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Using Surrealism in Game Design

Posted on Oct 24, 2016 in Game Design

How can you engage your players more? How can you quantify fun? Using Surrealism of course. Let’s start with the fundamentals. What is a Game? A game can be thought of simply as getting from Point A to Point B. How? By doing ‘something’ in between to enable you to reach Point B. That’s it. No more, no less.

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Surrealism

My favourite part of making games. The Surrealist movement started with the works of André Breton and Sigmund Freud while people like Salvador Dali, Max Ernst and Joan Miró made visual imagery often called Surrealistic Art which gave rise to more people using the thought in their respective fields. Why I like Surrealism, is because of it’s ability to shock, engage and retain the audience. Let me cite very specific scenarios to help you think about Surrealism and create it.

Situation 1:

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You are sitting in your office cabin and you see a guy walking past from your right to your left. This will manage to grab your attention for 1-2 seconds before you go back to your work. This is a routine that you see every day in your corporate setting. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Situation 2:

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You see the same man walking on his hands, going from your right to your left and wearing his tie on his head instead of his shirt collar. This will manage to grab your attention for more than a minute and you might wonder what just happened. You might ponder on the state of affairs in your office and think about how things are slipping before going back to your work. You did not expect this to happen in your corporate environment.

Situation 3:

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You see the same man, wearing his tie on his head and ridding a dog like a horse, going from your right to your left. This will manage to grab your attention for more than 5 minutes where you just might actually get up, peek outside to know what exactly is happening to your office and if everyone went nuts. Your brain seems to freeze up and you are curious as to how and why this happened. Your HR head is on leave. You keep thinking about this the entire day and discuss it with your friends and family, perhaps even remembering it before going to sleep, then reporting it to your HR head the next day while she asks you the crazy pills that you have been taking and the name of your therapist to see something like that in office.

If you are making a game, which of the above situations will you add to the game to make it more engaging? On an increasing scale of surrealism, your best bet would be to add situation 3 which adds that element of fun and engagement to otherwise routine and monotonous scenarios. Why is it shocking and fun? Because you don’t see it in real life. You wish it would happen but society rules tell you it cannot happen. There was this old flash game where you could spit on people below and get points for it. People went crazy for it and used to brag about their score. It went viral during those early days and why? Because you don’t expect to see that happening in real life. You just can’t do it in your really life without pissing off people, it’s much safer to do it digitally and get awarded points for grossing out people too. So cool.

Think up of more surrealism to add to your game. Flap the ears of your car, make your character walk on water with a motor boat rudder stuck to his/her butt, give elephants tiny wings so they can fly. It’s fun, it’s engaging and totally rewarding when your players discover this hidden surreal imagery in your game. They might not understand it as surrealism, but their screams of glee are worth putting the surreal imagery in.

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