Caillois ca. 1975. Photo: R. Minnaert, (from https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2015/12/28/the-phantoms-of-the-fifteenth-arr...)
The project started as a tangent to explore the concept of ilinx introduced by Robert Caillois in "Man, Play and Games" (1961) as follows:
[games] which are based on the pursuit of vertigo and which consist of
an attempt to momentarily destroy the stability of perception and
inflict a kind of voluptuous panic upon an otherwise lucid mind. In all
cases, it is a question of surrendering to a kind of spasm, seizure, or
shock which destroys reality with sovereign brusqueness.
Ilinx stood alongside three other forms of play: Agon (competition), Alea (chance) and Mimesis (mimicry).
The immediate idea one gets when trying to interpret pure ilinx into video game form is to let abstract and intensive visuals wash over the player in an attempt to achieve the visceral vertigo described by Caillois. Yes, this could work well. But it alone does not lend itself to a purposeful and fun interactivity that I am looking for in a video game. If it's achieving vertigo by visuals alone, the medium might as well be a video or a painting.
I propose ilinx can arise from a variety of sources and the wish-wash of disorienting sensory overload is not unique to games. Most games present you with a system of rules and interactions and it is up to you to master them to be a successful player. I propose the ilinx unique to game systems might arise from the slight lose of grip when you're in control of the situation. Think of that lingering feeling after the full-body startle you get when you start falling off a chair or a skateboard and barely manage to avoid it. I propose it's this feeling applied to almost losing control over a game and regaining it. You might call it formal ilinx or meta-ilinx because it arises from the game's systems rather than the content presented by them.
Trying to design a game to such an effect is not a straightforward task. How do you make the player lose control without it feeling punishing? You constantly need to push the player to the edge while pulling them back into control, without the player getting a chance to master the rules and dynamics enough to make them trivial and render the game easy. The game going for formal ilinx needs to always challenge the player by changing the rules every so often ever so slightly.
The ironic outcome of such game is that rule changing systems become the subject of systemic interpretation and manipulation themselves. Which can and will become an interesting meta-game in itself. Perhaps even the main game loop of current project.
In order to keep the game from feeling unfair and frustrating, the above must be achieved while keeping the changing of the game system predictable in as many ways as possible. The world within which the game operates must have certain axioms of operation the player can always refer to as ground truth.
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