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.

First, let's get some definitions of the dimensions.  By diversion, I am focusing on the "fun" aspect of a game.  I use diversion because I think it is more precise than "fun."  A diversion is something that distracts, and when it is not attached to an object, it is assumed to be something that distracts from anything and everything--or more precisely, the humdrum rhythms of our daily lives.  Diversions are inherently subjective.  The power to distract a person from his or her daily life is contingent on what that daily life entails.  We can see that it would be rather easy to distract a person from a life that consists of staring at a blank wall, while it would be harder to distract someone who has a life filled with colorful events and characters. 

Sport, the other aspect most would consider a crucial part of gaming, focuses on the skills required to play and master games.  These skills may be mental or physical, but they must be quantifiable.  The game is responsible for providing the means of this quantification.  The sport aspect of the game is the aspect that most demands the winning and losing part I mentioned at the beginning of Homes arcades and the death of a game.  Sport is used to compare players--to find out who is best at the game, and by extension, who is best at the skills the game tests.

The more controversial dimension is the expression dimension, which is associated with communication and also art.  Most people are reticent to classify games as art.  True enough, most games do not emphasize their expressive element, if one could be found in them at all.  And other games that do have something that could be recognized as art get that element as a byproduct of the other two dimensions, and could be seen as a kind of found art.  Nevertheless, I believe that games are capable of expression, have been used as forms of expression in the past, and will be used as forms of expression in the future.  Furthermore, I believe it is possible to separate the expressive element away from the other two elements, forming a third dimension.

In the next part, I will talk about how to use these dimensions to better describe games and our opinions of them.  To do this, we must be able to perceive three-dimensional objects in our heads, which is a fairly difficult trick.  Fortunately, you can collapse these three-dimensional objects into two-dimensional objects using triangles, and we'll find out how to do this all next week (or whenever I post again).

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