Artwork #2: Sona Survival
Sona Survival is a single player minigame played within the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) video game League of Legends (LoL). Using the built-in ‘practice tool’ to adjust specific game parameters, trademark character Sona is dropped into the center of the enemy base, isolated and unable to move, but equipped with items designed to enhance her chances of survival. Constantly taking damage, the player’s only goal is to survive as long as possible.
The player is given a keyboard and instructed to press “W” to survive. Of the remaining keys, only LoL’s original ability and item bindings will have effect, with the exception of two items rebound for specific emphasis. However, lacking a mouse, the player is tasked with deciphering the relationship between abilities, items, and environment as the game progresses. This both encourages repetition and incorporates core aspects of LoL mechanics.
Sona Survival can be played on any device capable of running LoL, but I insisted on a MacBook Pro. Paired with a dusty mechanical keyboard, on which the keys bound to important items and abilities are polished, and a set of in-ear headphones, the player’s atmosphere is very similar to the average LoL experience. To enhance the sense of immersion, Heavyweight by No Copyright Sounds, a classic song used in LoL montages, plays in the background for added ‘hype.’ Player scores are timed using a stopwatch; in each iteration an iPhone was used.
The original concept for Sona Survival was simplified down to an endless cycle of survival based entirely on the player’s will to stay at the computer pressing “W.” This was designed as an artistic statement about the competitive aspects of the game, emphasizing practice, focus, and motivation. Although plausible, I decided it lacked the most vital aspects of the game that encourage innovation and creativity.
This final iteration scraps the ‘endless’ concept for a specific goal, achieved through mastery of actual LoL mechanics and the basic problem solving abilities involved in deciphering ability/item interactions. This incorporates much more semantic meaning, appropriating not only the gaming software, but also the genuine experience of LoL players.
Themes and Influence
The original inspiration for Sona Survival was Mario Clouds; I did not start out with a concept for a game as much as for an artistic statement about an experience. This final iteration, however, incorporates more of the LoL experience, simultaneously encouraging LoL players to show off their game knowledge and clinical mechanics, and non-LoL players – or even non-gamers – to use parallel concepts and thought processes.
Moreover, Sona Survival repurposes items and abilities in ways that would intrigue LoL players, specifically referencing an accepted use for items and abilities among the community, but not without taking away from their original uses. For example, Zhonyas Hourglass, one of two items remapped from its original LoL binding, makes Sona invulnerable for 2.5 seconds. The towers that will eventually kill Sona do increased damage with each successive shot; therefore, perfectly timing use of the Hourglass allows the player to defy death, heal to full health before the towers start to cause significant damage, effectively forcing the game to kill her almost twice.
This effect can be amplified when used in combination with other items; however, Zhonyas Hourglass is an item generally purchased by “carry” champions, and the optimal synergy in Sona Survival involves a “support” item, that can be used at the same time such that Sona is healed upon leaving stasis. This forces LoL players to make connections based on the specific game mechanics rather than conventional analysis (influenced by individual roles and norms), while non-LoL players will be naturally guided to the theoretically most efficient thought process that focuses on numbers rather than experience.
I added a game mechanic for the player to kill themselves if they discovered an item + ability combination. The second remapped key was the warding trinket, a stationary object placed by players to obtain vision in an otherwise hidden area of the map. Players can teleport to these wards, most often to shift map pressure. LoL players will question the teleport ability’s very existence in Sona Survival, objectively useless without a mouse because you can’t use it to run away, but if the ward is used first, teleport will cause Sona to stand unable to move until the spell is cancelled or completed. Nobody used this combination, but I hoped a non-LoL player might stumble upon the unfortunate combo and a LoL player would execute a bm (bad manners), and use it to flaunt their understanding and control of Sona’s situation.