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Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Comments

J.

Most discourse on MMOGs separates the "world" aspect from the "game" aspect. Costik was just mulling (in the entry you referenced) over the MMP titles that are trying to -not- define themselves as games -- There and Second Life. They're basically graphical chat rooms with some cooperative content that just barely qualifies as "fun," unless you factor in a lot of cameraderie.

Then again, the same could be said about many aspects of games like UO, EQ, DaoC, etc. -- they're not much fun except when other people are around, especially if you've done them over, and over, and over. :) Costik's point was that these new titles aren't even -trying- to market themselves as "games", and not just because they don't end.

Your final point is well taken, though. Who cares?

Scott Miller

I see your point, J. Having not played There or Second Life, I was not aware that they are as you describe.

Still, my primary beef is with Zimmerman's statement, which appears to blanket the entire industry.

ADoomedMarine

I've always thought of a game as something you play, obviously right. So you are playing your character in these "gameworlds" right? So I would call it a game.

Then again look at the definition of the term game at dictionary.com:
https://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=game

Every single definition is based around winning and losing, I think it's time to recreate the meaning of the word game since they've obviously advanced from that point. With your obvious point 2 they'd still classify as games under this definition since you win via the biggest score which would probably fall under this definition in the dictionary:

"The score accumulated at any given time in a game: The game is now 14 to 12."

So technically they are right but then again you do fight for kills and that sort of stuff so that could come under the term 'score'.

ADoomedMarine

I think I just confused myself :P But to sum it all up yeah they are right if you're looking a the cultural meaning of the word game.

Who reckons we should rewrite it!? :P

J.

Well, you could use "interactive art or experience" as a definition for game, and of course There and SL would qualify, even if there was no competition or problem to solve (ADM's point about there being no winning or losing.)

One thing I've been saying that I haven't heard a lot of other people in MMOG circles saying is that "veterans" of the genre are the least likely to have what I'd call a healthy sense of what "fun" is. Those games are so steeped in advancement, whether it be character advancement, item acquisition or what have you, that players learn to suspend their expectations of "fun" and focus on advancement, or pure social experience.

Put another, less controversial way: Most games are designed, or are uncomplicated enough, such that players can sit down and figure out how to play them. Even without reading a manual, they locate the problems to solve or widgets to collect, and dive right in.

Not so with MMOGs. The experience is fundamentally different in that way, just because there is either so much to do, the motivation for doing -anything- isn't obvious to players. Unless the players bother to read the manual (or player-run fansites, which are often more useful, depending on the title), or there's some contrived system put in place to usher newbies in, or they can find fellow players to help them out, there's not much hope for them.

I do think that the gaming world needs to broaden its vocabulary, ADM, but we don't need to get so deep into academia or lingo that we forget how to talk. A bigger problem is making sure gaming continues to mature as a medium, and that means strengthening a widespread understanding of what games are and why people play them. You can do that without making up new terms.

Gestalt

Actually PacMan does have an ending - it stops after 256 levels. Of course, it takes six hours of non-stop play to reach that point, but it is possible to complete it. :) See here for more details...

Todd

All of those games will have an end once one of those huge meteors hits the earth.

"Game over dude" - Bill Paxton

Aldo

Maybe we should make a difference between a game and a toy. A toy does not have an end but you can play with it and create new rules for it.

J.

"Maybe we should make a difference between a game and a toy. A toy does not have an end but you can play with it and create new rules for it."

Yeah, that word's getting used a bit more too. Problem is that "toy" sucks as a marketing term. Even "real" toys aren't called toys anymore, except as Toys R Us. Plus there are adults who feel castigated enough just playing "games". :P

Charles E. Hardwidge

>Seriously, it's not like we need to work out the definition of the word "game" to make 'em!

Lack of definition makes understanding imprecise.

>And frankly, I prefer to think of what we do as making "entertainment."

Yes, I think you're right, though I prefer to think games can be educational and informative as well as entertaining. I've been unhappy with the term "game" for years. It skews perspectives and is restrictive. I prefer to think the focus is a story, or other presentation, using interactive technology as a medium. A new game for games, and better seperation between genres and age groups would make me a happier man.

Raph Koster

My comment had to do with the fact that as a a platform, online worlds can encompass games (and SWG/UO/EQ etc are undeniably exactly that) but they don't HAVE to. They can hold games within themselves, but they are not games themselves. There's online worlds that are professional meeting rooms, accredited educational institutions, and just chat spaces. There's ones that are professional military simulation and ones that are used for therapeutic purposes.

