Documentary filmmaking and the design of videogames are often seen as two divergent art forms: the former as a medium for the filmmaker to record and share an aspect of reality with their audience and the latter as a means for the designer to give players a space to explore or create a new emergent reality. Some game designers, however, have taken on the task of creating what they call ‘documentary games’. This paper will discuss the history of documentary videogame design, it’s relation to experimental documentary filmmaking, and how documentary design process can inform traditional game design methods (and vice versa). The paper will discuss the process of an original experimental videogame that uses documentary techniques in its creation.
In July of 2013 the author visited the suburb of Cachiche in Peru, a town that has a history as a refuge for witches during the Peruvian Inquisition, and is in the process of developing infrastructure for ‘spiritual tourism’. Having stayed with a brujo (‘sorcerer’), who is actively involved in the aforementioned process, the author has used the audio interview and visual documentation to create a videogame that explores the cross‑cultural conflicts between the narratives constructed through the experience of an outsider and the other locally constructed narratives, perceptions and realities. To do this he is using gameplay to give the player a sense of investigative agency and the power to recombine and re‑contextualize information, using a simulation of the experience of both the documentarian and documentary audience. The paper will also outline possible experiments at the crossovers between the borders of documentary filmmaking and game design.
The game work‑in‑progress Cachiche takes as its inspiration Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s experimental documentary Mysterious Object at Noon. In this film he asks participants from throughout rural Thailand to add to a surrealist “exquisite corpse”‑style narrative. The interviews in which they create this story become the basis of the film, as well as scenes with local, non‑professional actors acting out the imagined narrative. It is a documentary of the creation of a fictional story, and thus of the creativity and collective unconscious of the participants. In Cachiche the player assumes the role of a visitor whose presumed goal is to take photos of “ghosts”, of which there are, in reality, none within the game world. They take instead photos of a town in transition, and show their photos to local people who describe or spin stories about the photos the player has chosen to take and share. This becomes a narrative the player collects, non‑linearly, in a collaborative stream of consciousness between the player and non‑player characters. It becomes a conversation about the town and individuals, including recorded interviews and fictional dialogue that illustrate the actualities of the locations. At the same time it creates a slippage between fiction and reality.
- Aaron Oldenburg, University of Baltimore, US, is a game designer and new media artist whose primary interest is in game rules as an expressive medium. His video and interactive work has been exhibited in festivals and galleries in New York, Berlin, São Paulo and Los Angeles, including SIGGRAPH and FILE Electronic Language International Festival. He teaches game design as an Assistant Professor in University of Baltimore’s Simulation and Digital Entertainment program and has an MFA from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. In October 2003 he finished two years as an HIV Health Extension Agent for the Peace Corps in Mali, West Africa.
Full text (PDF) p. 46-49