Category: Research

A case for games

This writing is merely a form of rambling, a rambling about games if you will and it does contain some spoilers. Be warned.

I find myself struggling with this for the past few years and I must admit that at times I wonder if it is true. I sometimes struggle with whether there is a place for games in Art schools at all. With the closing, down of the IM games department it is difficult not to feel slightly demoralized, though that problem might have to do more with staffing than with the medium.

What I struggle with in a deeper level is how I lack in the ability to justify this medium that I love so much as something more than entertainment, to change the idea that games are some sort of interactive film or story/role-play driven art installation. Games are both, and yet they are neither. At the heart of games, beneath its interaction and its story likes a more crucial ingredient. The element of play.
Games give players some agency, enough to make them feel that their choices matter but limited for the plot to happen. Games are not purely storytelling mediums; they are experiences that they players have because they not only tell a story but give you the freedom to choose it

What separates a game from a work of art is it’s creating an environment for play and role play. In art, you are the audience or a participant. In film, you are a viewer. In games, you are someone else, you play as someone else.


In games, you are the player.


There’s is no other medium that allows you to pretend to live someone else’s life or make a choice in someone else’s story the way games can. Empathy in film is different from living another person’s dream. The camera, no matter how close, is limited to one path that always ends the same way. In art, the story belongs to you. Games however hold the delicate balance between the two. It enables us to learn skills that are deeply complex, solve problems using those skills, make choices with consequences as means of testing those skills and games allow us to do it through play.

In the 2012 game Journey, you experience an entire game, an entire journey without words. If you are lucky, you will find a companion that is basically another player from some other parts of the world. A stranger who’s only means of communicating with you is using one button to create one kind of sound and particle effect. The game does not allow words or names or sharing of life stories because it understood something about human connection in games that no other medium can replicate. Humans form bond when they play together. The mechanics of the game is merely to explore. But the action of doing so together allows us as human beings to create a connection through means of play.

I think Life is strange also showed us a different way play allows us to form better and stronger bonds. Throughout the game, you as the character Max must constantly save your friend Chloe from dying using your abilities of time travel. The gameplay forces you to have to constantly look out for her, rewinding when she dies and be on the edge, worrying for her. The game takes an even heavier toll when it forces you to choose between Chloe, someone whom you spend so much effort keeping alive and the town.  At that point of the game you have invested so much emotionally trying to keep her alive that it is so difficult to “do what is right”.


I don’t think I have ever encounter any experiences even remotely close to that in an artwork or a film. The weight of my choices and my actions in the world can only be felt to the way it is through the means of games because I am not looking at someone else’s story. Agency has made me guilty of those actions.


This is where I feel that games are the most powerful


Play is perhaps the key defining element for what makes a game, a game. Play and story have set on sides of the fences for a long time. A long time ago some people argued over narratology and ludology. I believe that now it is commonly accepted that a good game, in its most refined state, understands that the mechanics of the game needs to work with its story. The mechanics exist because of the story and the story helps to explain the mechanics.

I think the recent release by Play dead studios, Inside did such a fantastic job. While a huge part of the narrative is told in its background, it is the mechanics of mind control that fascinates me the most. The game shows us a dystopic world where ‘drone’ like humans exist that are treated like slaves and controlled using helmet like devices. This was one of the most fascinating part of the game as it spoke volumes about the core theme of the game. Control.


We begin to question through a series of puzzles the extent of this mind control and we realize that a drone that is being controlled can also control another drone. Our mind wanders about the possibility that maybe our character is also a drone, controlled by someone else out there.

This narrative is taught not through words, not through dialogue, but through play.

Mechanics and narrative needs to go together for a game to be meaningful and effective. Play is necessary for us to learn the rules of this world. Story is a result of our experiences, our choices and their consequences. None of these can be thought separately from one another and none of this can be thought of as less or more important.

And while it is tiring to just think about the complexity of crafting such a medium, I am reminded that such games do exist, even when stripped to its core. A flash game called Loneliness managed to achieve a deeply emotional moment with me, using its mechanics as a means of storytelling. It’s meaning is derived purely off its gameplay. Each supporting the other to form a whole greater than the sum of its parts.


Games has its own language and to be literate in the medium requires one to acknowledge the simplest of truths. That games are neither film nor art.

Games are just games.


Thoughts about Teamlab

Perhaps for me the greatest take away from teamlab was the mentality in which they choose to approach their art.

