Drop in, tune on, tune out.

For a short spiel about what the hell I’m talking about, have a browse here.

Despite nearly forty years between conceptions, Bernstein’s article (1991) highlighted to me the surprisingly high number of similarities between Save Your World and a traditional arcade game. Yes, the 8-bit aesthetics and chiptune-inspired music I plan to include are clearly directly influenced by retro games, but the actual game mechanics and driving forces behind what encourages a player to actually play are not at all different to the arcade games of the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Firstly though, it’s interesting to consider that the observations that Bernstein argues are levelled at video games; that they are “corrupter(s) of youth”, “a new mind-obliterating technodrug” and, perhaps redeeming the medium, a “marvelous exercise of hand-eye coordination” (1991 [3]) are startlingly similar to what is today being said about mobile phones. Bernstein notes that these worries were brought up before video games – indeed television, recorded music and even reading comics books were seen as evil and corruptive to our youth. It’s apparent that every generation that are not natives to whatever new technology is being critiqued have heightened levels of apprehension and mistrust regarding the new technology and this, certainly, is the case with the current criticism of mobile phones.

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A traditional arcade that is, really, not at all like my mobile game.

Now, back to my point! Like traditional arcade games, solidarity (Bernstein 1991[7]) is the key to success in Save Your World. You alone are in charge of whether you win or lose and, yes, you can share the results with your friends digitally, but isn’t that similar to shouting your success in an arcade once you beat the aliens in Space Invaders? This idea, of either winning or losing with no room in between, is also something the arcade game and mine have in common. Today’s RPG’s have the opportunity to follow a narrative and explore a world, but, like the 8-bit games of old, Save Your World has a rigid idea of either beating the villains or dying. The “American ending” (Bernstein 1991[9]) of beating your enemy and coming out on top is not exactly new or ground breaking, but still proves to be immensely satisfying for those playing. In a similar vein, another dynamic of arcade games that Save Your World borrows “is the ubiquitous emphasis on scoring” (Bernstein 1991 [19]). You are playing to win, and you need to accumulate points (in Save Your World’s case, ‘kudos’) in order to do so. Pac-man and Frogger are not open-ended, you die hoping to beat your last high score – this is exactly the same in my game.

Perhaps the key similarity though is the idea of completely wasting time as you play. Yes, like arcade games you get that “goal-oriented” feeling of accomplishment, but ultimately, as Bernstein puts it; “the lure of video games has to be understood as, in part, related to their sheer unproductivity” (Bernstein 1991[23]). I’ve discussed before that I want my game to be exactly this, a pure waste of time. I want Save Your World to be a mindless escape that anybody can have fun playing, not just teenagers apart of a clique down at the local arcade.

Of course, it’s 2016 not 1985, so the platform my game is being played on is different. Unlike heading to an arcade, or even using a computer, you are never completely disconnected from your mobile phone. These retro platforms were “either on or off, you’re plugged in or you’re out of the loop” [Bernstein 1991 [39]). This is no longer the case, with a mobile game you can get ‘push notifications’ whether you’re playing or not – breaking down this on/off system down.

Another difference between my game and these arcade games I keep harping on about? My game is free, as free games definitely attract more downloads (Needleman 2015) but (ultimately) like many mobile games, it’s still a business and their needs to be an opportunity to monetize your product. Arcade culture, and really gaming culture in general, demonstrates that players have come to expect this and if they’re enjoying the game and getting there ‘fix’ (Bernstein 1991[16])– they’ll be happy to pay.

References:

Image credit 1

Bernstein, C. ‘Play It Again Pac-Man’, Postmodern Culture 2:1, 1991.

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