The reason why I challenged Eric Z on this at the State of Play conference (from whence Greg's original blog post originates) is because we were discussing online worlds and the law there, and narrowing the focus to games only would certainly mislead us as we discussed issues like IP rights in online, free speech in online, and so on.

PS, such disdain for academia... makes me sad when I see that in the industry though I am certainly familiar with it by now... that gulf needs to be crossed.

markus friedl

hmmm.... my two cents....

I also DO think that the game-dev world needs to broaden its vocabulary and "standardize" its vocabulary so we all talk about the same thing (well... mainly in terms of game DESIGN and the artistic side of things... the idea of a standardized vocabulary already works pretty well on the purely technical side of things)...

BUT... and now to my point... I think we only need such a vocabulary if it helps us to push this media "video/computer games" to its next level (simply put... to make better games and achieve acknowledgement from a broader/mass audience)...

If such a vocabulary helps us to communicate with each other more easily/efficiently in order to achieve such a goal (which, of course, is not the only/primary goal in game design/development... and it shouldn't be)... then yeah... such a vocabulary makes sense I think...

But... I'm really NOT sure if a common understanding of the term "game" helps us to achieve such a goal... sad to say... kind of... but to quote Scott: "who cares"

Scott Miller

-- "Lack of definition makes understanding imprecise."

Charles, I tend to go with what the general perception is, and the general public already has a well understood definition for the word "game." It's fruitless to fight it, or try to refine it. It is what it is.

-- "...such disdain for academia... makes me sad when I see that in the industry though I am certainly familiar with it by now... that gulf needs to be crossed."

Raph, I certainly do not have any disdain for academia, as long as they try not to restructure the realities of the industry. Neither did my post contain any put-down of academia. My "who cares" comment merely suggests that we should not fight ingrained realities and perceptions -- it's a losing battle. And this is how I feel about any attempt to define game in a way that will not jive with the general public's understanding of the word.

I understand that this was not you're battle, though.

I think my next entry will stick with a subject far less scandalous, like book recommendations. ;-)

Scott Miller

-- "I also DO think that the game-dev world needs to broaden its vocabulary and "standardize" its vocabulary so we all talk about the same thing."

BTW, Markus, with this, I agree. There are many definitions that can be better nailed down that are *exclusive* to the game industry, such as for the word gameplay. And I've seen good articles (in private dev forums) proposing words that describe the simplest actions we can do in games, like jumping, shooting, turning, picking up an object, etc. Would be nice to have agreed upon jargon for these unique activities, which would help developers communicate ideas to each other, and allow for employees to more easily switch jobs.

This might be a fun entry at some point, coming up with a list of industry words pertaining to designing games. Not just for me, but for everyone reading this blog.

Off to karate...

Charles E. Hardwidge

Firstly, apologies for all the typos. Grrr.

"I also DO think that the game-dev world needs to broaden its vocabulary and "standardize" its vocabulary"

I agree completely. (What a surprise.) By opening the discussion to all parties, rather than keeping it behind closed doors, some agreement on whether change is required or not should be possible. If agreement is found among academics, developers, customers, and the media, I'm sure change will be possible. It might also go some way to addressing Scotts understandable pragmatism. Who knows, in five years time we might be laughing at our own modest ambitions.

"This might be a fun entry at some point, coming up with a list of industry words pertaining to designing games. Not just for me, but for everyone reading this blog."

In the spirit of Douglas Adams and John Loyds book "The Meaning of Liff," it might be amusing to peg gaming related terms to politicians and celebrities names.

"I think my next entry will stick with a subject far less scandalous, like book recommendations."

I wondered when that was coming.

"Financial Dynamics: A System for Valuing Technology Companies" by Chris Westland.

Hold onto your hat. :P

chris fog

Its interesting that the category "games" was the case study for Wittgenstein's critique of classical categorisation theory. The classical view of categorisation can be considered the defining attribute view: that a category can be described by a set of defining attributes. The attributes are singly necessary and jointly sufficient to allow an item to be identified as a member of a category.

