9/22/14

Windosill


This is an essay I wrote a couple of years ago for the Game Design course I'm attending at Brunel University.

Windosill is a short game released in 2009 through digital distribution channels by web-artist and painter Patrick Smith (usually known as Vectorpark). Windosill's aim is to inspire in the player a child-like wonder and sense of discovery (Smith, 2009), presenting him with an interactive world made by a series of rooms that can be progressed by resolving very simple point-and-click puzzles. However, those puzzle, while being the core element of the "gameplay", are not Windosill's main interactive focus. In fact the game is much more oriented on immersing the player in its abstract world. This aim is reflected by the puzzle design that, if on one hand is very simplistic, on the other forces the player to explore the environments and to interact with every element that he can see, since the abstract nature of the game makes it practically impossible to quickly resolve the puzzles on the first try. The absence of the need for complex reasoning is also another element that helps the player focusing on enjoying the world and the experience (Juul, 2007).


The game starts in a dark room in which the only thing that can be seen are the outlines of some strange, almost alien, furnishings. The player is left free to interact with those objects, until he decides to finally click on the light switch. Doing so will reveal that the shadows were actually a series of really weird toys, the most important being the “protagonist” of the game: a little toy locomotive that the player will have to "escortthroughout the game (as we will see the true protagonist, and sounding board, in Windosill is not the locomotive but the player himself. Still we will keep calling the locomotive "protagonistfor convenience). It's interesting to notice the fact that the player cannot recognize immediately the locomotive as the "protagonist", but instead he acknowledges it this position when, after a series of trials and errors, he understand that it is the only object that is possible to bring out of the room and that is needed to proceed in the game.

The interaction in Windosill is deconstructed to the simple concept of point-and-click. The player can channel his will using only the mouse-based interface of his computer (or the touch-based interface of a mobile device, since the game is also available on iOS), without being a physical presence in the game itself. No indication or tutorial is given to him, his learning process is entirely driven by trial and error (although we cannot really talk about "errorssince there is no way to "failor "diein Windosill), and the abstractness of the environments helps to create a feeling of constant discovery and learning. This is a great example of an entirely interaction-driven type of narration. Windosill manages to represent the concept of growth, and the feel of learning the workings of an entire new world, without using any kind of passive storytelling, but instead communicating it exclusively through the medium of interaction. We can quote Marie-Laure Ryan in her paper about narrative and videogames:
"The art of interactive narrative consists in thinking with the medium, wich means adapting the plot to the features of the system." (Ryan. 2007)
And that is indeed what Windosill does, telling a story not through linear plot, but using an interactive structure built to create an emotional feedback in the player himself.


Getting back on the underlying themes of growth and learning, it's interesting to notice how when we analyse Windosill on an aesthetic standpoint we can see that it starts in very closed and claustrophobic environments, that become more open and bright as the game progresses. The first scene could be even considered a metaphor for birth itself, since the protagonist finds itself in a dark and small place surrounded by distorted symbols of childhood, just to exit in a wide and illuminated room where it will find the title of the game and a big mysterious hand. The ending is also notable, with the protagonist that ascends to the sky and becomes a constellation. This scene could be taken both as a final representation of growth and coming of age, or as a reference to death, since the ascending to the sky is a common point in the representation of the afterlife of various cultures and religions.

Apart from these elements of symbolism, we already mentioned that Windosill is based on the art of Patrick Smith. His paintings are usually heavily abstract, and aimed at twisting everyday objects in an alien way, and this style is kept in his interactive works. It can be said that the visual style is actually the one element that makes Windosill work: its distance from our imaginary and our reality is truly able to make the player become a children again, an innocent explorer in front of a great unknown world. A final interesting point of the aesthetics of Windosill is the fact that there are no non-diegetic sounds in the game, making the sound effects of the various objects its only soundtrack(this intention that can also bee seen in the game's trailer, that does exactly that, by composing a song using the various sound effects of the game).



As the game proceeds the player will keep solving puzzles of increasing "difficulty" (although as  said the difficulty of the rooms can be measured just in how much trials and errors are needed to resolve them). If at a first glance the "exploringof the environments and the interaction with the object could seem just a mean to an end, necessary to proceed to the next room, after some minutes of gameplay it will be clear that it is instead the main form of entertainment that the game presents. In fact Windosill is extremely subversive in his use of the digital game medium: using a formula (rooms, puzzles, etc.that could be easily associated to the common "difficulty/rewardfeedback mechanisms typical of puzzle games, and instead making it a more free and organic experience, that teaches the player that enjoying the scenery and exploring the unknown can be a reward of itself.


REFERENCES 
Windosill (2009), Vectorpark. 
Smith, P. (2009) Interviewed by Phill Cameron for Gamasutra. Available at: http://gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=24641#.UM0KoOS5XgU (Accessed: 15/12/2012)
Jasper Juul (2007) ‘Without a goal: on open and expressive games’, in Atkins, Barry and Krzywinska, Tanya (eds.). Videogame, Player, Text. Manchester University Press, pp. 191-203.
Marie-Laure Ryan (2007) ‘Narrative, videogames and the split condition of digital textuality’, in Atkins, Barry and Krzywinska, Tanya (eds.). Videogame, Player, Text. Manchester University Press, pp. 9-28.
Windosill Trailer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7WWzxIB2XF4

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