Games and the Imagination – now on PDF
I’ve added a pdf version of my 2004 article series Games and the Imagination to the writing page. I still get people asking for it in an easy to read format and I found that since their last redesign, the layout of Gamedev’s article section doesn’t do much to reflect the amount of work that goes into such writing. It looks a little like some lost blog post that got picked up by a content aggregator or something, so I made the PDF to provide a better reading experience.
In Games and the Imagination I use Jungian psychology to explore how players imaginatively engage with games. Its main idea is that gamers do not simply identify with playable characters but that the whole game can operate as a kind of dreamscape where all characters, landscapes and situations have the potential to reflect the gamer’s psychological concerns.
When it was published on Gamedev in 2004 I got a terrific response; people wanted to cite my work in their studies, I had several working psychologists respond positively, and even a few big names in the games industry wrote to me.
I come from a self-taught working class background; university wasn’t even mentioned to me when I was at school, so it was very gratifying to have students and big-shots thank me for helping them with their studies and asking to cite my work.
I left school in a bad way, depressed and angry; angry at bullying, angry that nothing in my world appeared to allow me to be the person that I felt I was, a creative thinker. The responses I got from my writing really made me feel that the years of lonely self-education that followed were finally leading to something.
The one thing I didn’t get out of it was the one thing I was desperate for: a job in the games industry. I actually wrote the series some time earlier, and was using it as part of a portfolio of code that I was sending out with job applications. I’m not sure how many of the people I sent it to actually read it. I probably didn’t push it hard enough. A part of me has always wanted someone else to come over and say, “Hey, you belong over here, come and join us”, but that never happens.
After I finished Games and the Imagination I got interested in the idea that there might be a single language of game design, a grammar or logical system that could be used to describe all games. I wrote a little about this in part four and linked it with ideas that went back to my first game design article from 2001.
A lot of work has been done in this area in the past ten years. People like Raph Koster, Daniel Cook, Ernest Adams and Joris Dormans have done detailed analyses of game mechanisms in the hope of eventually deriving something like a grammar or set of logical axioms that designers can use to think about how games work.
My own approach is more phenomenological. After surveying the usual suspects such as semiotics and system theory, I started reading twentieth-century philosophy; Wittgenstein, Husserl, Heidegger and Deleuze, to name a few important figures. I’ve spent probably six or seven years on this study and I still don’t feel that I’m ready to write anything yet.
I *do* have concrete ideas, and they are informing everything I do when I work on my games, but I just don’t feel capable of describing them in words yet. I have a picture in my mind of a nicely illustrated book, but I’ll probably just end up with a simple pamphlet stating the obvious! The ideas I have in mind are simple, Its just that they are not made of the same stuff as ordinary concepts if you can catch my drift. They are about appearance, not representation. (Told you I wasn’t ready to write yet:) )
Another area that I got interested in was the investigation of the imagination itself. What does it mean to imagine? Why does this faculty seem to be treated so dismissively outside of a few subcultures? How does it relate to other faculties? Can a rethinking of the place of the imagination within phenomena tell us anything new about being human, or open up new horizons for us? These are some of the questions that come to mind. I plan to write some more about these questions soon.