Monday, March 29, 2010

The case for expression

I think there's a reason two of our most beloved games--chess and poker--are also major contributors to our language.  Expressions such as "checkmate," "pawn," "playing the hand your dealt," "calling his bluff," "ace in the hole," don't have real linguistic equivalents.  They are areas of expression these games have claimed a monopoly over, and it won't take much effort to find many other expressions that find their roots in games.  It's not mere postulation that games could be used as expression--they already have been!

What is art?  I know you've heard the question a million times, but you haven't heard my answer yet.  You see, I'm utilitarian at heart.  I think in terms of utility.  Therefore, if A gives me the same utility as B, A and B are equivalent.  I get calories from pizza, I get calories from hamburgers.  While they are different in many significant ways, they find themselves identical when both are abstracted to "food."  I see no reason not to view art in similar terms.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Versus Series 4: Games vs. Play

In one of his posts, Remy77077 pointed me to Chris Bateman's blog, particularly to a post about what Bateman terms "Agon."  Bateman's musings about agon and other dynamics in play are fairly interesting, but reading him reminded me of a tendency in this budding school of game-making theory to conflate "play" with "games," as if the words were interchangeable.  I think there are some crucial differences between the two ideas, and I hope clarifying those differences will go a long way in better explaining how I view the world of games and play.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Having fun while you're losing

PC Gamer had a review of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 in which it said (and I'm paraphrasing), "Typical multiplayer first-person shooter--fun if you're winning, no fun if you aren't."  The reason this review sounds lackluster (even though it mentions the game is fun at a certain point) is because we all have the understanding that it's fairly easy to make a game that is fun if you win.  It's not much of a challenge.  Any game of luck fits the bill, no matter how poorly thought-out the game is, especially if winning gives you something like money (or "Experience Points").  Here's a game: I draw a card, you draw a card.  Whoever wins gets a dollar from the loser.  Flip a coin, pull on the one-armed bandit, spin the wheel.  It's all the same: winning=fun, losing=no fun.

So one way we can identify a game that is better than the rest is by saying that it is fun even when a player is losing.  This appears to be more of a challenge.  Something that is more of a challenge, of course, is more of an accomplishment when it is achieved.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Rewards: the art of incentive

Jesse Schell gave a lecture at DICE that is apparently still resonating throughout the games blogosphere, and for good reason.  Schell described a jarring vision of the future where games not only become woven into our daily lives at the most intimate level, but one in which these games will be brought to us by commercial interests using them as a form of advertising.  To me, it's especially jarring because it's so plausible, but there's also an exciting amount of potential in that future that I want to discuss throughout a new series: "Creating Schell-games." 

But before I can do that, I feel like I need to investigate the idea of rewards in games.  The idea of "reward" in games has been casually mentioned in previous posts, most explicitly in Home arcades and the death of a game, but I have yet to define "reward" in a way that fits into the framework I've proposed in The definition of a game.  That's what I aim to do now.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The definition of a game

Even though I've briefly outlined my definition of a game before, I'd like to take the time to fully explain my vision of what a game is and what are the main components from which every game is constructed.

Three-dimensional games, part 4

Over the past few posts, I've briefly described how you can view games in terms of their relationship to three dimensions: diversion, sport, and expression.  The previous two parts explained how to get a visual representation of the dimensions and how to deal with some of the shortcomings this model has in it.

In this part, I will add the third and final dimension onto the dimension map.  This dimension is expression, and it is the one that I care most deeply about when it comes to video games (and pretty much most things, coincidentally).  Most game-makers, game-players, and non-game-players do not think of games in terms of expression, so in the last couple posts, we were free to exclude it as I introduced this dimensional view of games.  But now we finally get to add it in our visualization, which is important, because it will reveal a hidden side to games and explain why I disagree with so many of my friends when we are talking about games.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Three-dimensional games, part 3

In the last part of "Three-dimensional games," I showed you how it is possible for players to look at games from different dimensions and that we must establish which dimension or dimensions we are talking about as we share our opinions.  Ideally, we should look at both dimensions--diversion and sport

However, looking at both dimensions still does not guarantee an argument-free conversation about a game.  The reason is that people can perceive either of these dimensions differently than someone else perceiving the same dimension.  Keep in mind that we took all diversions and all sport and collapsed them into two simple straight lines.  A straight line does not do either of them justice.

Three-dimensional games, part 2

So now that we have our definitions, we can start figuring out how to express these dimensions.  We'll start with the two that most of us agree on--diversion and sport--and leave the third dimension for a later part.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Three-dimensional games, part 1

Games can be perceived in three dimensions: diversion, expression, and sport.  Of the three, diversion and sport are the most readily identifiable with games.  Expression is the more controversial dimension, and of course that is the dimension I am most interested in.

For now, though, I'm content to keep expanding the theoretical vocabulary we can use when talking about video games.  To that end, I want to share this three-dimensional view with you so that we can have another short-hand method to communicate more efficiently and effectively when we share our opinions.

Versus Series 3: Obstacles vs. Annoyances

From the day I started this blog, I've been wanting to write about the subtle distinction between obstacles and annoyances.  The main issue is that the distinction appeared to be so subtle that I had no way of expressing it.  Mark the milestone here: the first insight I've had since starting the blog that allows me to communicate something that was formerly ineffable to me.