2019 Selected Workgroup Topics2019 Workgroup Topic Proposals

Existential Game Design

The proposed workgroup examines experience goals and design strategies for games that contribute to a meaningful life by way of drawing on Existential psychotherapy and depth psychology (e.g. myth and ritual). I am particularly interested in designing for “psychological resonance”, a principle described by clinical psychologist Erik Goodwyn, who exstentisvely researched the use of ritual in psychotherapy. Reading his and related work over the last few years showed me so many connections (and differences, of course) to game design and I’d love to explore this further, particularly to create a counter-approach to how Games 4 Change tend to see transformative game design: namely as prescriptive and directive rather than empowering and self-guided.

This workgroup, I imagine, would speak to designers interested in creating games that illuminate the human experience and aim to enrich player’s lives on a deep level, by prompting them to ponder the Big Questions – life, death, meaning, freedom of choice, connection and identity – and identifying areas of personal growth through artistic, creative engagement.

3 thoughts on “Existential Game Design

  1. I have great interest in this, as my graduate degree is in mythology with an emphasis in depth psychology (Pacifica Graduate Institute).

    However, I would like to interrogate the idea a bit on this topic. Please let me know what you think, Doris.

    -What is our intended outcome for a white paper? A list of design structures or practices? An intro for designers to a depth psychological approach?

    -How would we want to deal with Carl Jung’s, and as such, depth psychologies shortcomings when it comes race and sex? Jung’s approach was very binary (anima/animus) which no longer works in modernity, and his archetypes are built with a large bias towards European psychology structures, though he claims they are of course universal.

    -Should we consider including the work of other adjacent ritualists? Victor Turner and Maya Deren come to mind as important voices in the field.

    1. Hi Strix, I was hoping this might sound interesting to you 🙂
      For one, let me say that I’m not just interested in depth psychology, but also existentialism and see things through the existential lens. The relationship between existentialism and depth or archetypal psychology, as I understand it, is strong but complex. I see depth and archetypal psychology being harnessed by existential psychotherapists to make sense of life (by way of ritual and myth). This is only relevant in so far as my main questions are in regards to existentialism first. As for a white paper, I think continuing to bringing ideas / concepts from these other domains – existential psychotherapy and depth / archetypal psychology – into game design is a worthy effort. When we ask how to make games that contribute to a meaningful life, we don’t have to start from scratch. As a game designer, I would like to focus on developing a process on how to make these ideas from other domains fruitful for game design. Many games for change I find super frustrating and it starts with their design process, which often gets awfully stuck in the literal. So, how can we ask existential questions and understand what’s behind them and then dive into mythology and ritual to render existential questions creatively to speak to the Unconscious through imagery, symbolism and symbolic enactment? That would be my core question that I’d love to collaboratively interrogate in a white paper.

      Funny you mention Jung’s shortcomings in regards to race and sex. I’m currently reading “The Neurobiology of the Gods” by Goodwyn (my academic crush). As I’m reading the chapter on animus / anima symbolism I’m wondering exactly that: how does that still hold up when gender has become much more fluid? And: has it EVER held up, cause it’s been fluid in other cultures all along! So, how do we have to understand these concepts at all and how relevant are they? I personally do not abide by any dogma. I think Jung was a very creative thinker and more artist than psychotherapist. I understand his ideas as really intuitive and visionary, but in no way as “The Law” on what’s an archetype. The understanding of what archetypes are at all has developed much since Jung’s time and newer research sheds more light on how they can be taken less literally (like “the mentor” is the old guy with a beard…). So, the way I’d deal with it is: as it suits us. The intended outcome to me is to enrich game design and the creation of intriguing, deep games that speak to the soul. Whatever I draw from, I use as inspiration. If there is sound research that supports an idea and can help us understand it or use it in more depth, great, but at the end of the idea, I’m not interested in serving or doing justice to depth psychology (or any other domain) as an end in itself.

      We should by all means feel free to draw on whatever sources are rich and productive for our undertaking. I, personally, honor Turner’s contribution but it’s been SO belabored in the game design discourse and I think there is other, good stuff out there. I loved a book on sandplay therapy called “Deep Play” with lots of case studies on sandplay therapy with children. I enjoyed “The Art of Ritual” (I’m away from my sources right now, hence the shoddy references, sorry). I absolutely LOVE Alejandro Jodorowski’s work on Psychomagic and have found it to be amongst the most inspiring for game design as he is as much artist as he is psychotherapist. There is Rappaport with ritual and religion, who says good things. And my favorite: “Healing Symbols in Psychotherapy”, again, by Erik Goodwyn. So, yes, there’s tons of other good stuff and please, let’s explore whatever seems fun and inspiring to us! Thanks for pointing me towards Maya Deren!
      Hope this answers your questions, Strix, and happy to talk more, adjust, include etc. as needed / desired 🙂

  2. Thanks for such a thorough and thoughtful reply Doris. This alleviates any misgivings I may have had. Having crossed the streams from myth academia to games academia, I hadn’t realized the relationship with Turner had already been made on the games side. I’m now tempted to dust off all my other ritualistic to see what else has migrated that way : )

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