I'm finally back for some blogging...
The last few months have been difficult for me. My wife Carole and I lost our baby on October 20th. Working and thinking of GDC talks isn't easy in those circumstances so the blog came last. Olivier Morin was 38 weeks old when Carole realized overnight he wasn't moving anymore. Once at the hospital, a series of test were made and they announced us Olivier was dead. We now knew Carole would have to give “birth” to our lifeless fourth child. Carole always said it must be the worst thing in the world for women to give birth to a dead baby and now she had to experience it. That was without a doubt the most intense, complex and weird moment of my entire life.
Losing a baby in 2009 sounds surreal, it is a one in a million case. For this reason, not only us but the entire hospital staff was shocked. When Carole was pushing, it felt like everything at once for me. It was a terrible tragedy and I was scared of how Olivier would look like and if I would be able to handle it when he shows up. At the same time, I was sad and anxious about how Carole was really doing inside. She looked so strong on the surface, she always do, that is how amazing she is. She was listening to the staff’s instructions in some kind of dark place I cannot even begin to imagine. But I also found the moment beautiful and filled with compassion. In a weird way, it was like everyone was respecting Olivier through his silence. When he showed up soundless, everybody had the same reaction: “he is so beautiful”. I never saw so much respect in a single room, it was amazing and strong enough for us to survive the moment and for that I thank everyone remotely involved.
Carole and I talked a lot at the hospital, we always manage to discuss our way through events like these and it’s a big reason why our couple is so strong. During Far Cry 2, we learned Raphael was autistic and I had to go in ambulance with Nicolas in my arms with an oxygen mask while he was six months old. At his beautiful marriage, Clint Hocking ask me how the hell I was able to go through such moments without having it affect my work. That is what Clint is all about, not everybody knows it, but this guy is a phenomenal human being and he do care about others a lot. Well the answer to his question is Carole, she is just the most amazing women there is and I hate the fact she had to go through this terrible event.
The most intense moment surrounding Olivier’s death for me was holding him in my arms. We discussed Carole and I how we couldn’t understand the idea of parents taking pictures of their dead baby and stuff in the past. It was creepy to our eyes. Now we understand, it was important for us to talk to him and it helped us heal the wounds. We saw this moment very differently since it was happening to our baby. I saw a lot of different emotions in suspension while Carole was giving birth to Olivier’s Body. Clint wasn’t sure to understand how I could go through hardcore events in my family while working on Far Cry 2. These are strong examples of how human deal with various contexts. A given event triggers very different meaning to each of us based on our own perspective towards it. Yes as weird as it feels, I am using those events to talk about game design. Design Cave is a design blog so it was the best way to talk about it...
Context in Sport Games:
Just like any other moments in life, a game experience triggers different meanings depending on how we perceive them. Sport games are filled with magical events supporting this fact. For example, January 14th the Montreal Canadians played against the Dallas Stars. It was not a good day for George Laraque to play hockey since he still had no news of his family back in Haiti. With the earthquake, he spent the entire day wondering if he wouldn’t be more useful back there. Being the goon of his team and with all the injuries he had, it was also difficult to justify his presence since he didn’t even produce a single shot to the net this season. Still he signed a contract and therefore was on the ice that night. He scored a goal at his first shot of the season and that was the end of the world for him. It was the little glimpse of hope he needed and it was a sign that he was indeed there for a reason. You just have to see his face on the video to understand the meaning behind this event for him. The goal in itself isn’t special but the context behind it makes it so.
And what about the 83-yard touchdown Ray Rice did against the Patriots January 10th. While that was happening Jamie Costello was in the press box, screaming like his underwear was on fire. He hadn't told anybody that his teenage son was the new brains behind the Ravens' offense, so every single person gives him the stink eye: “There's no cheering in the press box, dude.” Unless you're cheering for a kid who's trying to survive... That’s right, Jamie’s son Matthew Costello is 14th years old and he has cancer. He was visited by Cam Cameron, the offensive coordinator for the Ravens which is Matthew’s favourite NFL team. Cameron was in fact impressed by his football knowledge and decided to ask him what he should play for his next game. Once he tried Matthew’s play and saw the immense success it had, he started calling the kid for plays more and just like that this young genius became the Ravens secret weapon. A 14th years old kid was behind the master play Ray Rice executed that day. For Ravens fans it was an awesome play, but for Matthew Costello and his family, it was to an all new level of meaning.
Meaning in Video Games:
In November 2009, Chris Hecker expressed something fundamental in a keynote addressed at the IGDA Leadership Forum in San Francisco. He believes games will be the preeminent art and entertainment form of the 21st century, if we don't screw it up… He proposed four metrics to measure popular entertainment forms in approximate order of increasing importance: revenue, units sold, cultural impact and diversity of content. He says we do great only at the first one and that we can’t be totally blamed since there are certain types of gameplay that are well understood and easily accomplished in game while others still elude us. That would, to a large extent, have locked in many design ideas in the service of financial safety. He advises designers to explore the “Why” like in why we are doing games? If we do not find a way to deliver an experience we want to convey through interactivity, he believes we could really screw it up.
During his talk, he recounted a recent experience playing Valve's Left 4 Dead, a game he greatly enjoys. "But it's vacuous," he said. "It's cool, but there's not really any 'there' there." I was not there so I cannot precisely describe what Hecker said about Left 4 Dead but I remember a discussion I had with Pierre-Yves Savard (PY) the Level Design Director on our current project. He mentioned various meaning he experienced through different L4D sessions. While playing with friends he felt the importance of friendship and team work. But when he played with an unknown beginner, it was more about responsibility and mentorship. These are two different meaning coming from different contexts. I think this is the strength behind interactivity and while Hecker’s overall message sounds very accurate to me, I feel L4D conveys more meaning than he seems to think or maybe he already think that way himself since I didn’t see his talk. The point I am making through all this is that meaning ALWAYS come from the one who experience an event, not from those generating it. Meaning is a personal thing and it’s open to interpretation.
One of the beauties of game design is that it’s all about inspiring ourselves from everything. It is about extracting from life to help the design cause. But just like any other medium, our thoughts provide experiences that transcend their origin through the eyes of others. The player’s role is to find their meaning through them. So it’s crucial for us to provide the right tone and leave room for thoughts. When Chris Hecker says we should know “Why” we are making games, he misses the point that players also have a “Why” they are playing it or at least that is what I perceive out of a few recap of his talk. Through moments like Olivier’s death, life has changed me over the years. I play and design games differently now and it’s a beautiful thing. Hopefully designers can embrace this and se games as a way for players to find meaning for all sorts of subjects. This is where Hecker is so bang on. We will need to provide different subjects to explore for players to see games as a culturally meaningful medium. If we fail to do so, we will indeed screw it up. Maybe one day it will be possible for me to make a game about Olivier. I surely hope so...