Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

18 Jan 2013

(Mobile App - 2012) Curiosity by: 22cans/Peter Molyneux

(Reaction) Creative Destruction by: Antonio Conejos

Creation can essentially be distilled into two forms, addition or subtraction. In addition one creates by putting two or more things together. This is a process of amalgamation, as in when offspring is born from parents, or a painting is made from the melding of different colors and set unto canvas. (Painting is a good example as it involves multiple additions, paint is added to paint and the resulting product is further added to a white canvas.)

The opposite impulse, to subtract or take away, can paradoxically also be used to create. This is the creation of the sculptor finding the shape of form through marble, chipping away the extraneous bits of material until a statue stands before an audience. It is also the creative method of a good editor, who can delete the flotsam of a story or essay to reveal the true value of a work.

Curiosity is ostensibly a game about finding something out - players cooperate to chip away layers and layers of individual boxes from a cube. There isn't much gameplay to be had though in such an endeavour. Since the end goal of a prize is so removed from the actual gameplay experience (it could be months before anyone digs down to the actual prize and only one player can win it) what fuels interest in Curiosity isn't so much curiosity but creativity.

What can you make out of removing boxes from the surface of a giant cube? Quite a lot it turns out. Curiosity partakes of both forms of creation, addition and subtraction, to enable players to find some meaning (or at least diversion) in the constant quest to remove layer upon layer of blocks.

Because you have to constantly riff off other people's works Curiosity is innately postmodern. Postmodern in the sense of Derrida's bricoleur who creates by combining different media together. (Creativity via addition.) Someone sketched out a catacomb of interconnecting caves? Then add another cavern to it as well, complete with multiple entrances and exits!

In adding to someone else's work you can continue the general idea of your predecessor (as in the example of interconnecting caves above) or you can make something completely different from your starting point. For example an outline of a flower can morph in a couple of hours into the outline of a face, depending on the predilection of your fellow box destroyers.

Creation via subtraction is even more clearly seen in Curiosity as the game is inherently reductive, it passes off subtraction as gameplay. In the natural course of playing one instinctively begins to sculpture out graffiti and basic shapes from the chipping away of blocks. From this limited means its quite amazing to see what other people can come up with. At various times I've seen animals, elaborate messages and abstract designs all carved out of the surface of Creativity's cube.

Ultimately Curiosity is a game less about exploration than about creation. It's a game about being creative, from the structured form (shapes, messages, etc.) to the anarchic expression (messing up someone else's creation).

Stretching the concept (a tad) further, one can argue that Curiosity is finally a metaphor for the creative process in general. All works are ephemeral, destined to be destroyed at one point or another. Thus in Curiosity each layer is inevitably wiped away, as the majority of creative works (movies, songs, books, paintings, sculptures, you name it) are forgotten. But in their destruction, their dissolution, they give birth to new works. Thus the detritus of the old generation forms the seeds for the trends of the next.

Review:

I've been a big fan of Peter Molyneux's games from Populous to Syndicate to Dungeon Keeper. If you're familiar with his works you know how varied and creative they are, in subject matter, tone as well as execution. Still, even from the point of view of a fan, at first I didn't see the point of Curiosity.

You break blocks... that's it!

Oddly enough though this simple behavior becomes addicting, so much so that I still log on occasionally to see how the cube is doing, even months after I initially tried the game.

For me the thrill of Curiosity, if a game breaking blocks which isn't a platformer called Mario can be considered thrilling, can be boiled down to the fact that you're live with everyone else. Every single person playing Curiosity can see what you're doing and vice versa.

Thousands, hundreds of thousands of people, are all fixated at any given moment on the surface of this ridiculously large cube. The (updated version of the) game brings this point home well by having a shaft of light erupt from the surface every time a block is destroyed. Zoom away far enough and many different points of light appear randomly, a pastiche of rays resulting from the actions of gamers all over the world.

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