While still in a rocky adolescence, video games are increasingly accepted as a serious art form that can stand alongside mainstays like literature and film. To that end, three students at Carnegie Mellon aimed to create a series of short-form games that would communicate "meaningful" ideas in ways unique to the form. The result, the mindful xp volume, was a finalist in the 2013 IGF Student Showcase.
Alexandra Hall: Define a "meaningful" game.
mindful xp: It isn't a particularly cut-and-dry thing, even from our perspective. For the purposes of our project we looked at meaning as something admittedly vague -- an impactful experience that invites introspection, personal reflection, or gives insight. We're not cultural arbiters or philosophers about the topic of meaning, but that definition was something for us to aspire to if not achieve. Ideally if someone were to play a game of ours, if what we were trying to express was just enough to make a player go, "Yeah, there was something to that," then that was something meaningful.
For a meaningful game, we went a step further, and specified that the meaning must be arrived ultimately through their systems, rules, mechanics, interactions, or anything that makes them games, rendering them unrepresentable in other mediums in any deep way. While these concepts aren't unique to games specifically, we feel that games in particular explore these aspects in unparalleled depth, especially when it relates [to] an audience. We simplified this down to, "If you can read the book or watch the movie version of our game and still reach the same conclusions, then we're doing something wrong."
As to what makes a meaningful game... all we could do as creators was create games that spoke to ourselves, and hope that the universality of what we were trying to say was enough for others to find meaning in it.
AH: Which mindful xp games best achieved your goals?
mxp: In MARCH we made a game that formed a powerful connection through metaphors created through spaces as well as the main mechanic of leading someone by the hand, to create introspective moments. In Connections we focused on a system that conveyed the difficulty of maintaining relationships over time and distance. And in Emptiness, the gameplay was centered around a moral choice of taking advantage of the people around you or trying with more effort to reach an end, together (or not).