Papa Sangre, being a “video game with no video” is just the kind of obtuse idea that I like. Furthermore, it appears to be closing in on a public release, and having read a short preview of the game, I’m excited to see that there are ideas under the skin. Real ideas, too. Something that might make you wonder about more than just the social or playful dynamics. Ideas that are worth thinking about.
The games industry is incredible self-referential, to the point of obsessive cloning and stagnation, so it’s refreshing to see a game with a new approach, not just from the point of view of innovative games, but also in terms of immersive experiences. Listen to, if you will, the video below:
And, from the preview, here’s where things get interesting:
“Played with head phones, Papa Sangre builds ambitious 3D worlds purely from sound. Using your fingers as a pair of feat [sic] on the iPhone screens, you must run, walk and creep through these worlds, moving with complete 360 degree freedom, using various visual clues to outwit foes and find objects.”
The idea of accessorising just to play a game is fun, and it’s not too ungainly a request to make of the player. It’s the reason I find Papa Sangre so intriguing – the idea of taking a very commonplace action, that of wearing headphones, and turning it into a game. Whilst the core idea isn’t unique, it’s the act of turning such a private experience into a playful one that really appeals. Listening to music through headphones is a very personal, introverted experience. Shutting yourself off to the conversations of passengers on the train, or pedestrians on the street, is almost selfish. Yet it’s something I do each day, and, like Fox Mulder, I often carry two pairs of headphones as I got tired of losing one.
Turning such a private experience, where everyone on a train carriage can be immersed in different musical, narrative or fictive worlds, and turning it into a playful one whilst respecting that privacy sounds fun, intelligent and well thought-out. There are already plenty of augmented reality apps that, in practice, either don’t work or don’t provide anything nearly compelling enough. Moreover, no-one is going to play a game that makes them look stupid, standing on the pavement waving a smartphone around in order to interact with a virtual world layered over the real one. Although they might, ahem, be inclined to do something similar on the web. Anyway…
“From the texture of the ground between your feet to the passing wind and distant creating signs, every detail is in place, and the experience is remarkable. A few moments into the sample levels I played, and the experience was akin to reading a great book, with enough going to quickly build a visual representation of the world around you.”
Again, that’s something I find very interesting. Reading is contract between the reader and the author, where the former assembles their own vision of the world in their imagination. These fictive worlds are richer and more personal than anything a video game can produce, and hint at what the future of games might resemble. There’s a good chance that the stories coming out of these imagination-driven experiences are going to be more detailed and memorable than those prescribed by the visual cues of graphics-drive games. If we believe that games can tell stories, that games can be a form of artistic expression, then we need to leave an emotional imprint on the player.
Whilst the most graphic murder simulators might achieve that, it’s not the direction games should be taking (and it’s up to us to correct that, but more on that another time, perhaps). More complex emotions than just rage and hatred need to be elicited in players, and perhaps an audio-driven game will help us pull back from violent eye candy towards enriching and engaging experiences of play.
Still, the way that Papa Sangre turns the obvious, uneventful habit of wearing headphones into something more than a trivial activity is exciting. Co-opting an introverted activity for play is new, to me, and it’s a polite, humanistic approach to making a game, and I like that.