Ar t that makes people happy.

Teamlab’s ideology is a response to the modern world looking into the art world. It is a reaction to the instagram culture, to the generation of people who grew up with digital technology in the palms of their hands. It is not just ‘cool’ , or ‘fun’.

Teamlab’s art, unlike most art nowadays, is relevant.

While unlike certain art works, teamlab doesn’t simply strive to say big things with big ideas and big words, it is a reflection on the old , blending in old Japanese aesthetics and values into modern technology to create a harmony not quite often seen. It is inclusive, anyone can enjoy and appreciate what they have created. It social. We do not simply frown in front of a canvas wondering what does this mean, while projecting our own thoughts on to it. Teamlab simply ask us to come together and enjoy.

I have heard artists respond to that idea with a kind of rejection. Some might argue that art is supposed to make you think, not make you happy. I can understand where these people are coming from, yet i disagree with them.

The act of thinking need not to be a traumatic experience that is disturbing. In the serene world that was so beautifully constructed, I found myself wondering and reflecting about the beauty of the world, slowly watching water level rises with a warning of what is to come. I left the space a second time feeling just as amazed as the firs time I’ve seen the works. It is not the merely that the works were interactive, but as a whole the works provided insight into a world carefully crafted in the minds of these amazing people, and they continue to rebuild and reconstruct this worlds.




What is it and what are its goals and vision?


Advances in digital technology have opened up new possibilities to enhance the way we live, work, play, and interact.

Singapore strives to become a Smart Nation to support better living, stronger communities, and create more opportunities, for all.

And “smartness” is not a measure of how advanced or complex the technology being adopted is, but how well a society uses technology to solve its problems and address existential challenges. Citizens are ultimately at the heart of our Smart Nation vision, not technology!


5 Key Domains

For a start, we have identified five key domains that will have significant impact on the citizen and society, and in which digital technology can have a needle moving impact:

  1. Transport;
  2. Home & environment;
  3. Business productivity;
  4. Health and enabled ageing; and
  5. Public sector services.



Objective: Create Impactful solutions to address our challenges.


Why would you need this and who does it serve?

Singapore seeks to harness technology to improve urban living. Some areas of focus include

enhancing public transport networks,

enabling successful ageing

ensuring a secure but open data marketplace.

To encourage innovation and collaboration between citizensand companies, open data is made available at government portals such as and Datamall.


I think that we the world we live in is growing and changing at such a rapid rate that it is no longer possible or even feasible for the government to handle and attempt to solve every problems that the nation faces.  In a way Singapore is looking at how we can better rethink actions and counter measures as well as how Singaporeans as a collective effort can better react and take initiative.




Migration data visualization by Madeline Ngai




From data to dust is a data visualization using particle simulation.






Data visualization of data that is provided on allows us to rethink the way we understand trends and numbers.



A Reflection on “Thoughtful Interaction Design – Jonas Lowgren”


What is good design?

As Lowgren puts it,

Good is defined in relation to societal laws, regulations, agreements and contracts. We cannot reach a simple definition of what constitutes good design.

It is, in Lowgren’s words, “a designer’s most important task .. to develop her judgement, by critically and independently formulating her own assumptions and beliefs.”

Good design stems from a keen eye and a taste that has been developed over the years, but how does one begin thinking developing such taste?

Lowgren proposes a set of ideas and guides that is meant to allow designers to be critical and reflective. In his own sense, he is attempting to give the ‘material without qualities qualities.” whatisgooddesign


The term interaction design was first coined in 1980s but it was only in the previous decade or so that the idea begin to take form. Lowgren uses a set of parameters to define the challenges that designers need to understand and reflect upon as they create these works.

What i find particularly useful is the ideas and responsibilities that Jonas Lowgren is championing for designers to tackle. These guidelines give designers a set of standards to uphold themselves onto and gives themselves something tangible to understand their own works.


I think that this is particularly interesting when i begin to use this framework to understand my own medium, mainly games. A couple of years ago, it is rare to think of games as a medium that is good for something anything other than fun and entertainment. Yet in the past decade or so, there has been a rise in the ‘practical’ use of games.

Serious games has been for a while been used to make a statement, either through using empathy  or through sharing a different perspective. Games allow us to put ourselves in positions we otherwise would not be able to experience.

1. September 12,

A political statement about the act of ‘counter terrorism’ leading to the rise of more terrorists, September 11 gives players the agency to react and kill off the terrorists , only to harm innocent people and create more terrorists as a result.

