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Experimental Games: An Interview With Daniel Benmergui

I recently had a chance to interview a man who is making waves in the indie game scene.

Daniel Benmergui has designed a number of experimental games that most certainly don’t follow the paths paved by conventional titles. His creations are both exceedingly simple and complex at the same time, and will have some people scratching their heads.

That’s part of the experience; though; the first step I had to make when playing his games was to figure out the objective and rules and go from there. It forced me to think outside the box, something many games don’t make you do anymore.

It’s a rare treat for Gamer Reaction to interview someone with such a unique approach to video games.

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Gamer Reaction: How did you get your start in game design? Was it a conscious decision or something that you happened upon?

Daniel Benmergui: I knew since I was little I would be doing this. I did not know, however, I would find myself doing games like Today I Die. I guess there’s more to us than we are aware of.

GR: What made you decide to create smaller experimental games?

DB: Feasibility! I always use Ursula Leguin’s metaphor to describe my creative work: I move like a glacier, not a river. I will end up in the same place, but it’s going to take me longer. I also have a bit of an obsessive compulsion towards details, so small games mean I am able to finish them in a reasonable timespan. I lean towards experimental work because I like to explore untrodden
territory. I am delighted by the surprise of people trying (good) experimental games.

GR: Many of your games have a deep and poetic feel to them. What have been your inspirations for some of these games?

DB: My life was actually both the inspiration and the fuel for making Moon and Today I Die. I felt I had to do them, despite feeling very insecure as to how they would be received. Fortunately, a few art games already existed (Jason Rohrer’s Passage and Gravitation), so there was a precedent for games focused on expression. The magic that happened is that my head came up with the mechanics to help shape that inspiration that came bubbling up from inside. It cooperated instead of acting as a censor. That was pretty new to my life. Those games reflect interior changes I was going through.

GR: How much time do you devote to crafting a single game?

DB: Today I Die Again, the revision of the original, took me around three months of work. That, plus the six months of the original means I took almost nine months to make such a small game!

GR: Do you create stories to surround a gameplay mechanic, vice versa, or congruently? Or does it vary from piece to piece?

DB: I never use “stories” in the classical sense to think my games. I usually work on an mechanic, an idea, a language or even an imageI Wish I Were The Moon started as an image, which explains why the game is single-screened. Today I Die started on the possibilities of mixing two different languages: an editable poem and interactive visual objects.

GR: Did you have a specific goal in mind when you created these games?

DB: No. My design process is heavily exploratory. I wander and get lost, find a good idea here, forget about that one over there, until I decide it’s time to wrap it up. Right now I am trying to deal with that process better, because the uncertainty makes me too anxious. I want to enjoy my natural creative process!

GR: Are you trying to reach a specific audience with your work?

DB: I don’t think about it much when I am making the games. I usually discover the audience after release, which is great! There is, however, an audience that always dwell in my mind: all the titans I admire for their work, and aspire to be like.

GR: Are you concerned at all that some people might not understand the point or purpose of your games? For anyone who might not “get it”, what would you say to them?

DB: I would tell them to forget the games. If there’s something in there for them, they will eventually find their way to it. If not, they are wasting their time playing.

GR: You’ve already been in the running for awards, Today I Die has been made for the iPhone audience; what are your future plans for the titles you currently have and those you may make in the future?

DB: I am working on my potential next projects right now. I feel my future games are going to be more focused on the underlying language produced by game rules, and less on the “interpretation space” that Today I Die proposed. And as always, I want to make games that are surprising.

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I would like to thank Dan Benmergui for taking the time to talk with us. We hopes his passion continues on for years to come, and that we’ll see more creative experimentation from him in the future. Without people like Daniel, the industry will never push limits. You can find his games and information about what he’s up to on his blogsite here:

www.ludomancy.com

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