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A Defense of Gameplay part.6
by Richard Terrell on 04/28/12 12:16:00 pm   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.

[A recap of the series of articles, and closing comments on why I love gameplay.]

  • "Modern gamers do not like gameplay" is a bold statement designed to get us to consider what is gameplay, what we like in our games, and how we discuss these topics. If you do not know what you like in gaming and why, I encourage you to investigate.
  • The definition of "game" has several parts (rules, variable outcomes, valued outcomes, player influence). Understanding these parts makes it easy to identify what gameplay is and its nature. 
  • Gameplay is about as straightforward as playing a game. But it gets trickey because what we commonly call video games are products that can feature various amounts of interactive and non-interactive content. Furthermore, not all interactive content involves systems that are games. Gameplay specifically means the use of mechanics (player actions) within a game system generally to win or a positively valued outcome. 
  • Though not all games are complex, are winnable, or are very interactive, many are. Complexities are important for giving designers the ability to create unique and representative content. 
  • Because games require participation and tend to be complex, learning is a big part of nearly all gameplay experiences. We gain knowledge of a game through learning just like we do when learning anything else. Because learning is a low and repetitive process, so too is the nature of gameplay. 
  • Learning requires time, effort, focus, which is basically hard work. The upshot is when you play a skill-based game your victories are real victories and your failures are real as well. And because learning is difficult (requiring work) and games are challenging by nature, gameplay inherently involves a lot of failure. Many people do not find this fun, or as fun as other forms of (passive) entertainment.
  • As the industry grows so too does the mainstream audience. Tapping into the mainstream can be extremely profitable for game developers. For this reason, there have been trends in gaming that include a lowering of the skill floor and the integration of more passive forms of entertainment. 
  • With the emergence of the mainstream audience we can consider underlying cultural motivations that may influence the desires of the masses to help us understand why certain trends exist in the gaming industry. 
  • Finally, there are many complaints gamers make that reveal a lack of gameplay as their experiential priority when playing video games. It's one thing to express disappointment of a feature. But it's clear that when one complains about qualities inherent to gameplay and demand features that have nothing to do with gameplay or even work against it, that one doesn't have a love for gameplay. 
For the Love of Gameplay
There is a whole range of ideas and experiences that are not well communicated via text, visuals, audio, or any other means except through the interactivity in a rule-based system. I have lived a life full of such experiences that I am driven to express. I write fiction, non-fiction, make visual art of many kinds, compose music, and make films. If any combination of these mediums could convey all of the ideas I cherish, I probably wouldn't be writing this article series or this blog for that matter. With the same respect that I have for people and the way we interact in life, I want to share experiences with people by building these rule-based gameplay systems in hope that the players will meet me half way. I want players to dig in a bit, put in some work, have some fun, and meet me gazing into the novelty framed by my design. 

I love the half-reality of video game gameplay in particular. I love how gameplay systems are fair, consistent, and responsive. I love how regardless of my feelings and opinions that there's no other way to reach that victory screen than to buckle down and put in the work. I love how putting myself throughthe squeeze quiets the weakest parts of myself, while the version of me that I hope to become grows stronger in silence. I love listening to the thoughts of my inner mind develop from comments, to sentences, to speeches, to entire dynamic conversations as the learned complexities of the system gives me that inner language. 
I love gameplay because everything I just described deals with real complexity, real details, and real consequences. Because I have to participate and learn to make gameplay work, I bring the real me to the equation; exactly half of the equation. I find that the squeeze and the struggle to test my limits in the system reflect myself so clearly it's frightening. It' scary that I can see my life baggage manifest in how I play games and the excuses I make. It's chilling to see the same bad habits and tendencies from life creep up in my playstyle. And it's beyond exciting to take the same lessons and techniques from any other complex, skill-based system and apply it to the game. And visa versa! 
Some people find enduring the squeeze in any system incredibly stifling to their creativity, expression, and freedom. I find that not being squeezed, shaped, or otherwise influenced by an external force to be stifling. To me, ignorance is not bliss. Rather, knowledge is power. The more I avoid embracing and learning complexities the less creative and expressive I am. I've talked to so many aspiring creators who were absolutely obsessed with creating something "no one else has created before." It's great to want to be original and express yourself, but you can't truly strive for this goal unless you survey what everyone else has created. Putting on blinders and burying yourself within your own world of ideas and knowledge will only have the opposite effect that you want. It's by studying what others do, considering why they do it, and finding out what you would do differently that you find your true expression. I've found that anyone who clings to "freedom" and avoids the squeeze simply dooms themselves to repeat their same choices. They aren't free at all, but trapped by the lure of the familiar and the dangers of sympathetic resonance.  
By enduring the squeeze I find that I learn novel things about the system and myself. Did you realize that the novelty is the new perspective and understanding that opens up to reflect the system and you? I've learned so many things about myself that I would have never discovered if I wasn't limited. To use a funny metaphor; I love to dance. If you put weighted shoes on my feet I'll dance like a robot. If you tie my legs together, I'll do the worm. If you bind me into a chair, I'll work on arm-waves. If you restrict my arms, I bob my head. No matter how you limit me, I'll find a way to express myself. If you don't limit me at all, I'll likely never discover how to express myself with my head alone. 
Recently I realized the gravity of my work here at Critical-Gaming. My quest to find the language to talk about game design has also been a quest to describe and defend gameplay. Now that I've explained so clearly why gameplay is such an odd and unique type of entertainment, I realize that my aspirations to become a game designer might put me into a battle where I am vastly outnumbered. In other words, I'm not what anyone would consider a mainstream gamer due to any eclectic or discerning tastes in video games. It may be that I'm not a mainstream gamer because I have one particular difference in my tastes. I love gameplay. And I always have since I was a little boy. This simple difference puts me on a particular side of this waring industry. And nearly everything that I've written and everything that I understand about game design pushes me deeper into my trenches. 
"Every author, as far as he is great and at the same time original, has had the task of creating the taste by which he is to be enjoyed: so has it been, so will it continue to be." ~William Wordsworth (1815)
At least, that's the grim view of things. The way things are now are actually quite interesting. While there are many AAA and indie games that aren't design with gameplay as the main selling point, there are plenty of gameplay games to go around. I think this diversity is a good thing. I realize that most of what I strive for in terms of innovations in game design are true innovations of gameplay. After 4+ years of writing on this blog, I have the language to explain all of my ideas. So for the next half-year or so, I'll be making games and writing to get us all on the same page. 
The Defense rests.  

