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Critical Games: Critical Design in Independent Games

Grace, L., (2014) Critical Games: Critical Design in Independent Games. In Proceedings of the 8th international conference of the Digital Research Association (DIGRA) (Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah, August 3-6, 2014)

In this paper Grace gives an overview of Critical Games practice, drawing on his own projects, Molleindustria, Cox, Flanagan, Bashiri, Fietzek et al. For Grace this practice is inward facing and on the medium and using the mediums own tools and language to critique, comment or examine games. This article draws on Dunne and Raby’s writings and design practice to construct a mode of investigation into games which can be charted on two continuums; between reflective and recursive and continuous and discontinuous which he sees as “examining the structural rhythm of delivery”.

Useful quotes:
“The human computer interaction community has very clearly adopted the design trajectory of critical design as evidenced by an increase in practice (Bardzel et al. 2014)” (p.4)

“[games can] ask questions about the procedural rhetoric inherent in common game mechanics offering alternatives that often have philosophically divergent results” (p.4)

“Critical design, is, from this persepective, a means for social critique.” (p. 5)

“On the other end is design motivated by an interest in procedural rhetoric and assumptions of operational standards in games. These games are responding to an environment of mechanics. They are focused less on the social atmosphere and more on the atmosphere of doing. Such games and designed objects are focused on game mechanics. Critical mechanics are typically recursive. They begin with a contemporary standard and iterate on it. They are not focused on the social implications or context, per se, but instead on the experiential ones.” (p. 5)

“Critical design is not merely alternative play. Critical design is directed at a target. It is aimed not at some abstract alternate, it instead responds to a set of design assumptions. In this way it can also function as a sort of social barometer.” (p. 6)

“Discontinuous critical games commonly rely on player assumption. They prey not on the uninitiated game player who lacks the expectations and extrinsic knowledge about the way digital games are played. Instead these games work best on the initiated, on players who are so entrenched in their expectations of digital play that they fail to be aware of their expectations.” (p. 7)

Further Reading:
Bardzell, J., Bardzell, S., & Stolterman, E. (2014). Reading critical designs: supporting reasoned interpretations of critical design. In Proceedings of the 32nd annual ACM conference on Human factors in computing systems (pp. 1951-1960). ACM. New York

Grace, L. (2011). Discomfort design: Critical reflection through uncomfortable play, in proc 17th International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA2011), Istanbul Turkey

Grace, L. D. (2012). Critical gameplay: designing games to critique convention. In Proceedings of the 20th ACM international conference on Multimedia (pp. 1185-1188). ACM.

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