Friday 14 May 2010

Ergon / Logos & What the Hell to Do With It

Ergon / Logos is a text-based game from Paolo Pedercini in which progress is constant, words and sentences flying past the screen with crucial decision junctures flicked between with the mouse. It's six months old now, but it was somewhat overshadowed by his own (also excellent) Everyday the Same Dream at the time (which, incidentally, won The Experimental Gameplay Project's Art Theme Contest, quite rightly beating my own ir/rational in the process [which, in strangely circular fashion, actually looks quite similar to Ergon / Logos]). With the source code available the possibility of modding the game with an all new narrative is an interesting one indeed.

The original is described by its designer as being,
"A meta-platform game based on the stream of consciousness of an egodystonic homosexual hero, but it fails miserably and becomes a piece of non-linear kinetic visual poetry written by a teenager obsessed with post-structuralist French philosophy."
I don't know what 'egodystonic' means ('thoughts in conflict with desires' - thanks Wiki), but my interpretation of it is as a commentary on the absurdity of established video game logic. In the narrative, the player guides the hero through familiar video game tropes (jumping, collecting treasures, bashing enemies) while the hero himself delivers a postmodern commentary on the realities of these contrived mechanics. Eventually and unavoidably the aesthetics flip and the hero descends into some kind of mental breakdown. The title is (I assume) from Aristotle, meaning literally something like Task / Reason, and could thus be interpreted as highlighting the ever-present contradiction in mainstream video games between the actions we are expected to perform and the (arguably more interesting) motivations behind them.
Regardless, the Ergon / Logos framework represents a fascinating opportunity to produce a text-based game that's accessible, fresh and fast paced. Doing so has been on my list for a while, just after starting this blog, buying a flat, and (Stewie Griffin voice) finishing that novel I've been working on.

One challenge is coming up with an artistic concept to wrap around a piece of technology. In all my other projects I've either been working with mechanics broad enough to support a variety of approaches (Penumbra) or developing new mechanics to support what I want to say (ir/rational). Ergon / Logos' abilities and limitations are specific enough to demand a more bespoke approach. As I see it they are:

- Use of formatting as a major tonal toolset
- Branching
- Time pressure
- Looping

In short, using the framework to produce a straight text adventure would be fun, but hardly taking advantage of what's on offer. Currently, I'm really interested in the idea of looping. Not only can text be shown to turn back on itself, but it can join other streams of narrative midway through. To my mind this suggests the possibility of a revisited narrative, an exercise in perspectivism. How does the same story change given a different context or angle of approach?


  1. Played the game and have a different interpretation? Got a fantastic idea for what could be done with the code? Think using words like 'egodystonic' and 'perspectivism' makes Paolo and I a pair of pretentious twats?

    Let me know!

  2. I really like your idea on looping on the narrative level. It sounds like it might bring a sort of musical sensibility to a narrative where you can have repeating sections or refrains. Gameplay is, after all, mostly about repetition anyway, much like music, so if you could imbue that repetition with some narrative purpose that would be leaps and bounds ahead of most games, even if it's not in the context of a bigger production.

  3. Thanks, yeah, it's an interesting area. Games are often very repetitive, how many take advantage of that fact? I know there's been a slew of web games taking advantage of player resurrection recently, Company of Myself to name just one:

    But how many play with repetition with any real narrative justification?