I had a little fun with a game called I Know This (Two’s Complement, 2015) thrown together for this year’s Global Game Jam. It’s a celebration of faux hacker scenes in movies, particularly the hackers got to play in a “3D file system space” (see Jurassic Park, Disclosure) which demonstrated a dramatic (!) lack of HCI understanding by Hollywood directors. Like a lot of jam games, it’s a rough experience so it’s not necessarily a ton of fun.
One aspect stood out though. In one challenge, you have to hack together a complete sequence of program code before the countdown crunches down to zero. Apparently inspired by the site hackertyper.com, as the player types on the keyboard, legible code appears as if by hacker magic, making the player feel very l33t. But I Know This turns it into a game by demanding the player hit ENTER after each completed line of code; failure to do so causes red gibberish to appear that must be deleted.
It feels more fun than it has a right to be, typing like a hacker, but there’s a problem. Every time you start typing red error text, the cool factor dies and it becomes a slog to slowly delete the bad characters. The fantasy is too readily skewered by what feels like a pedantic design.
And then I sensed déjà vu.
Games that want to emulate free running or parkour also run up against this kind of wall. A failure in parkour usually means the flow of movement is broken and it doesn’t feel cool any more. “You,” the game continuously reminds you, “are just as mundane as you thought you were.”
I’d like to think it would be possible to turn this hacker mini-game into keyboard parkour which works but, if games like Mirror’s Edge (DICE, 2008) are anything to go by, it’s probably a wish that will go unfulfilled.