Wittgenstein argued the members of the category 'games' shared family resemblances rather than a set of defining features. Consider chess, Dungeons & Dragons, tennis, ring-around-the-rosey, dice, and pac-man. There are no common properties shared by all members, but many attributes are shared by many of the members. He proposed an alternative notion of cateogry membership based around the idea of family resemblence: members of a category may be related to one another without all members having any property in common.

In short, If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a goose ... its probably a bird

J.

>In short, If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a goose ... its probably a bird

The problem, some might say, is finding out what to call the "bird" in this case. Mine is more along the lines of, what do you call interactive experiences that involve very little or no problem solving and appeal most generally to social interaction between players within defined spaces?

When you track the development of text-based environments, the BBS and the first MUD were coming around at about the same time. (From what I read, the modem came in '77, the first BBS in '78, and Trubshaw/Bartle got MUD1 done in 1979, but since I was age 1, 2 and 3 in that time and a very small number of people were even aware this was all going on, I won't belabor the point.) Someone first thought of how to get people to talk to each other, and then someone else thought of how to get them playing with each other.

I won't talk like I'm an expert here (and you won't hurt my feelings if you tell me I'm full of crap), but before long, some of MUD's descendants came to be associated with purely social, or at least less competitive/achievement-oriented activities (MUSHes, MOOs.) They had a obvious kinship with the original product, both in code and in experience, but the "dungeon" aspect was gone.

But ask anyone from LambdaMOO if that place is a "game." I'd wager they'd look at you funny, or at least give you a weird smiley.

When Meridian 59 and Ultima Online came about, however, the market for multi-user environments that existed regardless of whether any particular person was playing was realized.

So I'm wondering where the market for commercial non-competitive graphical user environments is hiding.

My gut tells me that there has to be something other than a "graphical chat room" to hook people. There and/or Second Life might have those things, but given the recent humongous failure of The Sims Online (which in my mind had core design problems related to turning the whole god-game hook of The Sims upside down, then adding a monthly fee like insult to injury) and scattered early efforts (The Palace,) it won't be easy.

But if someone finds that market, what do we call those products? Especially if their makers don't want to call them "games"? Is it even important?

Bill Crosbie

Just a comment on screamingly obvious point number 2 -

All of your games do have an end. They don't end within the context of the narrative, but they do end within the context of the play mechanics - limited number of resources (lives) that are consumed.

I think that the argument of virtual worlds caused you to frame everything in term of the narrative rather than the mechanics. Is there anything in Zimmerman's definition that states that the frame of reference must be the story? (I haven't acquired Rules of Play yet, so I admit to going out on a limb here...)

[oh - and love the blog. Great reading! Please keep it coming.]

Scott Miller

-- "All of your games do have an end. They don't end within the context of the narrative, but they do end within the context of the play mechanics - limited number of resources (lives) that are consumed."

Great point, Bill. That is definitely an ending.

I was thinking in terms of a final goal, such as beating a final boss, reaching a certain score, finishing a final level, etc. Arcade games like Tetris, Galaxian, Donkey Kong, Star Castle, Armor Attack, Joust and Battlezone lack a win condition -- this is probably a better way to think of it.

JP

Re: disdain for academia: there is currently a very widespread, strongly anti-intellectual stance towards game design (design, not production or programming or art, which developers have become very process-minded about) in the industry. For a lot of developers the discussion begins and ends with "fun". It's either a very mushy, anti-empirical throw-yourself-off-a-cliff approach like John Romero thinking you can design the next Doom if you're "hardcore" and can come up with "cool moments". For other folks, if your only concern is making money, you eschew the difficult, sometimes unanswerable questions that academia asks, because they threaten to "restructure the realities of the industry" in which Scott and Co. have become successful organisms. Instead you want easy, proven answers. The codification of different kinds of "fun", both observational and what's been proven through many years of successful and unsuccessful games, seem to offer an answer there, but that body of knowledge is just the first step. We can't reproduce different types of "fun" just because we've identified some flavors of and attitudes toward it any more than Newton's Universal Law of Gravitation allowed us to create flying cars. Which indicates that "fun" isn't a good starting point at all - better to choose comprehensible, measurable design goals and judge your success based on those.

There are no easy answers, but of course people want to believe in them quite desperately - the alternative is to acknowledge and endure financial risk. It's strange to hear Scott give so much lip service to originality and innovation, because really what they're doing is adding new shellac to a very stable and proven structure. Like he says, marketing is about perception rather than reality, so the *appearance* of originality and creative spark - what Greg Costikyan calls "bullet point innovation" - is the real goal. Of course, this makes what you're doing seem especially bloodless and cynical and pandering, so you rarely hear it phrased thusly.

