Inside the Pattern and Randomness

Curator's Note

Interactivity, or the presence of the player, has been a crucial element in video games that contextualizes the consequences of the player's actions within the on-screen environment. However, game-specific programming or design may alter the essence of this function by turning the player's interaction into a pattern of the game.

The video game Inside, [1] a puzzle-platform game with a side-scrolling aesthetic, begins with the player's immediate immersion into the game's environment, in media res, not knowing the rules, goals, or mechanics of the game. Adhering to the rudimentary aesthetics of the genre on a nearly 2D platform, the game's world contains "patterns" and "randomness," pre-determined by the probability distribution of the coding.  In Virtual bodies and flickering signifiers, Hayles classifies the pattern as information given to the player that carries a message and randomness as the lack of pattern or non-information.[2]. The dialectic of pattern and randomness, as she puts it, implies a complex paradox about the nature of the information. A video game is a pattern, as it's been programmed by its designer, and represents the information, codes, and algorithms of the game. On the other hand, its randomness comes from the relationship between the player and the world of the game, which is unknown and includes things that mostly happen off-screen. In the game Inside, as it proceeds, the player deciphers the game by trying and failing, or observing the subtle gestural reactions of the boy encountering the people or situations in the game. With constant feedback and feedforward loops in the game, the pattern fades into randomness and vice versa. As the mechanics of the game do not allow z-axis access and the elements in the background/landscape are only activated followed by an interaction that proceeds the game, the presence and absence of the player flickers and causes a multitude of gameplay modifications.

“Flickering signifiers”[3] in the digital context are based on their ongoing mutation and transfiguration, as opposed to "floating" in chains of signifiers and being defined by their interactions with surrounding signifiers. Therefore, how does the presence of the player as a flickering signifier, through inserting their input as an unprogrammed pattern into the game, add patterns to the game from the off-screen space that does not adhere to the game's rules? Can the player's presence in the game suspend or dispute the game's interpretation? Then, based on the interaction or reluctance of the players to connect with the game, does the game momentarily migrate to a different media, such as film?


[1]  Jensen,Arnt. Inside, Playdead, PC/Mac. 2016

[2] Hayles, N. Katherine. Virtual bodies and flickering signifiers. October 66 (1993): 69-91.

[3] ibid .

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