Archives for the month of: July, 2012

Thanks to the talented Emeric Adrain, the official video for Interference is now online. Emeric shot the video at la Gaîté lyrique, where it is currently installed as part of the Play Along exhibition through mid-August.

Enjoy the shifting, swaying visuals that Emeric captured, as well as the bit-trippy soundtrack by Finnish sound artist Pastacas. Nathalie and I are very happy with the end result.

Interference was well-received in Paris and got some great coverage along with the entire Play Along exhibition at la Gaîté lyrique.

And a few non-Interference items:

New video and audio on the web.

  • Earlier this year, I appeared on a panel at the Smithsonian celebrating their landmark videogame exhibition. Here’s a video of the panel where I chat with some amazing people, including Mary Flanagan, Tracy Fullerton, Richard LeMarchand, and Colleen Macklin about games that were meaningful to each of us.
  • The Australian Broadcasting Company (the other ABC) created a marvelously detailed radio show about strategy boardgame culture, in which I help provide some theoretical and historical context.
  • And another video, this one of my lecture at MIT’s Sandbox Summit earlier this spring. The title of the lecture is “Games are not good for you” and it is a rant against the instrumentalization of games as learning vehicles.

Just a quick note to recognize Jeff Rubin’s recent podcast that focuses entirely on discussions around the Metagame.

I’m listening to it as I write this post, but what I love about the podcast so far is the way that Jeff and his two competitors Adam Conover and Jared Logan immediately begin redesigning the rules. About 10 minutes in, and they have made modifications to judging, player rotation, debating time, and scoring.

The Metagame is meant to be more of a “tennis ball” than a single designed game (to use designer Charles Pratt’s term for games that encourage open play). Players always end up modifying the Metagame to suit their own needs – in this case, a version that works well as a highly entertaining podcast.

Far from “spoiling” the design of the game, this is the design of the game. And in any case, players doing things that you didn’t anticipate is the sweetest pleasure a game designer can experience.

As part of my ongoing attempt to update my website, I’ve just added a few new pages about my game writings. These include pages on Rules of Play, The Game Design Reader, and a page with 21 essays I’ve written over the last 15 years.

It’s curious and satisfying to see all of the essays together on one web page. They range from highly practical articles about running an independent game studio to more theoretical essays on how game design can be considered a model for literacy. Many of the essays are out of print and a couple of them never actually got published, such as a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure interactive narrative called No Future I wrote with Frank Lantz back in 2001.

For those interested in the genealogy of Rules of Play, you can trace the evolution of key concepts in essays like Narrative, Interactivity, Play, and Games: Four naughty concepts in need of discipline and Rules, Play and Culture: Towards an Aesthetic of Games – an article I wrote with Frank that includes my first use of the term “magic circle” as well as the formal/experiential/cultural structure that became Rules of Play.

Many of the essays are very much reflections of the time in which they were written. The insurrectionary A Bill of Rights for Game Developers was written in 2005 – just as digital distribution was beginning to change everything. Do Independent Games Exist? from 2002 – published long before the rise of even the term “independent games” – still feels relevant.

Some of the essays are collaborations with former Gamelabbers – including Frank Lantz but also articles I wrote with game designer Nick Fortugno, designer/producer Catherine Herdlick, and Gamelab co-founder Peter Lee. Perhaps there really was something to that “culture of research” at Gamelab after all.

Enjoy the essays. Apologies in advance for the clunky format of some of the text.
You can find all 21 of them here.

Several months ago, Kotaku editor and game journalism impressario Stephen Totillo asked me to send him my thoughts on what makes a game good or bad. He included what I told him in an essay he wrote about the topic on Kotaku.

My response to his question was that there is no universal definition of what makes a game good or bad – in fact, it is part of a game designer’s work to define success for a particular game. This is complicated by the fact that games (in a classical sense) have no utilitarian function – they have no end outside themselves – as opposed to more functional forms of design like designing a fork or a car. Every game is a sort of system of pleasure, responsible for both stirring up needs and desires in players, and then frustrating and satisfying them in some way.

Stephen has his own answer to the question of what makes a game good or bad: for him it has to do with a game supplying “interesting choices” for participants. This is a great rule of thumb for designing engaging games, and in fact it’s very similar to the idea of “meaningful choice” – one of the central concepts of Rules of Play. Meaningful choice is simply the process by which a player is given choices, these choices have real outcomes, and the game communicates these outcomes to the player.

Actually, the concept of meaningful choice was almost my answer to Stephen’s original question about what makes a game good. But in the end I stopped myself from proposing even that basic idea. The problem with proposing a single model for a proper game is that any rule of “good design” is made to be broken, by some game or another, in some context sooner or later.

So yes, Stephen, “interesting choice” is a great way to understand what makes most games meaningful. And when I am teaching something like Introduction to Game Design, that’s the kind of model I use to help game design students understand the basic idea of engagement through choice and outcome in a game. So in that sense I’d absolutely agree with you.

But what if we took a wider view? Could we create a game that succeeded – despite giving players no meaningful choices at all? There may be some games that already fit this category: gambling games like slots or Roulette, or creation-based games like Exquisite Corpse. Perhaps in the end we’d no longer call it a game, but that is how cultural forms grow and change.

- – – -

Follow-up to some of the comments: The example of Guitar Hero is excellent – it does not appear to have choices because largely it is a contest of skill – which, like a footrace, does not appear at first glance to have any choices at all. Contests and games of chance (like Roulette) in their pure form do not have choices, but of course nothing ever exists in pure form. (Try telling Lance Armstrong that there are no strategic choices involved in a bike race!)

Several weeks ago, this wonderful little piece came out in the New York Times about Nathalie, myself, and our apartment.

Yes, our apartment. The Habitats column is written by Connie Rosenblum and it paints a portrait of New Yorkers by way of their living quarters. The apartment that Nathalie and I share is very much a reflection of my interests as a game designer (it is stuffed with games and toys) and includes some of Nathalie’s designs (our bookshelves and carpet are her design).

However, if you ask Nathalie,  the apartment is much more reflects my chaotic and colorful sensibility than her more austere aesthetic. Feel free to read the piece and judge for yourself.


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