Funny object that this Essay on Empathy. Not exactly a game, yet it is strictly video games. Signed Deconstructeam, the studio behind The Red String Club, it is a compilation of mini-games brought together to try to present the studio, and the meaning that its members give to their work.
A title which will help answer the tiring question “is video games an art?”, And above all which will show, if need be, that video games are much more than video games.
(Test de Essay on Empathy made on PC via a commercial copy of the game)
Video game editorial object
In a very prosaic way, we can consider Essay on Empathy as a compilation of the work of the Deconstructeam studio. These are ten small games or narrative experiences that are brought together in the compilation, spanning from 2015 to today. Most have already appeared elsewhere, such as on itch.io, one of them, De Tres Al Cuarto, is however unpublished.
But what makes all the added value of the title and its real interest, it is the editorial content that accompanies the games, and which sheds new light on both the software in question, but also the whole principle of creating a game, an indie game in particular.
Thus, each title is accompanied by preparatory documents for its development – documents which show us that game design is first and foremost a blank sheet, a pencil, and ideas! – as well as a video where the three members of the studio tell about the game, its creation process and the initial intentions, among others.
Do or do not, there is no try
If the interest of each of the small games is quite variable, it is combined with the rest of the material offered that the whole takes on value. Finally, it’s a fake compilation, but rather an album that tells the story of the studio. The compilation is in fact a portrait made in ten sets. An unprecedented exercise.
Essays on Empathy, the title, is what we call a false friend, and does not translate to “essay” in the sense of trying something, but rather “essay” in the sense of “essay”. The title is thus a document about empathy, about putting yourself in someone else’s pumps.
If it is the characteristic of the narrative game to try to make us feel the emotions of the character that we embody or that we follow, here, it is rather the spirit and the perception of the three members of Deconstructeam that the title attempts to transmit to us.
Make video games fun again
Because if we know why we play video games, we rarely wonder why others make them! And behind the imperatives that we often hear about, the dates to be adhered to in terms of profitability obligations, we often forget the essential: the fun!
A title like The Bookshelf Limbo, where you have to choose a book for your father’s birthday, is quite short and only represents a fairly limited interest, in terms of gameplay. However, it is in the light of the testimonies of the members of the studios that we will see the game differently, and in that we will understand all its richness.
It’s a title that was made to be fun to design! A little selfish concept perhaps, but after all, why not! We accept the megalomaniac delusions of some big names in video games in the name of the sacrosanct “vision of the author”…
Beyond these little guilty pleasures, some titles also bear questions that can affect both creators and players. For example, does the game really always have to be a challenge? Beyond the debates on the difficulty that we have experienced in recent months, can we not consider a game without any kind of difficulty? This is also the kind of questions that the title and its “essays” try to answer.
The least we can say about Deconstructeam after taking a look at Essays on Empathyis that they are not a bunch of merry “living the dream” guys making video games. So obviously, there are the joys of creation and the satisfaction of discovering an idea that comes to life or of seeing the music that we have written find its place in the play of its partners, darker sides of creation are also widely discussed.
The lack of confidence in oneself or in one’s ideas, the crunch that one imposes on oneself perhaps even more than in the big studios of which one sometimes denounces the attitude and the financial pressure are as many bad sides of the discipline which is the common thread of these interviews.
And in light of these difficulties that the three creators are struggling with, we see their games differently. Thus, Eternal Home Floristry tells the story of an insensitive hired killer who takes refuge with an old florist, and finds a part of humanity as the old man teaches him the art of flowers; in 11.45 In Vivid Life, we follow a young woman convinced that her skeleton is not hers. She will learn, by listening to herself through a stolen X-ray machine, how to accept herself and her tortured past.
We will easily understand how behind these stories are also hidden metaphors of the pangs of creation, a roller coaster of life in an indie game studio. A kind of sub-subtext, behind stories that already have a lot to say, sometimes serious and serious, like this Behind Every Great Ones which depicts the terrifying daily life of a woman caught in the clutches of a toxic relationship .
Deconstructeam is engaged in a particular exercise here. Original and indispensable, the compilation and the editorial material that accompanies it take us to the other side of the mirror, allowing us to understand the creative process that brings a video game studio to life. If many players – young people, especially – cherish the dream of working in industry, Essays on Empathy reminds us that it is far from being a fun and lively activity every day.
Beyond what we can already know about working conditions, budgetary requirements, crunch, etc., it is the entire creative process that is dissected here in its entirety, with its intentions, its satisfactions and its sufferings. . More than a compilation or a documentary on video games, Essays on Empathy is a masterclass.