The Baskinator

"Um, they ARE games. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs a good spanking."

I agree with you, but. . . can I have a spanking anyway?

Jennifer Olsen

I have Eric's book and I'm absolutely floored at the many bends in the industry/academia river that he and co-author Katie Salen bridge.

One thing about all the definitions of "games" or "gameplay" being thrown about here and elsewhere, whether from dictionaries or game-design textbooks, is that none of them explicitly takes into account the creator of the game and his identity/role, whatever his intentions. PW games and other open-ended games (such as The Sims) prove that the creator doesn't need to explicitly define a play arc or even victory condition in order for a player to experience them during play; the task of determining goals and outcome conditions (and perhaps even the rules that apply to them) merely shift from the designer to the player, whether one's goal is finding an elf to flirt with or getting one's Sim promoted to astronaut.

Perhaps game designers might falter when they dwell excessively on their own role in any definition of a "game," and try to retain complete design ownership of the play experience. In many cases, games ultimately belong only to their players and how they choose to utilize the designer's framework.

Scott, I'm enjoying the site immensely, keep up the good work!

J.

Bah, all experiences have an end. For each individual, it's when they stop for whatever reason. Anyone can quit a game. :)

Bill Crosbie

--was thinking in terms of a final goal... Arcade games like Tetris, Galaxian, Donkey Kong, Star Castle, Armor Attack, Joust and Battlezone lack a win condition

I agree. Many arcade games of that time do lack a win condition, and I can't think of one game from that early era that was more than simply to see how far you could go. Each gamer had to face the inevitability of defeat. It was a question of how long you could prolong your playing time. In this framing the goal is to exceed your previous best score, or to defeat p2, or to get on the daily or all time high scorers list.

This was in accordance with the goals of the companies. Make it attractive enough to get gamers playing, simple enough to have some early success, but difficult enough so that the game would end, but be able to bring in the next quarter ("coin detected in pocket").

So, Scott, it seems like you are coming down of the side of narrative in gaming rather than play mechanics. Or am I reading too much in to your response to this one issue?

(aside: Was super mario the first arcade console to have a defined end state? I was starting to phase out of arcades and video games at around this time frame. I now call these the dark years... I'm afraid that I might be lacking some critical first person expereince with alternatives.)

Tadhg

I think there's several really good reasons for the MMOG crowd to want to distinguish themselves from games.

The main one is that gamer culture is a very boyish, well-defined space, and since MMOGs are supposed to appeal to women more, or so they tell me, they might want to separate themselves at a biz level.

Secondly, it could be a design thing. Games don't have to have an end point, but they do have to have a struggle/competitive element for them to be games. There's no way out around this, because gameplay is competitive play through and through. Gameplay is all about beating, killing, figuring out, and so on. You may say 'what about mini-games to get a weapon?'. But there are many MMOG gamers that acts as charities, many more who really get into the games just to be social, and so on.

There are gamey aspects to the design of a MMOG, in otherwords, but there are also toy-ey aspects too. Toyplay is completely different from gameplay, and toyplay is what some people prefer. Hence, are they not MMOTs?

Well no, because then there's the whole social side, which doesn't have to be gamerish, and doesn't have to be toyish either. Maybe you just like to hang out and quaff imaginary ales.

Thirdly, and maybe best, its because they're a new thing and maybe the creators of these new things don't fancy getting bogged down in the nightmare psychodrama of the games industry as it stands, and so they're adopting a little distance.

Charles E. Hardwidge

"there is currently a very widespread, strongly anti-intellectual stance towards game design (design, not production or programming or art, which developers have become very process-minded about) in the industry. For a lot of developers the discussion begins and ends with "fun"."

Not here, sunshine.

"because they threaten to "restructure the realities of the industry" in which Scott and Co. have become successful organisms"

Restructure gaming? I've heard that before. Are you the shockingly cultured one or a doppleganger?

"I agree with you, but. . . can I have a spanking anyway?"

Whips, rope, or chain?

"So, Scott, it seems like you are coming down of the side of narrative in gaming rather than play mechanics. Or am I reading too much in to your response to this one issue?"

