Design, Interaction, & Narrative in player experience of “Gorogoa”
DESIGN RESEARCH, GAME DESIGN
The Design of Games, Part III
An early sequence, showcasing the highly visual and intuitive puzzle challenges of Gorogoa.
Introduction
Gorogoa is a game that intricately weaves together a deeply layered narrative, detailed visual design, complex puzzles, and interesting gesture-based interaction. These aspects create a highly immersive player experience, that hinges on curiosity and imaginative play. This game is unique not only in the way that gestures and puzzles are used in the game mechanics, but also due to its extreme reliance on the visual form: there is no written text, no explanations at all.
Imitating the physical gestures inherent in tile puzzles
The elegant integration of visual elements and gameplay shows the “aesthetic importance of games and how the play experience [is] intertwined with aesthetics” (Flanagan, 65). It is up to the player to explore the world of the game, and figure out how the puzzles work. The game also plays with the frustration of the player, as some levels and introduced mechanics are very hard to understand. Overall, the game is an interesting balance of ludic play and imaginative play, and it is this combination that makes it such an immersive and interesting game to play.

The mechanics and rules of this game are deceptively simple, and are based on a simple tile puzzle mechanic to create visual “tricks” that become important moments of interaction to advance the story and solve levels. The entirety of the game consists of four panels or tiles arranged in a two by two grid. These panels depict scenes which change, often with animated sequences, in interesting ways as the player changes their position and the pieces click together, or are taken apart, in different ways. Each panel is almost like a “a virtual window” (Schrank, 27). As puzzles are solved, the character and objects move in and out of the frame (using animation), often breaking perspective, and then “freeze” in place. The player is then left to rearrange the tiles into new compositions that solve the visual puzzles, so that the images can animate and change into new settings once again, to advance the story. Each level is denoted by a new part of the story, and a new theme, and throughout the “sub-levels,” the same settings are revisited again and again, and the player has to fully explore and solve the puzzles hidden throughout, before they can move onto the next stage.
Gesture & Interaction
The gestures and interactions of Gorogoa are designed to intertwine seamlessly with the mechanics, narrative, and visuals. The simple movements of the tiles mimics the physical movements of cards or tiles. The interactions within the puzzles, such as a rotating gear in a tile that must match up with the next tile, are also very instinctual and natural. There is no gap between what the player is thinking, and the way they manipulate the elements, as well as the resulting actions in the game.

There are also several moments of imitation that create a more immersive story — such as flipping through a book, using a compass to find direction, heating up a stove to create steam that enters another panel — handling objects in the scenes to solve the puzzle using their characteristics. The most interesting aspect of this type of interaction is that the player does not control the character, but rather the arrangement of panels, which then dictates how the boy is able to move from one scene to the next.
This “experience of movement” is the founding element of the gameplay in Gorogoa, both in the sense of the player’s interaction and manipulation through gesture, and in the sense of the character’s and the game elements’ movements which further the narrative (Bogost 15). Being highly authorial, it is definitely an art game that is a “game for game’s sake,” in many cases breaking the flow by being “simultaneously too hard and too easy” (Schrank, 40).
Aesthetics & Design
At its core, this game is about visual arrangement and composition. Scenes are composed and recomposed through the ways a player manipulates the panels. The puzzle piece mechanic works through the use of layered compositions, that line up in different ways depending on the scale, position, and arrangement.

Some of these rearrangements break the scene, while others create new scenes. Once they are lined up correctly, the scene shuffles and changes to reveal a new visual puzzle to explore. The intriguing aspect of the game is the use of perspective and angles, which plays with the element of disorientation of ilinx, as the player has to let go of preconceived notions of how the world works, and instead focus on the visual elements and how they match up, even if that means putting together a closeup of a map with a far shot of a clock tower. The detailed illustrations are full of clues that can guide the player in finding hidden connections and arranging these intriguing compositions.

The use of perspective is especially interesting and plays into Schrank’s description of “radical formal” strategies. Like naturalistic painting, which was dominated by a linear perspective, was disrupted by impressionism and cubism which “revealed alternate ways of looking at and making paintings”, Gorogoa’s use of perspective in such an ambiguous manner reveals alternate ways of looking at and making games (Schrank, 23).

As a cultural artifact, the visual design of the game draws on architectural forms and art history. In particular, the idea of intricate drawings which can be zoomed into endlessly, comes from the detailed carving work of the Alhambra palace (Sandovar, 183). Similarly, the narrative puzzles were inspired by Chris Ware’s book, Maze (Sandovar 180).
Narrative
The whole game advances the narrative, there are no other objectives other than uncovering the story and past of the main character, in the dreamlike world of the game. Gorogoa’s story unfolds across time and space, and we catch glimpses of the boy from childhood to an adult. Instead of cut scenes, there are moments at the end of each level which are longer animated scenes, ending with the boy/character emerging in a new landscape of the next level. The visuals are highly detailed, full to the brim with references to an imagined history, art, and culture of this surreal world. In a way, the game introduces its own mythology of this imagined world, and like Huizinga writes, this activates mimicry and imaginative play (100). The character himself is absorbed into various rituals that are present in the world, and likewise, the player has to decode some of these rituals as part of the game.

The narrative itself speaks to social issues related to war and the results of war. The boy’s quest, as he searches for answers through his memories, is to collect objects that he has seen depicted the old art around the city, as a means to peace. He collects these objects as the old mythic artwork suggests that this will bring a hopeful, peaceful time. There are certain levels where a farmer tills the land, or the boy has to climb a mountain in extreme heat. These images are followed by old black and white photos, echoing wartime photography, of soldiers and deteriorating buildings. There are also levels in which there are maps, denoting different geographical regions and their differing cultures. One puzzle shows a student reading books as bombs fall outside his window. These aspects explore some of the conditions which cause civil unrest, as well as the outcome of politics and war. By playing as the young boy whose journey takes him in and through war and dark times, the player is able to experience this as well, in a kind of incidental learning (Nolan and McBride 597).
The layered and complex narrative, which spans across time and space, in addition to the challenging puzzles, means that it is difficult to understand in just one gameplay. In my own experience of playing the game, I found that in some levels I focused more on the puzzles than the story, and I think that in playing it again, I will notice more of the hidden pieces scattered throughout which form the bigger narrative.

Like several other games I have analyzed, Gorogoa combines highly imaginative play (in which there is an entire imagined world that plays with mimicry and disorientation) with highly ludic game mechanics (mainly in the form of logic puzzles). The absence of agon/competitive play or chance/alea creates a gameplay in which the sense of achievement or satisfaction comes from the moment that the delightful interaction, and the moment that the panels align to create a new scene to further the narrative. This creates a highly unique and interesting game to play.

Footnotes
  1. Bogost, I. (2011). How to Do Things with Videogames. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. (Read Entire Book).
  2. Flanagan, M. (2009). Critical Play — Radical Game Design. MIT Press.
  3. Huizinga, J. Nature and Significance of Play as a Cultural Phenomenon.In K. Salen and E. Zimmerman (Eds.) The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology (pp. 96–120). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
  4. Nolan, J., & McBride, M. (2014). Beyond gamification: Reconceptualizing game-based learning in early childhood environments. Information, Communication & Society.
  5. Sandovar, Alyea. (2017). Going indie: Methods for understanding indie production.
  6. Schrank, Brian. Avant-Garde Videogames: Playing with Technoculture. The MIT Press, 2014.