Reading Response #2

Chapter 2: “Designing Expressive Toys”


Annie Nguyen


Music 256A


Reading Response: Lowering Inhibition Through Design


After reading Chapter 2, I think two of the mentioned principles go together well:


Principle 2.1: “Design for play and delight.”

Principle 2.7: “Design to lower inhibition.”


These two ideas speak to the core of why I personally enjoy video games so much (just as Ge does with Assassin’s Creed: Origins). It doesn’t always necessarily have to be games with complex narratives and detailed graphics. One such game that comes to mind is Bird Alone, which can be found on Android and iOS. While I haven’t tried the game in full (there is a free trial, with a paid full version), it offered me a small taste of what to expect. Strangely enough, I found myself comforted by a 2D talking parrot who got to know me through funny, strange, and occasionally deep questions, such as:


(alt text: a colorful parrot perches on a branch in a lush rainforest, squawking out the question “You ever think about DEATH?” with user prompt buttons of either “Not really” or “All the time.”)


The game is constructed to force you to only check in occasionally, about once a day. The parrot (who you get to name) only comes up with a new question once per day, though it will provide some funny banter otherwise. Aside from that, you get to collect fruit that slowly grows on branches, plant seeds in your own garden, and play with a relaxing music visualizer set in a relaxing waterfall. The simple but elegant graphic design of the game sets the ground for hidden pockets of delight as you play with the visualizer and discover what you can do, as well as giving you the space to enjoy moments to yourself as you peruse the digital garden. Through this, and the playful character of the parrot, I felt comforted by the whole experience. In its relatively simple design, it offers a space for the player to reflect, consider something else outside their current situation, and decompress. In essence, it lowers their inhibition. You aren’t necessarily creating for others to see, similar to the example of auto-tune in the book, but you are creating something for yourself. Sometimes, you just need a break in order to allow yourself to indulge in a little creative fun. 


I think that this experience extends towards other games, books, songs/compositions, movies, and other forms of media that I like. In my case, when there are aspects that don’t take themselves too seriously, they invite you in to stay a while and enjoy the moment while you are there. Particularly good ones will take that opportunity to make you think less about whatever is going on in your life, and more about engaging with the material. That might just mean being vulnerable with yourself, or with others around you. Growing up and watching the How To Train Your Dragon trilogy of movies was certainly a journey in empathizing with my fellow moviegoers.  Sure, one could call it a “kids movie” and dismiss it as such, but if you allow yourself to be just “a kid” and go along with the delight of seeing dragons soar in animation (along with the spectacular score written by John Powell), you just might find a story that speaks to some nearly universal values and lessons that we all go through in our lives. It is a different craft to storytelling and design in video games, but you can still be quite vulnerable and shed some tears in the darkness of the movie theatre. I’m sure someone else is right there with you. If done right, these forms of storytelling can reach anyone.