Archive for June 17th, 2008

Dreams, reality, and other fantasies

Posted on June 17, 2008. Filed under: Games, Music, Musings, Philosophy |

I’m not sure what this post is about.  Is it a new game review?  Is it a philosophical treatise?  Is it a muse upon the nature of friendship?  Perhaps I’ll know when I get to the end.

The stimulus for this particular piece of writing is the release of a new game from one of my favorite designers.  The game is called DREAMS, or Des Rêves Élastiques Avec Mille Insectes Nommés Georges. OK.  There’s the first, of many, odd and interesting things about the game.  The acronym is in English (DREAMS), but the words the letters of the acronym stand for are in French.  The translation, from the French is:  “Elastic Dreams with a thousand insects named George”.  THAT acronym would be EDWATING, which sounds a bit like an insult in British to me.

Although I’ve played the game five times now (it’s fairly short—I do have a life!), I have not found anywhere near a thousand insects, with or without the name of George, as yet.  I did meet a lizard called Jim and Genevieve, the mock-turtle, but I guess I’ll have to go back to look for the insects.

But, to resume from my first paragraph:  I’ve said the game is from “one of my favorite designers”.  Just what do I mean by that?  Well, her games HAVE appeared on a couple of my famous (I think I had 7 or 8 readers for those posts) “Top Adventure Game” lists, and did so before I knew very much about the designer. (See topic “Games” in the sidebar for the lists.)  I’d just been cruising around for adventure games to play, because I like them, and they keep my mind sharp (well, some of them do), when I came across “Deirdra Kiai Productions”.  Played one.  Liked it.  Saw that another was just out.  Liked it—And it’s perspective; philosophy; inquiry.  Got curious about the person behind the games, and I’ve NEVER done that before.  Sure, I’ll read this and that about her and him, but I’m not a “Fan”, usually.  It’s just that this person seemed to value having a social consciousness expressed in her games.  I found that refreshing.  I liked that there were explorations of social stereotypes instead of just playing to overcome obstacles and bring “good” back to a world gone mad—however graphically intriguing that world might be.  So, I began to read her blog.  After a few comments and insightful observations (if I do say so myself), she began to read mine.  A mutual respect began to develop.  Now, when I say she is one of my favorite designers, it not just about the games themselves, but about the person that she is.

What I’m wondering, though—and I haven’t been in this position before—is does my respect and affection for the person of Ms. Kiai affect my judgment about her games?  Of course it does!  How can it not?  We all want to like and support our friend’s “stuff”, whatever that “stuff” may be.  So, I wanted to look at that as an issue before I continued giving my lofty opinions about her latest game.

I have a couple of friends who are painters, quite a few who are musicians, and some who are writers.  I will often attend their performances or read what they’ve written to “support” them.  I’ve realized, though, especially lately, that I’m not always a champion of their work.  I usually like to experience it, but if it’s not to my taste, I will either retire quietly into the eaves, or if called upon to give an opinion, mutter something like “I particularly liked the ‘cello in movement three…”  I have found that as I “mature” (well, it’s all relative) I’m increasingly able to separate loyalty from personal taste.

Another clue is that I have no obligation to say anything about DREAMS whatsoever!  I certainly never said I’d talk about all Ms. Kiai’s games.  I did say I’d play anything she produced, and I still hold to that.  So with all those disclaimers in place, including this one—I suppose I am rather predisposed to “like” Kiai’s games, but remember I came to them initially without knowing anything about them—here’s (finally) what I think about it.

DREAMS contains one of the more innovative concepts I’ve come across in gaming.  Ms. Kiai has been exploring branching dialogue in her games recently, with multiple storylines and endings.  Although a bit unsettling sometimes, I like this, as it flows more like real life.  After all, who sets out upon an adventure knowing there is an exactly defined end to the quest?  Sure, we have a goal: “Hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon”, but we wouldn’t want to know that no matter what we do along the way, we’ll have to keep to the path and have the same predetermined experience as everyone else does who starts on the hike.

With this game, you don’t even know if you are ON the hike, as it all takes place in the author’s dreamworld.  That’s right, Deirdra Kiai, game designer; author; artist; composer; performer—is the star!  If that isn’t eclectic enough for you, her dreams are based on artwork, and in one case, music, submitted by her friends and colleagues.  Each dreamworld scene is from the artistic vision of a different person.  To boggle my mind further, one of the scenes contains artwork, music, and the character of yet another game designer who is a friend of this blog.  He mentions his own game within her game—are you confused yet?  I refuse to give away too many details.  Do play the game at least twice; you’ll see why if you do.  Do enjoy the music; it’s really good, and different and appropriate to each scene.  Don’t expect a lot of action; you won’t be able to move the characters around or have them pick up inventory items, for instance.  What you will be able to do is choose from a menu of dialogue options which lead to a variety of amusing, and sometimes startling outcomes.  I think—it will make you think.  And that’s good for you, trust me. 🙂

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