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Rationalization’s reception

rationalization-thumbRationalization was covered on the Indie Games blog and reviewed on Rock, Paper, Shotgun.  It was great to see that people were interested in checking out the game.

Though, on Rock, Paper, Shotgun people did far more than just check it out.  There were over 50 comments and many of these were very thoughtful interpretations of the game.  It excites and surprises me that the audience of this primarily mainstream game industry focused blog would be interested in dissecting this admittedly strange “proceduralist” game.

Almost surprisingly, most interpretations were in line with what I was intending to communicate.  A big inspiration for Rationalization was Rod Humble’s The Marriage.  As part of my quest to harness the alleged and only slightly understood power of “Rules as Art“, Rationalization was first purely abstract (no words, instructions or key), but because of the difficulty most people have playing and interpreting The Marriage, I decided to slightly ramp up the amount of representation and give the player some context.  I worry that I perhaps went too far, but I believe there is a sweet spot that someone will stumble upon soon enough.

Most criticisms fell into one of two categories.  The first group challenges the notion of a game that prioritizes a message over entertainment.  These came in the form of complaints about the game being boring or not accessible.  I sympathize with this position, but at the end of the day, I am committed to my message even at the cost of playability.  I constantly struggle with this when I design games.  It’s hard to say whether it’s gamers who need to learn to have patience (as most have for other mediums) or if “boring” artgames are just bad games…  I tend to bank on the former.

The other group of criticisms were mostly about the content of the message itself.  And this was awesome.  I know the game’s message isn’t popular.  There is also a lot of confusion as to what to think about “achieving Oneness”.  I know how I feel about it, and there are plenty of clues in the game to point to that, but I didn’t want the game to fully dictate what to think.  Let me just say that people tend to take for granted that that Oneness = enlightenment = nirvana.  Rationalization only gives you “Oneness”.  However, the chain of equivalencies is also not negated by the game and this was intentional and a very important part of the message.

What more could an artist ever want than to have a bunch of people interpreting the message of their work, attempting integration in their head and intelligently commenting on the results?  To me, this goes to show just how awesome the “artgame” field is.  Aside from the facts that interactive computational systems are an instantiation of what other art mediums have always attempted to be and that understanding rule based procedural expression requires that one adopt a healthy and productive philosophy, games have a HUGE audience (yes, I realize how ridiculous that sentence is, but it’s what I think, OK!).  With other mediums there is so much competition that you have to practically beg people to look at your work.  It often just boils down to luck whether or not anyone ever sees your film, novel, album, painting, etc. no matter how awesome it is.  With games there is an active community of people who are hungry to look at and experience new games.  What better place is there to be an artist?


About the author:  Mike Treanor is a game designer and PhD student studying at UC Santa Cruz. His work focuses on how to interpret and express ideas with playable media. Read more from this author


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