Mechanics and Meaning Need to Work Together in Videogames

So after I posted my previous piece on my personal facebook my friend Nic ( who you can find at @nicversus) posted a great response and addition to my piece about how important that both mechanics and meanings need to go hand in hand and honestly I agree completely with him and couldn’t put it in any better words; so go check it out under the cut!


“I think the line between the importance of mechanics and emotional resonance in a game is very blurry. Dear Esther, whose mechanics amount to walking around while story is pumped through your earholes occasionally helped along by the environment, made me feel something, but I don’t consider it a good game because I never want to play it again.

There’s no mechanic there that complements the story or in any way legitimizes another playthrough. Everything of value in that game can be gained from an audiobook and a slideshow.

Contrast that with a game like Ico, where you generate a bond between two characters who speak two separate, nonexistant languages. Not only can they not understand each other, but you can’t understand them either (there’s a subtitle mode unlocked after you beat the game but you can turn it off, because it’s really not that important).

Ico, the kid, needs yorda, the girl, in order to advance through the castle for so long, that by the time they get separated and Ico finds a way to advance on his own, the game doesn’t end until you go back for Yorda. The emotional climax of the game is the culmination of the bond between these two characters which was facilitated by complementary mechanics.

Super Meat Boy actually has this as well to a degree, where at the end of the level you see a recap of all of your attempts all at once. This gives the player a sense of not only their own determination, but our Boy of Meat’s determination to save Bandage Girl, the one being he needs in life; the two are complementary. Meat Boy isn’t made of beef, he’s an exposed creature without skin, and bandage girl is the cure to his life of pain.

But if you want a game that further cements fun mechanics that complement emotional resonance, look no further than The Binding of Isaac, from the same creator of Super Meat Boy. The game is dripping and encrusted with evocative imagery and emotional significance while still having compelling mechanics and incredible playability. In fact, if the game wasn’t so innately playable, I wouldn’t be as inclined to delve as deeply into the story because in a lot of ways it makes me uncomfortable.

In a lot of ways, the game’s pleasing Zelda-by-way-of-SmashTV mechanics help me as a player, and Isaac as a character, overcome the oppressive environments and face his mother’s madness.

I really don’t think a game can have emotional significance to a player without having a robust set of mechanics interwoven with the world that the game is trying to convey.”


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