I'm not sure anything can be read into Scotts comments. What I'm sure about is gameplay and narrative head off in two seperate directions. The weight of history suggests a split is inevitable. Rather than the tin ear and lead feet of current industry reaction I'd say this is the biggest opportunity to hit them for a generation. I doubt they'll listen. Nobody ever does.

Tadhg

"I'm not sure anything can be read into Scotts comments. What I'm sure about is gameplay and narrative head off in two seperate directions. The weight of history suggests a split is inevitable. Rather than the tin ear and lead feet of current industry reaction I'd say this is the biggest opportunity to hit them for a generation. I doubt they'll listen. Nobody ever does."

Where's gameplay going to head off to exactly? It doesn't seem to have anywhere to go. I wrote a huge post about this in my blog recently, but nobody listens to me either. :)

Charles E. Hardwidge

"Where's gameplay going to head off to exactly? It doesn't seem to have anywhere to go. I wrote a huge post about this in my blog recently, but nobody listens to me either. :)"

Hey, cool. I'll check out your blog when I've sobered up and caught some zeds. We can ignore each other. :D

Gameplay has so many places to go it's embarrassing. The game I'm working on is based off a second revision of a six year old design and it's still fresh. Sheesh. Not only that, new ideas expanding on the original concept hit from time to time. I can't say whether they're any good or not. That's for the customer to judge. What I can say, for me, is the end of gameplay keeps slipping away like a half remembered dream.

I have a number of thoughts about gameplay and content that I'm not going to share on the World Wide Wack (TM). What I will share, that's on-topic, is that I think the language discussion is framed in can set the direction of future endevour. I'll also add that gameplay is a medium not an end in itself. No big argument here. Just another perspective. I guess it's a question of priority.

From you blog: "Did you know that the screenplay as it exists today did not in fact start life that way?"

No kidding me. Check out the history of the novel. It's a rollercoaster ride. Dracula? Woooooh. Proto-novel extraordinaire. Absolute effing genious. Pardon me.

isaac

Scott, as I read your post, I thought perhaps you were playing "quantifiable" off my comment on Greg's blog but the date's wrong. Just as well because my comment there reads like a troll. :(

I've been working on these same problems (describing game thinking) in ernest for a bit. Started from my old opionion of games-as-gestalts I realized that, just as general diversified psychology had assimilated the important parts of gestalt psychology and moved on, perhaps I should also. Not that using gestalt ideas can't be of use in practical art theories. (please see "Art and Visual Perception", R. Arnheim) But establishing arguments based in outmoded psychology or philosophy is foolish. Lo and behold I look to neurology and, shazam!

While I don't agree with "Who cares?" precisely, I swear I'm am very much on the side of "Isn't this just too much?" After a couple of beers, on the side of "$#!* pedants!"

Being dumb it's no surprise I just don't get it. But where's the "science" in this media science? So much hypothesis. So little clarity. All the models I'm treated to view are descriptive; none of them provide the opportunity to make meaningful observations. I keep reading words like "good", "fun", or "success" in the middle of an ontological argument.

But if one cannot walk away with an orthogonal view of "game" (one in which we are not treated to erroneous uses of "boundary case" to justify the inclusion of certain game types), then the matter is being botched via overcomplication. Further, spending n number of pages on the issue and not simply suggesting that "games" be "games" and begin our classification by associating properties such as "degree of formality", "valuation type", etc... I would like some rationale why as it seems were are gaining nothing the other way.

John Beeler

What about games that you replay? Where is the intrinsic value of an ending in that? Can't EQ then be described as a series of games that's contained within a chat environment?

I think what we're struggling with here are the limitations of the word game when applied to video games. In more cases than one, they've exceeded the parameters on one level, and on a more mainstream level are not so much games anymore. What about the interactive fiction Photopia? Is that a game, even though it has an ending and puzzles to deter you from reaching the ending?

Brian Weaver

Isn't it theoretically possible for a chess game to go on forever? In fact certian moves in chess lead to endless recycling of the moves. Is that sufficiant to not call chess a game?

Jeffool

Chess could go on forever if you wanted it to, but the game itself does have a winning condition. So it's not quite the same as what we're talking here. Tetris (best game ever), while it has a losing condition, has no winning one.

I'm not sure if that counts in their view of 'gameworlds' either, really. But I tend to agree with the thought "It's a game." and counter any backtalk with a rousing chorus of "Ooooh!" like in that edited GI Joe short, many of which have been making internet rounds.

