Reading Response #3

Chapter 3: “Visual Design”


Annie Nguyen


Music 256A


Reading Response: Strange Design Loops


From Chapter 3:


“Strange design loops encode and enact nations of self-reference, self-reflexivity, feedback, recursion, paradox…Strange loops arise as uncanny connections between form and function, where elements in concept and elements in actuality are in conversation.”


I think that strange design loops, when encountered in real life, are an unexpected surprise to the seemingly rigid “rules” of life. We see stairs often, and are used to how they function: you walk up to go up, you walk down to go down. Yet, we can draw a set of circular illusion stairs and follow the steps with our eyes, and be entertained with how we never seem to know what direction we are going in. One thought crosses my mind with this simple illusion: is there a point to figuring out my end goal in traversing these stairs? Does it matter if I go up or down? Or do I just enjoy going? This fun visual illusion, in a way, lets me appreciate the “going,” and not necessarily the destination. It plays with our mental understanding of “how stairs work,” and if you so choose to let this illusion change your mindset a bit the next time you use some stairs, maybe you’ll enjoy your journey more than worrying about the end destination. Perhaps these strange loops can teach us to see things just a bit more differently, if not a bit more playfully.




I love my share of good video games, and NieR: Automata comes to mind as one that incorporates a plot-focused “design loop.” You play as an YoRHa android throughout the game, fighting enemies, exploring the world, and progressing your story as you uncover the truth behind all the events going on. As with many games, the player’s character is subject to life/health points, and can die from fights. However, instead of just dying and respawning at a safe point, your death location is also marked in the game, and you leave a message along with it. This data shows up in other player’s games as a broken android body, which can be encountered if they happen to journey and find where you died. The game is not multiplayer, and so one player might not necessarily know who the other (dead android) one is. When a player encounters a dead android, they see the message and can choose one of two things: collect the resources on the android for their personal use, or resurrect the android temporarily to aid them in battle, until it is broken beyond repair. 



revive menu


Here lies the loop: you can die in your game and continue, but your death can also serve to help other players progress as well. On a more meta note, the player becomes aware of the vast number of players that are out there, all going through the same struggle and emotional rollercoaster of the story. The “death loop” fits the game’s mechanics, but also serves the larger role of making players aware, and form emotional attachment with, the overarching themes of the story. (The game takes this further during the final, actual ending of the game, but that information is in spoiler territory.) NieR: Automata’s loop helps extend the story to touch on human-centered themes, making the impact of the game much more meaningful to attentive players.