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Contents: NEW
by Darren Tomlyn on 03/11/11 11:37:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


I'm going to have each post linked to and from here in order to keep everything consistent for ease of use.


Part 1A: The Problem With The Word Game (v3) Re-laying The Foundations Of Our Understanding Of (our) Language

Part 1B: Problems With Recognising And Applying The Basic Rules Of English Grammar

Part 2: Descriptions Of Behaviour

Part 3: Defining The Word Game

Part 4: Competition and Competitions

Part 5: Puzzles

Part 6: Art and Its Relationship With Games



OLD: Part 1: Problems With The Word Game

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Cody Kostiuk
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This may be an ignorant question, but (in simple terms) what to you want to accomplish with this series on video game linguistics?

I find myself agreeing with many of your points (very insightful stuff), but I don't fully grasp the problem(s) that will be solved. How will linguistic truths solve largely philosophical arguments?

Darren Tomlyn
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Well - the intro in the first part should give some of that away - (a new understanding and definition of what the term cRPG is representing, or rather should be used to describe and represent) - but that is just the first step in understanding what I see as being possible for games, based upon it's current use and definition, how and why. (I'm going to be ripping to pieces/examining cRPG's based upon everything I'm writing and have written so far - and without the consistent foundation upon which I'm building, most of that will not be fully recognised or understood...).

But, as I said, that (cRPG's) is still not everything I want to talk about - it's still merely part of what's possible, not all of it... (Based on what I see).

EDIT: I mean, I could tell you the basis of what I see, right now, and what I've given you so far in the parts I've written, (mainly the part on the word game itself), might be enough to understand it - or at least have a good idea of what it represents. But I don't know.

As I said above, the whole point about this blog is getting to the point where this can be discussed in a fairly basic, low level manner - (though without having to deal with any specifics in the programming, save some of the basic maths involved - (since I'm not a programmer - (though I still remember a bit of Sinclair basic!)).

Some of what I see is starting to happen, indeed some games have been involving some of this for a while, but the problem is that the full potential of these elements still have to be reached, since they still have a tendency to exist in isolation, in a fairly limited manner...

What we're talking about, fundamentally is:

Games that include, as part of the game-play - (the written story) - (user-defined) setting/game-play/game-play mechanics DEVELOPMENT (over time). Indeed, even the basics of some of these - (without the development itself) - can still be improved upon as things stand.

Cody Kostiuk
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>>> "As I said above, the whole point about this blog is getting to the point where this can be discussed in a fairly basic, low level manner..."

That's what I thought. I think I said this before, but there is huge value in that.

>>>"Some of what I see is starting to happen, indeed some games have been involving some of this for a while, but the problem is that the full potential of these elements still have to be reached, since they still have a tendency to exist in isolation, in a fairly limited manner... "

Are you talking about "low level discussions" here? I have no idea what you mean by that paragraph.

I don't know if you are familiar with David Sirlin's site, but I highly recommend this series on writing (a very enjoyable, easy read). I mean these links in a constructive and encouraging way. I just get a bit lost in your writing (though I still find it very interesting) and I wonder if it's my lack of comprehension or your lack of being concise... or both. ;-)

Anyway, I do look forward to reading more of your stuff.

Darren Tomlyn
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The nature of the language I use in writing my blog posts, is merely a side-effect of the nature of the subject being discussed.

Since the basic problem underpinning everything is so basic and fundamental, there's not really any other way of attempting to describe it. Concise language isn't going to work either - due to such problems not existing in isolation - it means that I HAVE to describe these problems (so far) in relation to each other, their application and the rest of the language as a whole, both as it currently exists, and as it should/needs to exist.

The nature of the language used to describe what other words in the language represent is the very heart of this problem - which causes problems of its own in describing the whole matter too...

>>>"Some of what I see is starting to happen, indeed some games have been involving some of this for a while, but the problem is that the full potential of these elements still have to be reached, since they still have a tendency to exist in isolation, in a fairly limited manner... "<<<

Some of what I see - what this paragraph is concerned about - is a reference to the content of the final paragraph, in that some games have been involving some of that - (user-defined) setting/game-play/game-play mechanics DEVELOPMENT (over time) - but generally in isolation - (just the setting, or the gameplay etc.) - and in a limited manner.

Everything that is needed or referenced to in my posts - is always contained within the posts or linked to if necessary.

Cody Kostiuk
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Fair enough. I do recommend reading Sirlin's articles on writing though. Sirlin speaks at your level of confidence and passion.

However, I'm still curious as to how you believe your proposed nomenclature will affect philosophical arguments. For example, you'll comment in an art discussion that games are not art (by your definitions), but the crux of the argument is should games be held to the same degree of cultural revere that other media forms already enjoy (the sublime, an "art" status). In that example, I'd say let's not argue about semantics, but you obviously are. I find myself agreeing with your definitions, but it's not affecting my philosophical opinions. I still think games are art. Of course, that's art in the sense that you suggest people are misusing it... so what word should I be using instead? And if I use a different word, how does that solve the argument?

Darren Tomlyn
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I wasn't ever planning on discussing philosophy in my blog - just viewing games (and cRPG's especially) based upon the premise offered by the definition of the word game I have given, based on an examination of how the word is used, and re-building and examining them, based on such a definition and perspective.

How an individual game can build and use such elements I'll be discussing is not, at this time, within the scope of this blog.