Charles E. Hardwidge

"Isn't it theoretically possible for a chess game to go on forever?"

Not if a board position has been repeated three times and a player calls draw, or the game is played against a clock.

Going back to Zimmerman's definition of a game, I think he's technically correct to raise the distinction between conclusive and non-conclusive games. We also know the popular understanding of screenplays and novels has changed over the past century or so. Like the difference between an action movie and a documentry, are some genres of games breaking away from their roots to form a different species? If that's the case I think a new name is inevitable. Given the taxonomy questions could be considered a a matter of opinion, will a new name be more meaningful and useful?

Bill Crosbie

This is a repost from my blog - sorry for the breach of blog comment etiquette. It's just that I don't have my permalinks working properly just yet.

I think this *might* be a useful reframing since others have suggested that the problem is with the term "game". However, I am not sure if Reversal Theory has been subsumed or marginalized by advances in psychology, so I ask everyone to take this with a block of salt the size of brick.

----
State of Play - what constitutes a game
I've been following this discussion since the State of Play and I have to agree with Greg Costikyan that the definition of game proposed by Eric Zimmerman and Katie Salen seems to be lacking in some regards. This is not due to any great fault on their part, just to the difficulty of the task of coing up with a one-size-fits-all definition.

I came across this passage during my research and I think it provides a useful reframing of the issue in terms of 'play' rather than 'game'. This is important because, as has been argued on TerraNova as well as on G*D*A*C, the boundaries of what consititutes a game are blurry and differ from person to person. However central to everyone's discussion (and please correct me if I'm mistaken) is the notion that how the player chooses to play is up to them, and might subvert the intention of the designers of the game.

The following is from Adult Play - A Reversal Theory Approach (p136).

In a remarkable book, Finite and Infinite Games (1986), James Carse suggests that all human activity, by virtue of being human, is involved in one or another game. Human Culture is an intricate kaleidoscope of games being played, consciously or unconsciously. Carse distinguishes between two types of games, finite and infinite. These are not two different games such as chess and cricket, but two ways of playing what may very well be the *same cultural game*. [emph. added] Finite gaming has a specific and definiable goal, and one plays the game in order to achieve it. Infinite gaming is playing for the sake of playing. Though there may be temporary goals, these are neither the original nor the immediate reason for playing. One plays the game becasue one enjoys doing so - like dancing, where the objective is not to get to the other side of the dance floor, or to win a dance contest, but to dance. The psychological result (or cause) of the different modes of playing is that finite play typically becomes very serious, where as infinite play is primarily playful.

By focusing on the intent of the player rather than the intent of the designer it becomes possible for some games designed as infinite experiences to become finite in nature (powerleveling in everquest) or for finite games to be played as infinite (insert your own experience here).

Charles E. Hardwidge

"By focusing on the intent of the player rather than the intent of the designer it becomes possible for some games designed as infinite experiences to become finite in nature (powerleveling in everquest) or for finite games to be played as infinite (insert your own experience here)."

Indeed.

I'm personally of the opinion that most games are inherently disposable because they don't provide sufficient range or intensity of stimulation to external intent. Another way of putting it is game skills aren't portable to the external world, nor do they sufficiently stimulate the internal world of the player. My earlier argument is based on this external intent becoming the primary reason for playing a game rather than the game itself. (I see the ill-defined gameplay as a mere vehicle for serving the higher purpose of delivering a story, experience, and personal growth of the game player.) I'm not sure whether a game is open or closed comes into this equation.

Ummm, hope that made some sort of sense.

Scott Miller

Lot's of great comments, everyone.

-- "Perhaps game designers might falter when they dwell excessively on their own role in any definition of a 'game,' and try to retain complete design ownership of the play experience. In many cases, games ultimately belong only to their players and how they choose to utilize the designer's framework."

Jennifer, here's where I stand: Define the word "game" however you or anyone wants, but it should never change a developer's concept or design. For example, if an industry definition emerges that says a necessary component is conflict, then that might influence developers to insure that their design includes conflict. This is bad because it might turn designers away from making something like The Sims or Dance Dance Revolution. So, whatever definition academia or whomever comes up with for "game," I encourage developers to ignore it.

