On Jonathan Blow’s Dynamical Meaning

Consider “Storytelling” in games as too often merely just another cynical marketing tool used to sell gamers the brand – ie. the game itself

Jonathan Blow’s idea of “Dynamical Meaning” – allowing a ‘potential for Meaning’ to arise through interaction, rather than through traditional storytelling – appears to be a sublime nugget of video gaming truth, expressing the simple idea that all game rules / systems express ideas

The concept of D.M is important for video game design since it cuts through the ‘stories’ often desperately / cynically and ham-fistedly bolted on by game designers

There’s an immediate and direct emphasis on the fact the Player’s time is important and that their intelligence is respected; that every single thing they do in a game-system space is ‘meaningful’ – that the game contains zero frivolous elements

One problem with D.M. might be that the meaning of ‘Meaning’ is somehow still as nebulous, uncertain and dubious as it was before with triple-A, F.P.S ‘brown games’ starring square jawed meat heads. Yet what if even these zero-frivolous-elements game spaces are themselves frivolous, fragmentary (cultural) artifacts?

In his talk from 2008, Jonathan Blow talks about the ‘Ludonarrative Dissonance’ in Bioshock – the glaringly awkward gap or ‘conflict’ between the game’s (largely bad) Story and the standard-substandard Mechanics

But perhaps there is no true ‘gap’ – perhaps the sum total of what’s being Presented and Played may be the ‘Meaning’ of the game – as though Ludonarrative Dissonance has long since been an industry / cultural standard

It’s as though gamers want and need ‘stupid’ or ‘badly told’ stories and near-arbitrary gameplay mechanics (mindless running / shooting etc) because that in itself is the truer meaning of the game, and perhaps all games – ie. Mindless Escape

To illustrate this, consider the difficultly of setting up a game with Dynamical Meaning in which one of the more-possible meanings is that playing computer games is a complete waste of one’s life and time

Even if one infers these ‘coordinates of meaning’ and receives some kind of oblique insight via the rules of the gaming system – one *still* might be wasting time and should not be playing in the first place

Perhaps games need people more than people need games

The problem with Jonathan Blow suggesting humans should make more games that (somehow) address “The Human Condition”, is that a large part of this ‘human condition’ consists of entirely avoiding every opportunity to directly confront / change ourselves – who are largely inhuman; violent, often wilfully blind, endlessly attuned to the pursuit of infinite trivialities and brainless amusements

One wonders how Rod Humble’s “Marriage” would change if he stopped making video games and paid more attention to ‘his’ wife

It too often seems that just by playing video games, everyone becomes (or just defaults back to) Duke Nukem. Thus a typical outburst by Duke: “Your face – your ass – what’s the difference?” in this (seemingly ‘dynamic’) context becomes – “You waste life playing video games. What’s the difference if those games are ‘meaningful’?”

Video games don’t need to ‘grow up’, ‘evolve‘ or somehow be ‘deeper’; maybe they can’t