in the inherent worth of video games, which seems straightforward as interaction is what is so unique about games. I challenge people to think about the ingrained expectations of games that every person has, and how those invisible expectations shape a person’s experience with a game.

You can play Imagine for free on itch.io.