Other definitions have tangible value within the industry, though, such as one for gameplay, gameworld, possibility space, game mechanic, and so on. These are useful for developers to communicate with each other.

-- "Scott, it seems like you are coming down of the side of narrative in gaming rather than play mechanics. Or am I reading too much in to your response to this one issue?"

Bill, I see them both as important, and do not necessarily favor one over the other. In our current two projects, we're trying hard to integrate narrative within the gameplay itself and never take control away from the player during plot points, dialog, and important story reveals. In first-person games we believe this is especially important to keep the player fully immersed. And we've establish several guidelines that we're following that all prioritize player immersion and control as the two most important factors -- these are our dual prime directives.

Undeniably, many games are significantly improved with good narrative. Integrated narrative is the big hurdle, and no game has done it nearly as well as is possible, yet. The original Half-Life took a good step in the right direction, but its story is actually much more shallow that most players realize (which shows the power of telling the story in an immersive fashion, which is Half-Life's strongest claim being a pioneer for the FPS genre). The common concern, of course, is that narrative and gameplay are like oil and water. And while it's true you don't play the story itself, if done well it's a compelling component that will greatly improve the overall playing experience.

Charles E. Hardwidge

"Define the word "game" however you or anyone wants, but it should never change a developer's concept or design. For example, if an industry definition emerges that says a necessary component is conflict, then that might influence developers to insure that their design includes conflict. This is bad because it might turn designers away from making something like The Sims or Dance Dance Revolution. So, whatever definition academia or whomever comes up with for "game," I encourage developers to ignore it."

I agree that definitions can be restrictive which is why I'm arguing for new definitions to be allowed and encouraged to emerge. They can also serve to propel and mould the future in a positive direction. In that, I think, our disagreement is a surface thing.

Shutting the door to discussion between the various involved parties make the free flow of ideas and future growth more difficult than it need be. Better we search for a vibrant consensus. This blog is a positive start.

Hmmm, fabula venatio. It has a certain ring to it. :)

"I see them both as important, and do not necessarily favor one over the other. In our current two projects, we're trying hard to integrate narrative within the gameplay itself and never take control away from the player during plot points, dialog, and important story reveals. In first-person games we believe this is especially important to keep the player fully immersed."

Quantocius quantotius.

Buns

Doesn't a game by any other name smell as sweet? A game is a game is a game...

Eric von Rothkirch

What I find amusing about the game vs. not-game is that when boiled down to basics, it's simply two definitions in game theory (more or less). Zero sum, and non-zero sum.

Zero Sum: Winner & Loser, Defined outcome.

Non-Zero Sum: Undefined outcome. No defined winner or loser. In the context of video games, these are more 'sandbox' style of play.

MMORPGs are simply Non-Zero Sum games. You don't really 'win' or 'lose'. Most of them don't even have an end goal. The goal is to just play...

But there are also games with a mixture of the two. GTA3 is a good example. Most of the gameplay is non-zero-sum, however there is a zero sum element in that you can 'complete' the game, or at least the main story.

The problem of definition and terms for game design could be solved by looking at other fields of study, and reading some books in those areas. Many other fields have already solved the problems game designers face. We're a long way from reversing the current industry trend of working harder instead of smarter.

JP

Your definitions of zero-sum and non-zero-sum are incorrect. Zero sum simply means that A) all players compete for the same victory resource(s), and B) there is a finite amount of those resources in all current and future game states (the game world, in more familiar terms). In a zero-sum game, anything that benefits you hurts your opponent(s) either directly or indirectly.

Many cooperative games are wholly non-zero-sum, and most MMOs have non-zero-sum submechanics, but what about MMOs where factions can fight one another for control of territory?

Zero-sum and non-zero-sum are very cut and dried, common-use game theory terms, and they're rather flimsy as a lexicographical divining rod - under that definition co-op Doom, Snakes and Ladders, and Monkey Island are not games.

Eric von Rothkirch

"Your definitions of zero-sum and non-zero-sum are incorrect. Zero sum simply means that A) all players compete for the same victory resource(s), and B) there is a finite amount of those resources in all current and future game states (the game world, in more familiar terms). In a zero-sum game, anything that benefits you hurts your opponent(s) either directly or indirectly."

I wasn't going for a Game Theory Textbook Definition. Does this not define a winner and a loser? I'm at a loss as to how the concept of winner/loser is 'incorrect' for the definition of a zero-sum game. Also, win/lose (regardless of the victory resource or how it is measured) establish a defined outcome; winning or losing.


