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Handmade Pixels

Started by droqen, January 22, 2023, 05:27:43 PM

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Regarding Jesper Juul's
"Handmade Pixels"


I started reading this book on the subway, and took notes on my phone.
Here are my notes.

Quote"[In 2005 the idea was brewing that game design should be about] experiences, such that the starting point for any game project was not technology or genre, but the experience a player was meant to have."(78)
A dichotomy is presumed: the starting point is 'technology or genre' or 'experience', not both. However, genre is plainly rooted in experience, and (in video games) experience is rooted in technology.
Speaking more generally, feeling (which I substitute for experience) is rooted in that felt artifact, which must be understood in the context of its creative process (that is, the process which resulted in its creation).
Therefore the idea as described removed focus from process, in favour of focus on some particular result, and furthermore implied or was based on, and by virtue strengthened, the foundational assumption that any return to focus on process was not game design, ergo not valuable to the game designer.

"Casual games, as I prefer to define them, are games . . . that appeal to a broad audience and are easy to start playing. . . . they provide flexibility, allowing players to decide . . . what length of game sessions. . . . a casual game is designed to fit into the player's life." (84) ". . . some of the core tenets of casual and independent games were completely opposed: if independent games were meant to express the developer's personality, then casual games were meant to be products made to please the audience, often belonging to a different demographic than the developers." (86)

Note to self: Choose festivals based on the people you want to see. This much should be obvious, but it's not been... Think about what type of player you want to meet, and select a festival that... is for those players? What's to be done if that doesn't exist? Think about the long game of each festival: what do they aspire to 5 years out? Can I be a part of that? Improv on the scale of decades. Play along.

Wow, p150-156 is all about Authentically Opaque games and is critical of them! I disagree with Juul's opinions, and agree with Blow's and Anthropy's. Juul concludes with "Perhaps the sign in New Super Mario Bros. Wii is not a problem." (156) but from whence does this argument rise? He says opaqueness can "[lead] to interesting new games, without being true as a universal claim about video game design" but universal claims are all I'm interested in. Patterns, dawg.

But what purpose does opacity serve?

"Perhaps . . . authenticity also can be an oppressive way to think about games or culture. . . . ideas of authenticity help us think of new games to make and to consider that more people should make games, but . . . has the potential of shutting down innovation and change as well, of narrowing the range of games that can be made or played."(186)

I cut away a few elements of Juul's tone to help me understand the heart of the statement; these were "Perhaps the truth is that authenticity..." and "if misused, [authenticity] has the potential of [negative effects]."

These belie Juul's own bias... he too wants to find the truth... and he has an idea of what is use and what is misuse. I wish that he would make these claims outright, but I suppose this is not that kind of book, as explicitly seen in the following quote,

"I have throughout tried to avoid absolute is questions: Is this game independent? Is this game authentic? It can be better to ask as questions: How is this game understood as independent, as authentic?"(180)

Noncommittal. Use better words to which you can commit, then.


P. 201

. . . The dual worries [expressed by Tale of Tales, Bernie De Koven, Paolo Pedercini, Lionel Trilling in Sincerity and Authenticity, and Charles Taylor] about goals and optimization in games are therefore (1) that they shift the player's focus away from the game world and (2) that they make us behave according to a rational instrumentality, the mode of thinking that makes us live inauthentic lives; deprives us of communities, traditions, norms; and disenchants the world.47

47. Mercer, "Black Art and the Burden of Representation," 65.


How does this feel? I've got to try it on myself. Is this my worry? Is this what lead to playables? I too am worried about goals and optimization in games. I don't care about point 1, but what about point 2?
  • Do goals and optimization in games "make us behave according to a rational instrumentality"?
  • Is rational instrumentality a "mode of thinking that makes us live inauthentic lives"? (certainly not "the" mode)
  • Is rational instrumentality a mode of thinking that "deprives us of communities, traditions, and norms"?
  • Is rational instrumentality a mode of thinking that "disenchants the world"?

I feel as though I should read this book referenced only by note 47 -- Black Art and the Burden of Representation, Kobena Mercer -- but also that I need to think through each of these points individually.

