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Silent Conversations
by Marc Vousden on 07/25/11 11:28:00 am   Featured Blogs

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.

 

 

Online multi-player interaction has grown exponentially in a short space of time. Players can communicate through voice and text chat, customisation, tags etcetera. Friends lists, clans, social media links and other community building features let players interact more than ever before. Despite all of this communication, the times I’ve felt closest to other players have occurred in games with none of these features, one occurrence that comes to mind is Mario Kart DS.
 
Lakitu floating over my head, thumb ready to hit the accelerator to get a precious boost start. I prepared myself for a tough race. After a blistering start I was clipping apexes and power sliding like a pro. Suddenly I realise that my opponent is nowhere to be seen on the mini-map. How strange!
 
Ever the one for an interesting race rather than an easy win, I go back to the start to find my opponent bunny hopping on the start/finish line. At that moment we both understood, contrary to the “point” of the game, we weren't racing. From there we proceeded to explore off road,  trying to push each other off of the track and generally play around until the timer ran out. And it was good.

There is something akin to mind reading when you try to extrapolate the actions of others, trying to understand their intent and predict their actions. It’s inherently rewarding. Whether it be intercepting a pass in football, a checkmate in chess or an ambush in Call of Duty: understanding the situation and making a prediction is key.

The Mario Kart example stands out to me because our intent was so divorced from the implicit aim of a racing game. Most of the time the overall objective is obvious from the win condition of the rule set: you know they are trying to beat you. When the players intent is more ambiguous the process gets more interesting. Rather than “how are they trying to beat me” you have to ask yourself ”are they trying to beat me?” and then “what are they trying to beat me at?”.

Communication in games is often seen as a utility, that it should be as explicit and efficient as possible. The process of communication can be inherently game-like in itself, especially when trying to do so with very limited non-verbal means. The prospect of exploring this kind of interaction excites me a lot.

With thatgamecompany’s upcoming “Journey” reported to be dealing with some similar themes I’m looking forward to its impending autumn release.

 


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Comments


Jonathan Jennings
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I am looking forward to Journey too your story reminds me of a similar story in burnout paradise. being a game about crashing and racing there isn't always a whole lot to do especially if not everyone on the server wants to race. so I had spent much of my time collecting challenges and doing what else but crashing int stuff.. I forget what happened but somehow me and two other racers met up on a freeway. one of the racers speed off along the freeway and i begin chasing him and the other player begins chasing me and for the next 45 minutes we are racing along the freeway crashing into each other and racing on an imaginary course and we even pick up a few stragglers along the way but it was primarily just us 3 for that 45 minutes and it was great fun .



I have felt that way in demon souls as well . Even though other players may join you only for one level and you may never play together again it always really tugs at my heart strings when an ally goes down in that game. maybe because every level feels like a long trek to the end but truly they made me feel a level of companionship for other players I didn't feel for party members on numerous rpg's.



Journey should be incredible and I can't wait to play it and see what kind of memorable situations that brings for me and other players.

Kevin Fishburne
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Yes, non-verbal communication can be a thing of beauty. I remember playing Street Fighter II in the arcade when some random guy asked if he could join. I said, "Sure," and we were soon off. I proceeded to beat him senseless, leaving him dizzy and with little health. Waiting quietly for the moment just before the stars faded and he regained control, I delivered a single spinning backfist to finish him. He slapped the controls and walked away, neither of us saying a word.

Enrique Hernandez
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I got another one like yours:

I was playing street fighter 2, and some guy, like 10 years older than me (I was... I don't know, 10?) played against me.

I beat the crap out of him, he got up (it had a place to sit?) and slapped me really hard.

His friends were like: "hey, dude! wtf?"

so yeah, non-verbal communication ftw.

Kevin Fishburne
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Hahaha, damn. That's funny, but so wrong. You should have given him a spinning backfist to the dick and taken his quarters. Or maybe a shoryuken.



Reminds me of when my brother used to attack me after a tough match on the SNES version. My rages were more passive aggressive, as I mastered the art of throwing the SNES controller and hitting the Reset button with it.

Enrique Hernandez
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I know exactly what you mean.

I get the same experience in bad company 2. For example, imagine this situation:

you're going to activate the m-com (the objective while attacking), and you are with your squad, behind cover, and being shot at.

A certain number of things could happen:

1. We stay on cover and try to kill the enemies by showing our heads from time to time.

2. We all rush to the m-com in a suicide attempt

or 3. One of us goes to the m-com, and the others cover him. (If we could talk to each other)

How did we agree? I don't know because I wasn't talking with them, but if I go running, I trust that they will be covering me and the m-com after I have activated it (and possibly died)

But if one of them goes, I'll stay behind trying to distract the enemies, and if he activates it, trying to kill every enemy trying to deactivate it.



This is just an example, but things like this happen. Now, the thing is, did we have mental telepathy and agree to do this? probably not. Was it just my imagination? probably yes. But it's still cool when these things happen.



I forgot where I wanted to go with my comment, oh well.

Jonathan Lawn
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I agree that such "one night stands" are really rewarding when they work well. I'd like to see an MMO based on encouraging these as to be as frequent and rich as possible. (And I have some ideas for to do it, of course!)


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