Monday, January 30, 2012

Super Mario 64: Phenomenology of Values

video games are a kind of phenomenology of values. for each functioning action there becomes a response, a visible effect of that input, directly placing itself upon the system and interacting with the respective pieces. as more of the system acted upon is revealed, a deeper understanding of the underlying elements that drive it becomes apparent. in this way the player forms ritualistic series of actions- a certain gun may become more desirable for them, generally picking it over other means available. a long jump may be realized to go further distances quicker, and may prefer that to diving or just running. others search for a deconstruction of the system and attempt to discover the flaws in these worlds for their exploitation. regardless all games are based  in some form on accumulating values and demystifying systems.

even in the most remote, obscured corners of super Mario 64 the rules are the same. the walls can be jumped off of, the same things serve as obstructions, and you still have your same moves. what I'm noticing more as i try to understand the game though is how often the exact same input will receive entirely different responses if changed even slightly within the environmental context.

in the corner pictured above i have spent a good couple hours figuring out various ways of toying with the walls and the hill which bends slightly overhead. depending on angle, height, speed, the exact point you hit, and how quickly you react after the first jump, it becomes possible for a seemingly infinite amount of individual possibilities. they generally are very similar but still have personal differences which separate them.

in fact i noticed that the hill if approached from a nearby point with a tree can be scaled from the right angle, long jumping and diving along the way. this allows for a bending of the system, collecting the lives from Yoshi that otherwise wouldn't be accessible until all 120 stars had been collected. this is what i mean when i talk about an accumulation of noticeable interactions though- changing a small piece of the context and receiving vastly different output, and trying to work it into an understanding of the greater whole.

in a way super Mario 64 is more of a playground than anything. there is an end "goal" of collecting stars and beating Bowser, but that is not really the fun of it. it's rooted in exploration- trying to find new ways of using these strange abstract forms, working through masses of ideas and even smaller systems. the end point is merely a motivation of sorts to unlock more worlds. between those points there is a strong analysis of play, the things we do for entertainment are generally viewed with cynical distaste, but i think all important discoveries are made through exactly this sort of "childish" play. experimenting, toying with ideas and forms, tearing the meaning from the apparently meaningless. the things no one cares about examining are generally those with the most unlocked potential, as their purpose has not yet been understood. the idea of "productive play" instead of work, instead of rigid ideologies. the entirety of environments as a playground, a system unknown and ready for exploration even under the veil of modern thought.

mediums of the unknown, misunderstood and lost in colossal heaps of consumerism. these are actually the forms most based in action- the process of, as opposed to the goal reached. they serve a purpose as a simulation of actions and their values. something that in a way reflects the meaning of everything people do. not through making the game more "mature" or "adult" with its subjects, but merely by showing the importance of action and reaction. the games that we played as children, physical or digital, are the medium all others come from: play. by retracing the history of culture all things stem back from experimentation and playfulness. the "accidental" discoveries that define entire centuries are not just accidents. they are people playing with ideas. get lost in these seemingly worthless endeavours and you just might find something. dig deeper into the pits, the unknown.