I think the problem you have is two-fold:

a) That the act/process of MAKING/DESIGNING games is in fact an art, even if what is being made/created is not.

b) What games exist to enable and promote cannot ever be considered art, being literally an application of the opposite form/type of behaviour, and is therefore incompatible with art itself. The problem you have, along with many other people, (mainly because of the previous uses and definitions of the word game), is coming to terms with what the word game itself truly represents, based on how it is used NOW, today - and that they are, and can, (if not should be), held in a similar light for humanity as a whole, to art itself, along with puzzles and competitions. What the word game has now come to represent HAS always been used and viewed by humanity in a very important fashion, it's just that because of the long winding road the word game took to represent such a thing, its etymology is now being used against it.

Games, art, competition(s), puzzles, work and play all represent basic applications of basic behaviour. Obviously, competition, (as an application of compete), is probably the most basic and simple of all, but that's because it is not always of our own creation - it exists naturally without needing our input.

Games, art, puzzles and competitions, as applications of behaviour we create, are ALL very important for humanity as a whole. Just because art represents the activity of creating something - even games, puzzles and competitions - doesn't mean that's what they are or should be viewed as. Games, puzzles and competitions can all use art to enable their existence too, of course, but trying to define them as such does them a GREAT disservice, and belittles what it is they represent.

The problem is that so many people still think the word game = play even though it cannot do so any longer, (though it used to mean just that - about 800 years ago), and as such, again, fail to understand just how basic, simple and fundamental games are to humanity as a whole - completely independently of art. Games, puzzles and competitions are as much a part of the fabric of humanity as art itself, and should not be confused for each other - which is, unfortunately, happening at this time. Games are extremely powerful precisely BECAUSE they are NOT art. But that leads into many other discussions...

Cody Kostiuk
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In a post about games as art, I asked... "If you were watching a film and all of a sudden the picture stopped and a question came up for you to decide if the protagonist should go left or right, would it it stop being art?"

To which you replied... "Nope - it would merely become a puzzle in addition to being a work of art."

So in that instance, an interactive film is both art and a puzzle. So why is that example considered to be both art and a puzzle, yet video games are not art at all? Making a simple choice to go left or right is not that much more different than traversing a video game's labyrinth only to be treated to a cinematic cut scene based on the choices made. Could you not say that video games are art in addition to being puzzles, competition, play, etc.?

Darren Tomlyn
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I've always made a distinction between games and video games...

Asking if video games are art is like asking if an oak table is wood. Video has nothing to do with the definition of the word game whatsoever, and shouldn't even be used to label a type of game either - since it is NOT the medium being used - a COMPUTER is. Art is just a condition of the medium used, the same as a picture is for a board game, and we don't call them 'picture games' do we?

The term 'video' game is inconsistent with how the word game is used elsewhere in the language and is therefore part of the problem in understanding and recognising the relationship between art and game etc..

Game != art

Puzzle != art

Competition(s) != art

Though the act/process of making or designing such things, is art...

Glen Cooney
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I'm going to be honest with you, here: I think it you want any hope that people will listen to what you have to say here, you're going to have to condense this waaaaaay down. Your blogs are some of the most longwinded and confusing things I've ever read. You do make some good points here and there, but they are buried under mountains of filler, overanalysis, and consistently odd sentence construction.

If you hope to have anyone understand (or care about) what your talking about it, my advice to you is to try to make these more concise. A LOT more concise.

Darren Tomlyn
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I'm sorry - not possible, without leaving too much out that IS actually important - even if you do not recognise it yourself.

The problem my blog is built upon is almost AS BIG AS IT GETS, so understanding and recognising that it covers and affects so much, and so being able to cover as many related problems and symptoms - (all of which I've come across during my research and discussions with other people over the last 5/6 (or is it 7 now?) years) - is not just useful, but often NECESSARY.

Imagine trying to write a blog about equations, and finding that the relationship between addition and subtraction isn't being recognised consistently, and then realising that it's happening because the basic philosophy guiding people's ability to count is 'upside down'. Do you think being able to just describe addition and subtraction for what they represent in isolation would do much good if people have no idea how to apply them consistently, because how they are applied can only be understood in relation to how the numerical system functions in the first place? All of a sudden - the amount of substance the blog needs to cover multiplies heavily, especially since you realise that you can't really make any assumptions about prior knowledge, since that is what's causing the problems in the first place!!!

(Hey, at least people know what numbers/letters are, right?)

So, yes, I have made some basic assumptions in my blog, which I feel is appropriate - that people know the alphabet and the language enough to be able to read it in the first place.

Unfortunately - and this is causing certain problems for individual people - I cannot assume much more than that, or the problems I see WOULD NOT EXIST.

As you can imagine - figuring out HOW to write such a thing, by being able to give the required information to EVERY INDIVIDUAL READER, is impossible. I cannot know exactly what prior knowledge or problems each reader will have, so I have to cover as much as I can, especially if informed about such problems, based on the discussions and feedback given... (Which pre-date the blog at this location!)

Any information you read that you feel is not relevant - or 'filler' as you put it - I can tell you IS necessary - just obviously not for YOU.

Obviously, if I were to write a proper academic paper on the subject - (or rather papers) - then I could probably make far more assumptions about the knowledge and understanding of the reader - but I don't know how to do that, (I'm not at Uni), so...