Monday, June 28, 2010

Grokking in three dimensions

Even if you accept that the notion of grokking and grok-tests play an important role in understanding games, you may doubt that winning is an indication of grokking in light of games such as foot races and lotteries where grokking the rules is clearly not the sole requirement for victory.

However, foot races and lotteries are not games where winning is not a sign of grokking, but rather games in which grokking the game leads players toward a single strategy.  Games of chance lead players to a "null" strategy, while foot races push players toward a strategy so highly effective, the game is unwinnable without it--in this case, running fast.

Athletic events are an obvious example of these kind of "one-strategy" games, which would also include trivia competitions such as spelling bees and Trivial Pursuit.  These games are designed to create situations where the best strategy involves excellence in the desired ability.  While the rules of the 100-meter never say that the fastest runner will win the race, the construction of its rules make it so the best strategy involves running faster than anyone else.

Lotteries are one of the purest examples of games of chance, which can all be classified as "null-strategy" games, or games where no strategy appreciably increases the chances of winning.

Obviously, all games lie along a spectrum, and some games of chance involve more luck than others, while the luck element may be easy to spot in games ostensibly designed to spotlight excellence.  The key here is the overall effect--does the luck element in the athletic competition help to showcase the athlete's talents?  Do the strategies allowed by the game of chance significantly diminish the effect of luck?  Asking questions like these will help us understand what kind of game we are talking about, and allow us to see that games with a central luck component, such as poker, cannot accurately be called games of chance if players are able to employ strategies which allow them to win consistently against opponents at a rate higher than chance would predict.

These two classes of games fall neatly into the dimensions of games that I proposed a while back--specifically the Sport and the Diversion dimensions.  One-strategy games designed to recognize and reward excellence in a given field are Sport, while games that don't allow for in-depth strategies would be called Diversions.

This leaves the final dimension, Expression, reserved for games that are about grokking the rules.  Games that do not have a point at which the game can said to be "grokked"--games where success is defined solely by understanding the rules and strategies of the game, and not athletic ability, trivia knowledge, or luck.  Success in them requires you to enter into them, which in turn can lead you into the mind of the author, the ultimate goal of expression.

Therefore, this blog will be increasingly focused on games that are not sport and not diversion.  Rather, we will study games that have no other apparent purpose than to understand the games themselves more deeply, for these are the games that will lead us down the path of more powerful expression through video games.

6 comments:

Remy77077 said...

.. and this fits perfectly with the discussion on the other post. As the games I am discussed all fall under the definition of sport, or rather "e-sport" - some are even considered as such already.

laughingman said...

This is a very interesting article. While reading it, I kept thinking about roguelikes. Before you grok the way the systems work, you die. A lot. As you start to grok how the items, monsters, and dungeons behave, you find ways to save yourself from situations that would have been impossible just a few deaths ago. Once fully grokked, a roguelike's challenge comes strictly from chance placement of items and monsters.

You'll still die, but since you have grokked what a roguelike is all about, it won't bother you (too) much.

Ava Avane Dawn said...

"These two classes of games fall neatly into the dimensions of games that I proposed a while back--specifically the Sport and the Diversion dimensions. One-strategy games designed to recognize and reward excellence in a given field are Sport, while games that don't allow for in-depth strategies would be called Diversions."

It seems to me you're proposing that the these two categories are autonomous; are they really that unique and exclusionary as you propose? Diversion is "fun", but also "distraction", according to you. Is your definition for fun thus instrumental, self-proposing, i.e that fun is that which simply distracts, keeps the player "engaged" in the game even if the player is apathetic to what happens but is simply to scared to go back to hirs life outside the game?

And distraction is to much extent based around, dependent upon, the sport axis, as I understand your lay-out, which you do not seem to take account of at all. It makes me wonder if I understand you correctly or just disagree. :P

"One-strategy games designed to recognize and reward excellence in a given field are Sport, while games that don't allow for in-depth strategies would be called Diversions."

Why wouldn't diversion games allow for in-depth strategies? Also, are you here claiming that one-strategy games are indeed in-depth strategies? Is lottery where the "null strategy" can be applied thus dependent upon in-depth strategies? How is the null strategy deep?

"This leaves the final dimension, Expression, reserved for games that are about grokking the rules."

Confused! How are expression games about grokking the rules, i.e understanding the rules, if the rules cannot be properly understood and indeed aren't necessarily proposed to be understood in the sense that sport games are?

Ava Avane Dawn said...

Clarification:

"And distraction is to much extent based around, dependent upon, the sport axis, as I understand your lay-out, which you do not seem to take account of at all. It makes me wonder if I understand you correctly or just disagree. :P"

I believe that distraction to a large extent is based around the sport axis, rules, challenge.

Ferguson said...

Diversion does not equate to "fun" for me, but a particular kind of fun--one that merely involves detachment somehow from something else. There are of course various degrees of detachment, and various reasons for detaching. Sport and expression can certainly be fun, even if they are not being played merely to fill time.

Because there is a strategy in one-strategy games, that means there is the chance of depth, since you can keep discovering new layers of strategy within that single strategy. For instance, in racing, the only strategy supported is to run faster, but then of course you can develop strategies to run faster. If you decide proper breathing is important to running faster, than you will search for the best way to breathe, and then search for the best way to breathe that way, and so on.

Expression, then, means that the true point of the game is not to win nor is it to waste time, but to understand how to win. Kind of a nuanced point, I suppose. I would think of it as you would think of other types of expression: you don't watch an artistic film just to get through it or waste time--you watch it to understand what the filmmaker was trying to convey. This might mean watching it several times, or sometimes just once is enough. But once you fully grok the rules in a game that was created for expression, there is no need to play it again, unless you want to use it as a diversion or sport. Did I just make things more complicated?

And yes, I didn't take into account that distraction is dependent upon the sport axis, mostly because I don't recognize that. Could you elaborate on that for me?

Ava Avane Dawn said...

""One-strategy games designed to recognize and reward excellence in a given field are Sport, while games that don't allow for in-depth strategies would be called Diversions.""

You write that diversion is a subjective experience, but I don't understand how a game of diversion could not allow for in-depth strategies; isn't the game I as a player use as diversion also subjective?

"And yes, I didn't take into account that distraction is dependent upon the sport axis, mostly because I don't recognize that. Could you elaborate on that for me? "

In order for me to decide whether a game is worth playing, even if only for distraction, then it has to keep me involved somehow so that I don't turn it off. It has to be a sport to play it, then, tricky enough for me not to lose interest. Most of the times.

Concerning one-strategy, I think I conflated your definition of it with "optimal strategy", which is why I couldn't wrap my head around how there can be discussion of strategy. For example in lottery, discussing strategy would be more of a meta-discussion; the only way to win is not to play; the only way to win is to buy more tickets; the only way to win is to earn much money to buy tickets, etc.

I now understand what you meant by expression, and thought that is what you meant by sport; simply winning for winnings sake didn't occur to me could be a dimension!