A game designer turned game researcher. A drifter, looking at the flow of life and observing magic, poetry and play in passing moments. Creator and destroyer of ideas. A writer of all things abstract. Shringi is a bit of a lost cause.
Can you describe something that has recently amazed you? How did it make you feel?
It is genuinely not hard to amaze or amuse me. The credit goes to my absent-mindedness. Often I seem to miss the obvious and find wacky explanations to most mundane of things. If you meet me you will know this is not an exaggeration. I am alive and that is quite a miracle.
Of course, people amaze me- recently a person described the problem of diversity in mathematical/bookkeeping terms and I was simply amazed by that analogy. Every passing moment, I am amazed at life- at the constant movement of ourselves in mind and in body. It amazes me how we carry all these organs, flesh, blood live-wired to our heart and brain and move around like living suitcases. It amazes me that it is completely in our power to shut the world and re-open it with a blink of an eye.
Our absent-minded breathing. The rhythmic ebb and flow of the sun, tides, leaves and so on. How we continue like new-comers, gather life minute by minute and often forget all we know in a moment of passion. People and our minds amaze me. What we are able to create, how much we are capable of destroying. I can go on – love amazes me, the spectrum of emotions do too- I will stop here. But how is it not amazing that some of us can sing and some of us can dance to those songs? How are these cycles we make amongst ourselves simply not mind-bending?
What was your favourite computer game that you helped develop? And what is your all-time favourite game you’ve played?
Considering the popularity of some of the games I have had the luck to work on, this answer might be a bit underwhelming. ‘502 Bad Gateway’ a game I developed with 2 other friends at a game jam in 2018 is one I am most fond of (the name of the game might change). It is made using only Google Office Suite products (Docs, Excel, Slides, Forms and Pdfs) which was an idea that came to me after a long rant of how creating something is often dictated and limited by the availability of tools. The game is a bunch of files (finished/unfinished) in an abandoned account of a wannabe writer and the player has to navigate the links to solve some simple mysteries of the writer’s life.
For the second part of this question. As a gamer, I confess I do not play a lot of digital games. I am interested in the rule set, the vision and message of a game but that is about it. I like the social aspect of board/card games and its really any game from Pictionary to a whodunit to some old fashioned card game that can have me completely fascinated. (Dixit, Codenames, Bray – Indian version of the card game Hearts taught by my grandmother are some games I continue to enjoy)
What are some of the key elements that go into a great game?
A message. A voice. A point of view. Introspection. Empathy. Care for play. Care for society. Care for art. Knowledge of why must the message be a game. The rest are tools and techniques.
How does wonder and curiosity fit into gaming?
Like it fits into any creation/consumption cycle really.
How do we create if we don’t want to investigate the complex or the unknown?
How do we surrender to a game/to play if we are not curious of our actions/interactions? If we are not curious about aspects of us/the universe we don’t know yet.
You’ve spent ten years working in the games industry, why return to academia?
Honestly, I got bored. Not of making games but of being part of the industry. It is a creative business no doubt but started to show repetitions. And in my ten years I gathered many questions that needed deeper thinking and investigation. I saw the boat of academia passing by and without much hesitation or thought I jumped in.
What are the parallels between game designers and magicians?
They are divas. They are particular. They must entertain. They have the bones of an architect and mind of a painter. They are a bit mathematical and a bit poetic. But masters of none. They both love a good applause. They both hate to show what is behind the curtains. And much more.
Why is choice so important to sustaining game play? Tell me about your work to manipulate that.
Choice (or the perception of choice) is fundamental to a lot of games because decisions are. Players want to think they can manoeuvre and for them to be reminded of that agency they like to be presented with decisions which allows them to master or make mistakes. A game is a toy life which can be restarted with relatively much smaller repercussions. The thrill lies and in making daring/strategic/intelligent/winning choices.
