Explorations and Experimentation in Games

The more I take this class, the more exploration and experimentation become important to me in gameplay. By exploration, I mean the extent to which the player travels through an unknown space (the world of the game) in order to learn about it. How important is spatial exploration to the game? What does such exploration enable us to do? Experimentation refers to the ways in which we move throughout the space of the game. It also refers to the actual mechanics of how we explore it. How do we try out new methods of exploring the space if we encounter difficulties or limitations? How do we discover these limitations and how do we work to overcome them to play the game?


Thomas was Alone incorporates these two ideas perfectly. For me, spatial exploration and experimentation were critical aspects of my gameplay. The world (or space) of _Thomas_ was full of possibilities, limitations, and dangers. The more I advanced in the game, the more I had to explore and experiment. The early levels consisted of me easily finding my way to the hole. As the levels increased, however, the space of the game got more complex. In one level, the hole was at the top of a series of ascending blocks suspended in the air. I had no idea how to get up the blocks–I often fell back down all the way to bottom because I couldn’t jump far or high enough. I began to just explore the blocks, trying to find which ones were closest to each other and which jumps I could make. The hole, though still my ultimate goal, became unimportant. My primary goal became to understand the space, to understand all the placements of the blocks, so that I could ascend them in the correct order to get to the hole. Indeed, I was playing against the game’s space in order to achieve my goal. The only way to achieve it was to develop an understanding of, or explore, the space. In another level, I had to jump on series of horizontal blocks in order to get to the hole. No matter the combination of keys I pressed, I couldn’t jump high enough to get on the block. I had to experiment to achieve my goals. I got the idea to use one of the blocks that appeared alongside me as a character as a jumping post. Before this point, I tried running and jumping and pressing the jump button and the forward button at the same time, but I had hit my spatial limitations. As a result, I brought the other block over, jumped on him, then jumped on the block that led to the hole. Playing this game required a lot of experimentation–seeing what worked, what didn’t work, what I was able to do and what I wasn’t able to do.

The notion of experimentation can’t be applied text-based games like  Redshift/Portalmetal. With Thomas Was Alone, experimentation allows you to work in order to move through the the world of the game, but Redshift provides the player with choices to move throughout the world. In this game, movement is a given, you will get somewhere with the choices you make. The choices, since they move the story forward, function as answers. With Thomas Was Alone,  the story only moves forward if you figure out how to get to the hole. In this way, the power to experiment gives you a unique control of the game’s story progression/development. While you also explore and control the narrative in text-based games, I think that the power of experimentation is almost “higher stakes” gameplay as the development of the story itself depends on you a bit more.

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