It is simple and yet powerful, playful but also horrifying as we begin to understand the impact and significance of the actions we support and how it affect the lives of others.




The immersive experience can only be described as surreal. In a large enough space, it is difficult to not give into the suspension of disbelief that one naturally indulges in inside a VR world. In  game, I almost feel like I am standing on the edge of the cliff or pulling a long bow. The haptic feedback works well giving a degree of illusion of touch.


The 2 camera maps out the location of the player in real space and translating that in game. The stereoscopic vision through the dual screen creates a  sense of depth through use of perception.


3.  NINTENDO SWITCHnintendoswitch_hardware-0-0


Recently Nintendo has announced a hybrid console. One that is able to function as a console + controller at home ( above) and a mobile portable console, ( below) . Nintendo’s reveal for the switch has generated huge hype. From my perspective, it is because the Switch is designed to solve a few problems that plagues  modern day console.


  1.  mobile gaming devices and home console devices exist in two separate markets- Switch solves this problem by having a two in one design that is still relatively affordable.
  2. Local split screen games are diminishing  – Switch can hook up to 8 different controllers.  nintendoswitch_hardware2-0


Digital Age_Goodwin



One of the most important concepts that revolves around design is that the design is the function, not just a form of  aesthetics. I think this was promptly brought up in the article Digital Age.

Design needs to serve human needs and goals.  Understanding the problem from multiple perspectives is crucial to the design process.  For me this is essential in both games and web. The function of games is play and a lot of emphasis of web is interaction and information. Designing without understanding the problems that it is trying to solve makes the design irrelavent.


Two questions.


How well does detailed design work well with something that might be hard to truy prepare for such as  interaction and user experience?

There are other design concepts such as iterative design and principles of design How does such design concepts aid in the problems of design.

Yang Yong Lian – Artist research

Yang is a media media artist from China .


I first saw his works in ArtStage and was very impressed by this huge landscape painting that clearly took reference from Chinese painting. However when taking a closer look, it became obvious that this was a photo composite made from images of modern buildings. Perhaps the most interesting thing is how Yang hides things in plain sight. Having had 10 years of experience in calligraphy and Chinese painting, Yang shows obvious mastery in his composition. From far, it is almost difficult to realize that this isnt painted but made from images that he has collected over the years from his travels as well as where he lived in.



This picture is imitating the old traditional Chinese landscape painting, what we called Shan Shui. Like a typical Shan Shui painting, there are mainly mountains in the painting. It is in black and white color; also, it is compose in wide and horizon. We can also see there are many red stamps sealed on the painting. These all are the features that show the style of Chinese painting a lot. When we look closer, the audiences will discover that the jagged surface of the rocky mountains are actually composed of densely-stacked concrete buildings. Besides, in the foot of the mountain, there are some cranes. Also, it uses a lot of blank especially and this shows a great mood and emulate Chinese-style vintage.

Growing up in Shanghai, I was surrounded by lots of traditional architecture – and saw a lot of it removed. China has changed so much, dismantling its heritage in the pursuit of urbanisation. I want to ask questions about these things, about consumerism and how we live today. The rate of change is a major concern. To catch up with western economies, a lot of local customs are being lost – even the way we eat, the way we talk. It is the same with contemporary art. It feels like great traditions are being given up, at least partially, as we switch to the western idea of not only making art, but marketing and selling it.

I think what captivates me about these works is a combination of both the sense of connection to Chinese art I feel and the modernization of it. It is tr

ying to hold on to what makes us who we are while adjusting to the new world. He’s art reflects the multiple layers of what defines us and he uses it to give emphasis to his statement, which I truly believe has more impact.

Traditional Shan Shui Hua







I love the serenity of Chinese painting and Yang has opened my eyes to how an old dying art form can be brought back to life through new media and new technology.


For me Art is something that is constantly evolving and constantly changing to reflect the society.





One of the games that inspire me is a first person puzzle platform called Portal.

Portal and Portal 2 is one of the most amazing level design in game. Every level, every room, is trying to teach you something while trying to kill you. Each room has a puzzle that helps you to either enhance what you learned, or shift your perspective on a problem and think out of the box.


Story is also pretty amazing. The character motivations are really clear and concise, allowing us to feel connected to each character in the game.


She is bitch

She is a bitch


She will try to kill you but she is program to test you constantly.