Games are but games. They are life in a box (although opening many perspectives). The choices are limited and as developers we don’t want players to see the limitations of the game world. I am working on learning principles and techniques from magicians (such as forcing) to create the illusion of choice within the game world limitations. Much like the impossible illusions magicians make.
The film directors Wes Anderson and Alfred Hitchcock are inspirations for you. Can you tell me more about this and how their work influences your own?
Thank you for your observation. I believe amongst other creatives, these two are notable disruptors of their times. The reason I use Wes Anderson and Alfred Hitchcock movie stills for slides is to reinforce that creative fields can always learn a lot from each other.
Both Anderson and Hitchcock go beyond script, acting, and basic movie making elements and go to the very edge of movie making with camera tricks, sounds, colors and so on. Dancing at the edge of the illusion of movie making to tell the story in the most enigmatic and effective of ways.
Without boring you with specific details, I would say, to me their work is a reminder that to do the best in what we create the first thing to do is to question our current boundaries and descriptions of the field at hand.
If you could choose to live in any game/world, what would it be and why?
Oh, but we do live in a game world, do we not?
(Without the cheek: I’d possibly live in the world of playing cards, making friends with paper queens and paper kings. Looking at numbers as close friends.)
What is the future of computer gaming looking like?
Bright! We are constantly breaking the boundaries of technology, storytelling, interaction etc. We are constantly challenging what a game is. We are constantly redefining who plays games with the increasing platforms. Games are truly at the forefront of technology and art- science, math, music and words. It is all very exciting. Like all fields we do need to work hard on getting more diverse – both in terms of games, players and game developers.
How did you first get captivated by poetry?
I started writing poetry as a kid. One of my first poems I wrote was inspired by a bent red rose. I think I wrote a poem because it seemed the easiest way of describing what I saw. The first poem that captured my attention was a title song of a Hindi children’s puppet show “Potli Baba Ki”. It’s title song started with the line – “Kisso ka kahaniyo ka geeto ka baba” (translation – Old sage carrying a sack of stories and tales)- that imagery was magical to me. Later the lyricist Gulzar became one of my most favorite poet/ songwriter.
I think me wanting to write poetry has a lot to do with the role of song, stories, folklore and dance I saw and participated in growing up. They were all (when I look back) poems to me.
Do you have a poem you are especially pleased/proud of?
Especially pleased – No. I have a long way to go as a poet.
However, here is a poem which describes my hunger and need for poetry.
What’s the overlap between magic and poetry?
The rhythm and choreography is the first. Illusion and layering of meaning comes next. There is a lot really, but I will leave it at that for now – to chew on.
And what’s the overlap between games and poetry?
They are both riddles and entice the players/readers to follow them, discover them, uncover them. Here is something to ponder on…
Are games poems?
If you look at both as rivers — yes
If you look at both
with the will to lose, to expose
If you can read:play at all-
– the words:worlds that –
exist beyond bookstores:gameshops
If you know what I mean
they are poems- of course.
What’s a game
A hole of self-
destruction and discovery.
A walk down the alley of
large and small tokens/pixels-
A world fully capable of
making a mockery of us
A world fully capable of
making us find keys to doors-
A world fully capable of
making those doors open into
letters of love
-to life, if at all.
What is a game’s point?
Of not being a box of cereal, promising
a new texture-shape-flavor
Of not being a book written to be a bestseller
Of not being boxed-shipped-played-forgotten
Of not being a slave to an angry controller
The point-less-ness of a game, resides in its poetry
there to be scratched until found
to be spoilt for loot
to find comfort in its loops
to repeat itself across poems, like reality-
I don’t know if there is a point to life
why must games have one?
So, is game poetry?
I say again. Games can be poems. With end rhymes or without. We designers like to put end rhymes though. We are not at a place where we free games from the shackles of old-school poetry. Metre, rhyme. That said, I think end-rhymes are a classic, look at Mario.
What’s a game
Clothes, hair, houses, friends made of little blocks –
who, like real things, do betray.
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