POP: Methodology Experiment One is an eclectic hot mess. I say that because it accurately describes the undeniable attraction I have for something so jarring and deliberately obtuse. POP:ME1 wants you to play it on it’s own terms, and will be damned to meet you in the middle. It rejects your ‘gamer’ baggage. Rob Lach is the creator and joined me on the podcast to talk about why he likes this medium.
I wrote about POP:ME1 when it was released on steam. I sum up my feelings on the game:
I find the whole thing rather pleasant even if it is, by design, made to leave us scratching our heads. Feeling as though we have no better grasp on what it is trying to communicate from the outset. Perhaps this is missing the point entirely, like I mentioned earlier I feel as if there isn’t some “large message” to unlock. Rather, it’s about the structure that we create with the bread crumbs we gather as we go passing through. Due to its formal structure of individual vignettes strung together it is more similar to that of an art installation. All crafted with care by Lach. And this is perhaps something he discovered through the process of creating the game. And this is how he could communicate that discovery.
What is to be understood from the experience is… well the experience. While many interpretations of the work have sprung up, very describe the intention of Lach. The intention is was to simple communicate an experience only capable of being portrayed in the medium we call ‘games.’
A good portion of our conversation dealt with this word ‘games.’ Now, more than ever, this word often does a disservice to the experiences that have unfortunately lumped under this collapsing term. Games cannot bear the weight of all the experiences and kinds of experiences we see cropping up. Lach likens this moment in time for games to Paleolithic cave paintings. He believes that the true potential for games as a form of expression and communication won’t realize their full potential for a long time. POP:ME1 was him trying to project what he wants to see more of in this medium.
True, avant garde works like POP:ME1 and other creators are working at pushing the boundaries of this medium. However I often worry that we lean to heavy on other mediums for a place to get our vocabulary. The example I liked to use is how in music through hundreds and thousands of years we have come up with the tools to help convey emotions through notes/chords/songs. If asked a trained professional to play a sad song, and abstractions will be made manifest. However, if I were to ask a game designer to make a game sad, we often rely on music,narrative, visuals to do that heavy lifting. This is where Lach steps in and defends that by combining these things, does not make them derivatives. On the contrary they make something new and exciting. Those classic tools are now being add to the mix of interactivity and a world of experiences is only beginning to be exposed.
At first it may seem easy to pull ‘games’ apart and to study it’s separate limbs and begin to pontificate the value each represents as a whole. However, this exactly what we’ve seen for years. For years we’ve measured these experiences in their weight of fun. Fun has been one of the many shackles holding creators hostage from making experience that can communicate more intimately. This is not a call for the death of fun, but a freedom for creators to pursue new things to communicate through this fledgling medium that deserves more. POP:ME1 is something more. It’s different. It damns your notion of what a game is and crafts an experience that is both everything and nothing.
An example is the car segment. Lach explained that at first he produced the song that was to be played. After getting a track, he burned it to a CD, took to his car and drove around at night while listening to it. That feeling he had that night, a feeling many of us have had while cruising along dark highways when that song, that perfect song that captured our emotive state, came on. That experience he wanted to convey as a game.
Is it successful? Maybe. Regardless of success this holistic approach is necessary to help move the conversation forward. Perhaps through games like this and others like it that are equally hard to prescribe ready-made labels will help us move to a point where we stop having asinine arguments on whether a thing is a ‘game’ or not. Or what are the qualifiers for something to be considered a ‘real game’ and not a ‘walking simulator.’
Lach wagered it would take more than our lifetime to see our medium reach its potential. I hope for all of our sake’s that’s not true.