I'm really not a fan of this reference being completely unquoted in the text. Like, give me some hint about what the book is saying or its relevance! Why is this a footnote, while the others are all quoted outright in the main body? Annoying.

~ linked from Dilation


Off the cuff. Christopher Alexander has written about the '20th century mechanistic viewpoint' in The Nature of Order and I think this 'rational instrumentality' is very similar. My perspective on the two are the same until I find evidence that shows I'm wrong to conflate them.

I'll rewrite the questions in more comfortable language.

1. Do goals and optimization make us behave according to the mechanistic viewpoint?
2. Does the mechanistic viewpoint make us live inauthentic lives?
3. Does the mechanistic viewpoint deprive us of communities, traditions, and norms?
4. Does the mechanistic viewpoint disenchant the world?

And answer them with my current thoughts . . .

1. I'm not sure about this one. Maybe? If I take out my thoughts that it is cause-and-effect (i.e. goals and optimization cause us to ADOPT this viewpoint) and think more that it is the other way around, that my recent disenchantment with goals and optimization comes from a lack of desire to pander to the desires of an attitude I no longer have, then . . . I can comfortably say that I suspect goals and optimization satisfy some need that arises within the mechanistic viewpoint, and perhaps encourage that need and that set of values as well.

2. Juul writes immediately afterwards that "this is not the only possible conception of authenticity" (201); he is presenting a spectrum of authenticities. In a way this statement is a non-statement, or rather the question is a non-question. It should be read in reverse. "Is, or to what degree is, inauthenticity defined by adherence to the 20th century mechanistic viewpoint, and the pursuit of goals and optimization that results?" I'm not that interested in defining authenticity.

3. Communities, traditions, and norms. My idea of rational instrumentality is that it asks, "Can I think of a reason why this is good? Can I explain in precise terms why this is good?" and if the answer is "No" or "Not really" rational instrumentality says "Then it is not good." It is capable of depriving us of any sort of thing belonging to any category. Communities, good communities, and complex and non-quantifiable. Demanding rational justification deprives us of this non-quantifiable good. Traditions and norms are pretty much the same thing as one another (right?) and . . . are almost defined by their lack of explanation? If the reason that we do something is because we have a good rational reason for it, even if we have been doing it for a long time, it is not a tradition or a norm. So yes, we are also deprived of these things by a mechanism of rejecting things which we cannot dissect.

4. Yes.


This book contains many things. I think a lot of them are things I've thought through to varying extents already, and remind me of my own strange feelings regarding games . . . they aren't negative feelings . . . just very neutral ones. It seems easy enough to navigate 'what games are' most days, and that isn't an inspiring thing anymore as it was maybe five years ago, a decade ago certainly. Are games done inspiring me? Am I done looking for inspiration in games?

-- Actually, no. It is the lens of authenticity that I'm detached from. Now I remind myself of the diagram in The Nature of Order, Deep Feeling...

artist — puts feeling —> into work
Not this

the work — generates feeling —> in me
This is what must be happening

Authenticity in games belongs to the first category, "ART AS EXPRESSION," and my reaction to that can clearly be summed up in those five words that lie beneath it, for better or for worse... "THIS IS NOT VERY INTERESTING." Are there games with feeling in them, then? Games that generate feeling in me? I am sure there are. However: that is not the focus of Handmade Pixels.

~ Deep Feeling diagram post, linked above


One more thought . . . I don't know if it's ever been about authenticity, but I've always wanted other people to get the same thing out of things I make that I do. Authenticity? It's been selfishness and convenience, if anything. I want to make things I like, and would pay for. (Okay, maybe that's not selfishness but equitableness. I want to see people as equals, as fundamentally like me.) And if I can be my own playtester, that's just convenient. I don't need to have someone around to help me determine what works and what doesn't. If I make something I like to play, then I can just play it, and determine whether it is good or bad.

See "What does it mean to have a human brain?" in 'frontpage words': "you can inhabit the same space, embody the same avatar, perhaps act on the same impulses, and - if serendipity allows - behold the same beautiful outcomes."


ah . . . that's not even true . . .

I do like authenticity. I like to see it. But I don't like it filtered through art, especially not through a fabricated medium. Expression is a dish best served fresh, raw, direct. Immediate, human.