"Many cooperative games are wholly non-zero-sum, and most MMOs have non-zero-sum submechanics, but what about MMOs where factions can fight one another for control of territory?"

Nobody said that a video/computer game couldn't have both of these gameplay types! GTA3 certainly does if you can consider the AI a computer-controlled 'player'. You're either helping one faction or another in the missions. But a lot of the 'sandbox' gameplay of GTA3 is non-zero sum. Jumping cars for points is one example.


"Zero-sum and non-zero-sum are very cut and dried, common-use game theory terms, and they're rather flimsy as a lexicographical divining rod - under that definition co-op Doom, Snakes and Ladders, and Monkey Island are not games."


What everyone is nitpicking are styles of gameplay, whether they realize it or not. It's not really about games vs. non-games. Gameplay in most cases either falls under zero-sum or non-zero sum, depending on how willing you are to adapt game theory terms to video games. If you're not willing, then you need to invent a new set of terms for differentiating what appears to be predominantly two styles gameplay. Hence my comment about working harder, not smarter.


Charles E. Hardwidge

Eric, game theory has been around for a long time. The definitions are widely accepted and quite sound. Games can also be a hybrid and be comprised of games within games. Nobody is disputing that, neither are they disputing that the game industry shouldn't draw on fields outside of the traditional demarcations or be prepared to invent new terms that are useful. If I read you correctly, that's what I think you meant.

You say "everyone" is nitpicking gameplay. If I can clarify, I have no disagreement with established theory. My angle is that the term "game" isn't appropriate for the experience many games have typically become. The argument is gameplay for certain classes of games has become a medium not an end in itself, hence my coining of the term "fabula venatio." (Translation from Latin: Story superior.) Some of you may understand the reference by its use in the song "Oh! You Pretty Things" by David Bowie.

Dave

Not calling MMOGs games is ridiculous. As Scott said, "If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck." I think some game developers are getting a little too big for their britches and trying to throw "Gaming Philosophy" around to sound more important. The "quantifiable conclusion" of a game is the player walking away from the game having had fun. Many of the the games we used to love had no end in sight, and they we're definately fun.

In the long run, it's up for developers to design an environment that allows the players lots of opportunities to make decisions, those are multiple conclusions. Cause and effect. Just because games are looking more realistic, having better AI and allowing massive numbers of people playing in an online environment doesn't change the fact that it's just a game.

Chris Cummings

Scott,
Point #1: Salen/Zimmerman make this exact same observation after arriving at their definition of game (p.82), acknowledging that any game definition is inherently ambiguous. *shrug*

Point #2: Asteroids, Space Invaders, Pac Man, Defender, and Robotron all keep score, which is a quantifiable conclusion to every play session.

Hey man, nice blog. =)

Scott Miller

-- "Point #2: Asteroids, Space Invaders, Pac Man, Defender, and Robotron all keep score, which is a quantifiable conclusion to every play session."

True, you can make that claim and it's hard to argue against. But, I prefer to think of scoring as a progress report, not a true conclusion or win condition.

It's a big hairy fuzzy grey area.

Dee Lacey

Traditional games that don't have end conclusions: Tag, hide & seek, doctor, cowboys and indians, house. You could argue that when "It" catches someone, that is the end of a game of tag, but it isn't; the game goes on, the caught person now being "It." The game can go on forever. There is a goal -- catch, and avoid being caught; it is zero sum; but it doesn't have defined end conditions. It's still a game. Hide and Seek is similar in structure.

Tag and Hide&Seek are roughly analogous to Everquest and similar online games; kill one monster, or be killed, could be considered an end, but it isn't.

The more general games I mentioned, like Cowboys&Indians, are more like freeform roleplaying games, the same sort of thing you'd do in a typical MUSH (or LARP for that matter).

[MUSH - multi user shared hallucination; LARP - live action role play]

Why would those be games when virtual worlds aren't?

My definition of game would be something like: a set of agreed-on rules and goals for a way to play, or the process of playing while following those rules and pursuing those goals.

markus friedl

hmmm...
just found a pretty interesting additional article about that topic (primarily discussing the difference between "game" and "play")...

"Playing and Gaming: Reflections and Classifications" by Bo Kampmann Walther

https://gamestudies.org/0301/walther/

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