Understanding the Art Practice of Critical Gameplay Designs


Session Title:

  • Notes on the History and Politics of Gameplay

Presentation Title:

  • Understanding the Art Practice of Critical Gameplay Designs




  • The paper explores the recent growth in critical gameplay, an application of critical design to the production of computer games. Critical gameplay games demonstrate alternative gameplay models. They reveal assumptions about the ways in which we play, offering new experiences by reflecting on the old ways of playing.  Such games include the Lindsay Grace’s Critical Gameplay collection, Awkward silence game’s One Chance, Zach Gauge’s Lose/Lose and others.

    Where the affirmation design of industry standards seeks to expand through increasingly deep exploration of shallow mechanics, Critical gameplay seeks to expand through the shallow exploration of deeper mechanics.  It is not a matter of improving the way we shoot or jump, but instead asking if there are more meaningful actions that we can afford players.  Perhaps it is the opportunity to undo our biggest mistakes as in Healer, or to help us understand that in life, there really is but, One Chance.

    Instead of imparting values or delivering allegory, these games impart new ideas through their game verbs or rules. Sometimes they comically remind us that walking on a sword is dangerous, instead of a mechanic for collection. Others are serious, costing us the contents of our Hard Drive (Lose/Lose), or leaving us with the guilt of all the virtual people we’ve killed (Bang!).

    These games reflect an art practice that is both intellectual and visceral.  It serves as an experiment, eliciting player response and seeking to understand why these alternative ways to play had not been demonstrated previously. Each of the games pursues a single hypothesis with resolved specificity. The games ask questions about player values, gameplay heuristics and how we find entertainment.  It recognizes the democracy of play, understanding that people not only like to play differently, but that they playing differently expand the potential of games as expressive entertainment.

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