Obra Dinn’s Emphasis on Aesthetics

For the assignment to play one of two games, I chose to play “Return of the Obra Dinn.” Obviously, playing this game is different from playing an ARG since this is a virtual game and not a game played out in reality. The game did not give you any real instructions on how to play – it was more of a play and figure out as you go structured game. My initial reactions were that the game’s aesthetics were great and really attributed to its eery and haunted sci-fi theme. From the graphics moving into motion as your player walked through the ship to the narrative and backstory/flashback of each character in the game, all of these elements came together to assist with creating the “backwards” timeline of the game. It successfully uses its aesthetics to emphasize its narrative and enhance the player experience. During the whole time I was playing the game, I was observing the various elements incorporated to deliver an impactful and fun game to the player and how I could use these factors into our own ARG.

In terms of the sci-fi/fantasy aspect of the game with the use of its clock that transports the player to the scene of the event, we have incorporated this element through the use of our network of trees. But besides that, I realized that this game served a greater purpose in aiding the writing process of our Game Design Document. As someone mentioned today in class during our class reflections, the readings lacked in understanding how aesthetics are used in the creation of ARGs. After playing a virtual game where all you’re looking at is a digitized game screen, aesthetics is a big part of why people would want to play a specific game. In addition to having a good narrative, whether a game has outstanding graphics will set it apart from its competitors. One of the challenges that we’ve faced so far as a group is making our game aesthetic clear. We first started off with a sci-fi-esque theme with a portal to another world, but then changed it after a brainstorming session to have our aesthetic be magical realism to set us apart from the typical sci-fi themes that are prevalent in many games.

Unlike a virtual game, we aren’t designing an entire world from scratch like how Obra Dinn created its detailed ship. With less interactive artwork to be created, how could we make our game more mystical? An element I borrowed from the game was the sketches that the artist made of each character that depicted life on the ship. I had my character carry around a sketchpad and sketch various locations to emphasize that these locations are the same yet different due to the world’s condition (i.e., suffering in famine). With the creation of an omnipotent and cryptic tree that could transport items between worlds, we were able to emphasize the magical aspect of the game. Designing the aesthetics of an ARG has been proven to be difficult because there are so many challenges that come along the way. How much magical realism is too much for an alternate reality game? One thing that was important was to make it mystical but not too fantasy like so that it is still clear that this is a game being played in reality, as some things will make the game seem too much like a fantasy game and not an ARG. What are some of the challenges you all have faced along the way when it comes to designing the aesthetics of your game?

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