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Worlds without Words: What German Expressionism Can Teach Us About Game Design

Reposted from PopMatters Moving Pixels.

At the outset, the way in which video games typically use the word “genre” seems at odds with its more conventional literary and cinematic usage. But arguably, by emphasizing means of delivery, video game genre becomes the format informing emotion, which is not so far from the word’s more thematic meaning at all.

Just as the tropes of film genres train audiences to anticipate certain modes of behavior –we generally expect the action hero to kill to get what he wants, just as we hope the romantic comedy lead doesn’t— video game genres emphasize the power dynamic between players and events. Players, in turn, develop distinct emotional ranges and expectations with a given genre, and these are continually modified and projected onto by a game’s content. You expect to exert a greater level of tactile immersion with the full sensory space in a first-person shooter than you would a two-dimensional platformer, so a game like BioShock brings about its emotional reaction in part by violating that very expectation of (albeit illusory) player-character autonomy. Following on that, the comparatively high compression of a 2D platformer’s player-space interaction means the player’s main dialogue is always, first and foremost, with the space’s physical laws, rather than its social ones. In this way, platformers tend to fall along two major premises: man versus nature and man versus himself.

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