Music 256a, Reading Response 6

One of my core artistic aspirations is to effectively communicate human experience. Whether writing my own music, recording a podcast, conducting an interview, or making presentations, I want to use the emotional facility of art to (at least partially) express complex webs of motivations and inclinations to help people understand how others feel and experience life. As a guiding principle, it’s helpful to remind myself that art can and should be transformative. However, it’s easy to find art that, when addressing complex issues, can come off as imposing, preachy, and unsubtle – a lingering question for me is, “how does one design works that are accessible and engaging, while still reflecting complexity?”


When reading Artful Design’s sixth chapter, I found gamification to be a compelling answer to this question. The first-person nature of games, as stated in principle 6.8 on page 317, provide the opportunity to step in to some characters shoes, considering yourself as bound by your contexts and abilities within the game. I was impressed by how Save the Date and, in particular, That Dragon, Cancer so smoothly contended with existential questions, in immersive and player-focused settings. Effectively, it seemed as though the incentives of the games were directed toward contemplation, rather than gathering points or skill. This almost meditative approach to gaming reminds me of the Assassin’s Creed afterlife video that we were assigned a few weeks ago, providing space for players to make choices (or have experiences) based on reflection and/or learning. This model is particularly appealing to me because the player feels welcomed by the playfulness of the game, with little of the pretense or overt persuasion associated with much message-forward art.


The above notion perhaps most directly relates to the Tofu Burger Principle on page 341: “gently introduce people to new experiences.” In the most interesting case, IMO, the “experience” is the act of consideration/acceptance of new ideas. Some of the most moving stories I’ve heard emphasize the human-ness of their subject matter, and thereby bring to mind notions such as the widely-held regard for human dignity. I’m currently in a political theory course, and we talk a lot about hypotheticals – Locke and the social contract, Rawls and the original position. I find discussions based around these concepts to be interesting and surprisingly provocative, given that they reveal quite a bit about conversant’s fundamental ideological leanings. But gamification makes me wonder… what about a game that places the player in the original position, devoid of race, class, gender, location, and all other arbitrary describers. What would that look like? How would a game communicate this base position? And would the experience of considering the original position in a game offer a different kind of reflection that a conversation about Rawls would?


All this is to say that I’m excited by the notion of art and games provoking thoughtful consideration through immersive storytelling. Attempting to communicate human experience (or at least make arguments that use shared humanity as their basis) is a sort of wildly vague and ambitious goal. But the cases in chapter six were inspiring examples of contemplative, interactive art that exmplify that goal.