Octagon and The Magic Circle
This week we were asked to play-test and review a game of our choice. I decided to flick open the App Store, and download the number one free desktop game.
The game was Octagon, described by the developer as ‘a minimal arcade game with maximum challenge’.
After launching the game, I was welcomed by a motivational, techno pop ballad, and a quite beautifully minimalistic game design. I immediately immersed myself in the game. Huizinga used the term ‘magic circle’ to describe this special and quite unique nature of games. This notion suggests that games have no correlation to the real world, and while are known to be pervasive, are useful only for engaging in play (Jakobsson & Pargman, 2008).
I attempted to get my fix of play by starting the game, and realised the developer had not lied. Despite the crisp, geometric aesthetics of the game, it was a challenge to get going. While the text on the screen said ‘scroll to change game mode’, after much deliberation, I could not change the mode. By pure accident, I found that ‘scroll’ must’ve meant ‘drag’, as dragging the game mode icon shifted the game mode. I was agitated by this misuse of words, and went to the App Store to complain, but was stopped when I realised the developer had already put up a notice:
IMPORTANT! ‘scroll to change game mode’ means ‘drag and slide to change game mode’ I’ll fix the hint in next update, thanks
Suppose I’ll let that one slide then… or should I say scroll?
Having put my aggravation aside, I returned to the game and finally made it to the actual game play part. A screen like this appeared:
Once again, I was met with a challenge. I had no idea what the idea of the game was, or how I was meant to play. Disappointed by the lack of instruction, I escaped the game, and reviewed the rules, which were hidden in the somewhat ambiguous menu.
The objective of the game was quite simple: get the ball to the end of the level. Navigation was executed through the arrow keys, and the ball moved automatically at a constant speed.
Once I got the hang of it, I started to enter that antsy state, an early stage of game addiction. I was really enjoying it. The design didn’t fail to impress throughout game-play, and the balance of challenge verses ability to actually complete the level was perfect.
However, while I was playing, I couldn’t help but think about how I was doing so while watching TV and eating. Unlike Huizinga’s ‘magic circle’, I existed in the world of play and the real world. The challenges that I was faced with in the game activated my initiative to attempt to solve them, and the design inspired my creative thinking. Different elements of the game affected me in ways that will impact my life outside of me playing it.While the scores and game controls were limited to remain inside the game, as Jakobsson & Pargman argue, ‘the idea of a clear limit between play and non-play’ is not realistic.
Needless to say, Octagon made an impression on me. While my first encounter wasn’t very smooth, the visuals and audio, coupled with the addictive nature of the game made it enjoyable. I’d recommend the game for visually pleasing, brief bursts of entertainment, however not much more.
Jakobsson, P & Pargman, D 2008, Do You Believe in Magic? Computer Games in Everyday Life, ‘European Journal of Cultural Studies’, vol. 11, no. 2, pp. 225-244