Wednesday, July 29

Enacting Experience Part 1: It's a Nice Day Today

This is the first part of a three part article series about the use of "enacting experience" as exampled in three Flash games. The concept of enacting experience comes from the world of poetry and describes how the experience of something matches it's content.
This may be the most revelatory game you've ever played. The title is God Damn It's a Nice Fucking Day Today. And let me tell you, it's a tapestry of pure genius.

Indie games, and, in particular, Flash games, are in a very unique position in the game industry. Flash games hold their own little plane of existence in game design. Because Flash is a relatively accessible way to create games, and games that have potential for mass audiences, many independent designers are taking advantage of the software to create some truly incredible games. More so, often unburdened by the weight of publishing financing, Flash developers have a beautiful opportunity to freely explore a game's design. Whereas mass-industry developers are bound by the limitations of delivering mind-blowing graphics, staying under-budget, meeting milestones, and everything else that comes with the fish basket, Flash developers have the freedom to experiment with their design, experiment with those things unsuitable for the finicky market and experiment with what matters most in video games: the experience (thank you Jesse Schell).

I'm not going to enter a long exposition on the game industry right now, but I will say a few words about a game from Scottmale24 and conceived by Prguitarman, It's a Nice Day Today. Naturally, please play the game first, or go outside. It's good for you.

It's a Nice Day Today excels, specifically, as a video game. After playing for 30 seconds, a message comes on screen: "Why aren't you outside? Go outside or the sun will fucking rape your shit." This is paired with a Newgrounds Medal: "Failure to Communicate." This is convention-breaking awesome on so many levels, just like a chocolate layered cake. It's a Nice Day Today straight-up Falcon-knees the idea that Achievements, Trophies, Medals, pick your lingo, have to be used as rewards for good behavior or skill. Quite oppositely, the message overlay and medal blatantly tell players that they fail at life. By continuing to play the game, players are just. not. getting. it.

The gameplay, angrily sun-laser-nuking every house in sight, perfectly matches the agressive message of the game. It's called "enacting experience." A concept I learned from studying the writing of poetry, enacting experience is a technique used to match the content of a poem with its message and/or meaning: you enact the experience. Rhyme, rhythm, sytanx, line breaks, consoance, and more elusively definable aspects of poetry can be used in concordance with the meaning of a poem to emphasize its overall effect, and ultimately, the reader's experience.

It's a Nice Day Today is functioning with the same technique. It's not a very nice day at all, not any more; it's an angry day, an angry, angry day. You play the sun with the sole objective (and capability) to violently burn every house to the ground, exposing stick-figures to the glory of your wrath (or, what could have been your brilliance). Where enacting experience comes in is the style of message. The game's author could have easily left out the message, left out the medal, providing the gameplay alone and not its meta counter-part. However, what players are given is a blatant, threatening message, telling players that their continuing of play is in direct opposition to the game's intentions. This message of pure gundanium not only matches the aggressive gameplay, but rockets the player experience astro-fucking-nomically. It's like "with our forces combined" creating Captain Planet. It's like when two sounds waves of equal frequency meet to form a single wave louder than both simply added. The result is greater than the sum of its parts.

As a video game, It's a Nice Day Today uses several techniques to be super-effective. Players are the ones who expose the message in the first place and who personally experience it. Scottmale24 and Prguitarman are the ones who created the game (because they had a point to prove), but players are the ones in control. They are able to exit their browser, stand up from their computers, and walk outdoors. Really, that counts as control. It's a Nice Day Today breaks the fourth wall in the hopes that players might actually listen. What is interesting is that It's a Nice Day Today makes no attempt to positively motivate nor positively inspire players to go outdoors; its means are command and fear. An alternative game could have showed the sun in all its splendor, showed a happy picnic or swim at the ocean. But would that have been as effective? It's impossible to say, but what we can say is that It's a Nice Day Today tries its darndest to inspire people to go outside, using their own lack of concern and lazyness against them, with the message, as a second gut-punch. Rather than show, the game tells players: your current actions are preventing you from enjoying the nice outside.

There's the genius, right there. It's a game. You're the one still playing the game. You're the one not outside. Your specific action of playing the game, so chastised by that very game, is the simultaneous inaction of being outside.

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