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JB Vorderkunz
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In this series, you've displayed passion, intelligence and coherence - but you are definitely fighting a Sysiphean battle. There are a lot of people who play games b/c they do want the easy and the familiar, and frankly, there isn't anything intrinsically wrong with that: it just happens to be contrary to your personal tastes. I love to trail run, it's exhilarating and physically challenging, but I'm not going to waste energy complaining about all the people who don't like to exercise because it's just that - unproductive. I think you should focus on making the games you want to make, and finding joy in that pursuit - trying to convert the 'heathens' is just going to drain your energy. =]

[edit: also that pic is awesome! I think my parents have a similar one, except my sister and I are fighting over the GB]

Richard Terrell
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@ JB

Thanks, but this wasn't written to convert anyone. I also expressed that I think there's nothing wrong with not liking gameplay. I just want people to own up to who they are and be able to express themselves clearly. Part of doing this is using clear language and understanding what terms mean. The series is about understanding what gameplay is, why it's different than you might expect, and why I like it.

I guess that wasn't too clear?
The ending ideas were about how I can better communicate my ideas to people after everything that was covered.

JB Vorderkunz
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No I think you were pretty clear in explication: I guess I was reading into your intent based on the contextual factors. I.e., I think on this particular website most of the readers are pretty clear on what gameplay is and how to talk about it, so posting the series here made me think that you might have had a 'evangelical' motive lurking around somewhere. I guess I've seen (and honestly instigated once or twice) plenty of terminological discussions here, that were ultimately about 'converting' others to the OP's point of view. Sorry if I let past experiences color my reading of your stuff =]

Richard Terrell
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No worries.

Robert Boyd
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Wow, there's so much in this series of articles that I disagree with that it would require a serious time commitment to refute everything so I'll just say go play Pac-Man: CE or Pac-Man: CE DX. Those two games are as close as we have to the video game equivalent of Go - extremely simple rules but immensely deep gameplay.

More and more complexities is not the sign of great gameplay. Developers who can figure out how to do more with less are the ones that show true mastery of the craft of gameplay design.

Mathieu Halley
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Along similar lines, it is worth noting is the distinction between complexity and complicatedness. For something to be complicated, it merely needs a large number of parts. For something to be complex, it doesn't necessarily require a large number of parts. But its parts do need to interact in such a way as to promote emergent behavior - gameplay in this case. And as mentioned, more complicated, intricate complexities do not necessarily lead to better gameplay; in fact the opposite is often true *looks towards Go and other examples of elegant yet complex gameplay systems*.

Though with that said, I'm not quite sure whether the author was trying to make an argument for intricate and complicated gameplay systems, or merely for gameplay systems (elegant or otherwise) that are interconnected meaningfully.
(...I have no idea whether that's too subtle of a distinction...)

Richard Terrell
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Well, summarize your thoughts and send me an email. Otherwise, enjoy your Pac-Man CE.

@ Mathieu Halley
Good point about complexity and "complicatedness."

True. The point of the series is not about complex games versus elegant/simple games. The series is about what gameplay is, what makes it unique, and why I love it.

k s
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All I want to say is this was a great read and that I too love gameplay, thanks for the posts.

Richard Terrell
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@k s

Thanks for reading.