Tuesday, August 18

Enacting Experience Part 2: Don't Shoot the Puppy!

This is the second article in my three part series on Enacting Experience. Read the first article, on It's a Nice Day Today, here.

Don't Shoot the Puppy!, by Aragagg, is an exercise in either frustration or patience, depending upon your temperament. Fifteen levels of puppy-hopping molasses await players in their quest to not shoot the puppy. With its twitch-triggered Anti-Air Cannon and myriad of trickery, Don't Shoot the Puppy! aims to test players' patience and maybe show them something a little different of game design as well.

The gameplay concept of "non-interaction" isn't entirely new; not to mention others, the brilliant Warcraft III mod, Don't Move the Tauren, had previously explored this "do nothing" reversal of gameplay, albeit in a psychologically-driven multiplayer setting. Regardless, Aragagg experiments admirably with non-interactivity. By employing clever (evil) tricks and toying with the patience of players, Aragagg creates an interesting emotional experience.

Players have two options in Don't Shoot the Puppy!:
  1. Shoot the Puppy.
  2. Don't Shoot the Puppy.
Shooting the Puppy is the easier of the two by far. But since the game's title explicitly tells players one rule, and the game is governed by that sole rule, the adherence to which is necessary for completion, players are driven towards not shooting the puppy; it's a challenge. There is also something to be said for the humor of the game; the utter ridiculousness of the situation is an additional force compelling players to endure the puppy's harsh challenges. And endure players must. Assuming they're actually paying attention to the game, which I believe the humor goes a long way towards capturing, players are forced to sit, watch, and wait. The slightest budge of the mouse, the simplest tap of a key, and the puppy is disintegrated. Often, this is a mistake. Therefore, not only must players not shoot the puppy, they must specifically strive to not shoot it.

Caution and patience are the name of the game. Which is interesting when you think about it. Perhaps non-interactivity is a mislabel. Though players do not interact physically using controls (except when they do shoot the puppy), they are required to interact mentally and emotionally. The game responds to their patience via the reward of completion.

Aside from simply waiting, Don't Shoot the Puppy! tries several tricks on players to get them to lose. Each time the puppy is shot, players are returned to the first level. One of my favorite levels is 5, where the normally smiley-face marked signpost now reads "Eternal Suffering," pointing to the left in the direction the puppy is walking. This psychological trick is extremely simple, not to mention hilarious, but it also has great potential for actual emotional impact. What's more important: yhat you win the game, or that you save the puppy from endless turmoil?

 Levels 3 and 12 trick players in another way: logically. In level 3, when players click play, an Ad pops-up, covering the game. Naturally, players move their mouse to the big X button to close the Ad, only to found they've been duped. Or at least I did. It was a good laugh, too. Level 12 is even more devious. After players press play, the level delays starting for a good while. Worst of all, the play button remains, leaving players to believe they either missed the button or something glitched. They thought wrong.

Restarting the game from the beginning can be trying. Don't Shoot the Puppy! is an opportunity for either patience or aggression. In this way, the game emulates life, offering the practice of a real and necessary life skill, waiting, and a real emotion, patience. It is up to players to decide how they're going to react to the game. Like a consequence-less microcosm for life events, players can either become angry or they can remain calm. The game shows how easy it can be to twitch-react according to frustration, like snapping your fingers, revealing to players just how quickly they can become angry. For those of you who own dogs, this may sound familiar.

Oppositely, players may wait. They may wait and watch and be patient with the puppy. It's not the puppy's fault it has narcolepsy. The game does go to lengths to aggravate players, attempting to trick them several times aside from simply waiting for the puppy to leave the screen. But all this does is push the point further; how patient can you be?

This is where enacting experience comes in. The gameplay mechanics, one being shooting the puppy, the other being not, match the emotions derived from the experience. To beat the game, players must wait, act upon nothing. But to lose, players must only tap the mouse. There is an implicit message that Don't Shoot the Puppy! is sending: it is better to be patient, to practice waiting, than it is to act violently.

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