A few days ago, Kill Screen Magazine’s web site published the first of a regular series I’m writing for them called “Top Down.” It’s basically a series of posts that draws out the worldview impressions and implications that games have, as a result of their story, mechanics, and aesthetics. I started with the obvious choice: Hydro Thunder Hurricane.
Okay, so it’s not so obvious. How can a game about racing boats in crazy environments with arcade gameplay imply anything deeper than “whoah”? Well, you’ll have to read the article for the answer to that question.
Still, even after reading, you may think it’s a little bit of a stretch. After all, even the developers of the game, Vector Unit, tweeted that the article was “highly amusing”, and well, that’s not exactly what I was going for. In reality, I was attempting to draw out some of the dangers of escapism and avoidance, and point out ways that Hydro Thunder (whether consciously or not) draws these dangers out.
Still, I had to consider whether it was valid to write about impressions and implications that were not intended by the original designers. In other words, when it comes to writing about games, how important is authorial intent?
Christians love to go on about the importance of authorial intent, and I used to do the same. When it came to novels, movies, music, the main question at hand was “what is the author trying to say?”. We can go from there. Lately, I’ve started to move a little on that issue, but that’s a topic for another, longer post. With games, though, it’s clear: it’s not about the author. In fact, the authors are so numerous, and the development cycle is such a collaborative endeavor, that the author’s intent is nearly impossible to isolate most of the time. Not to mention that the best games excel at providing an experience that differs drastically from one player to the other. The developers can guide this experience, but subtle differences in how the game is played can change the meaning drastically.
Let’s discuss this in the comments. Is it possible to interpret the author’s intent in a game? Should we even try? What are some experiences you’ve had in a game that you’ve found to differ drastically from the experiences of others?