Games and Metaphors: Deep Thoughts by Eric-Jon Rossel Waugh

Matt Barton's picture

Every now and then I find a true gem on the net--more than just some tidbit about a new piece of hardware or some developer ranting about the lack of innovation in modern gaming. When I find something like Culture: Games and Metaphor, I like to slow down and really see what the author is trying to get across. Waugh's point in this essay is to get us to think about metaphors--specifically, metaphors in games and how they relate to the real world as well as the game world. He also talks about how the videogame industry has essentially been inbreeding for a few decades, rehashing and making questionable "progress" as it attempted to "revolutionize" the previous generations' hardware and games: Ever since Super Mario Bros. came out, basically all we've done is build on it. Waugh would like to see a revolution in game metaphors--rather than merely point back to earlier games, it's time to start thinking sensisbly about a new kind of metaphor, one that functions like great metaphors in books and films. Waugh uses a number of great examples to illustrate his points, including several from classics like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy.

Some of the best games for metaphor are those that mirror back some larger events taking place in the avatar's life. I can think of a good example of this in the great point-and-click adventure The Longest Journey, which is an extended metaphor of the avatar April Ryan's psychological journey to freedom. Ryan was abused by her father, who shows up at the end and must be dealt with. This is deep stuff for a videogame, and if you look closely enough, you can see that all throughout the game are metaphors pointing back to this greater "journey." I suppose we could make the same point about the Monkey Island series--a sort of "coming of age" theme that toys with the player's notions of whether Threepwood is really a pirate or just a daydreaming kid in a carnival. What is the Secret of Monkey Island? Ah...

In short, it's a great read, and I sincerely hope everyone here will take time out to read it. It's the kind of stuff I've always strived to produce for Armchair Arcade. Good, thoughtful commentary written in an accessible and engaging style. I'm currently in the long, laborious process of learning C++, and reading stuff like this really gets my mental wheels turning. Watch this You Tube and see if you agree with Waugh about game metaphors...