[As part of his regular Gamasutra column, author/designer Ian Bogost (Fatworld) looks at 'texture' in games - connecting the virtual to the real via rumble and physical simulation, from Hard Drivin' to Rez.]
I enjoy the ancient Chinese strategy game Go, although I am hardly an expert. The open-source GnuGO AI built into the computer version of the game I play overpowers me much of the time.
After many years of having gone without, I recently received a Go board and set of stones as a gift. Immediately I noticed the most important difference between playing on the computer and off it: touching the board and the stones.
I had forgotten what a tactile game Go is. The black and white often have a different texture from one another, depending on the type and quality of stones one uses.
The feel and weight of them between the fingers somehow aids the pondering that comes with their placement.
Once the player chooses a move, placing the stone on a real board offers a far more tactile challenge than clicking an on-screen goban. The stones move, so disrupting the board is an easy feat that must be carefully avoided. Traditionally, Go players would hold a stone between the index and middle finger and strike their move, so as to create a sharp click against the wooden board.
Go is a cerebral, minimalist game that exudes purity and austerity. Computer versions of Go adapt these values unflappably. Although purists favor silence in selecting and holding a stone, for me Go is a game of rummaging for a stone in a smooth wooden bowl and stroking it in thought before placing it to mark territory.
These features are not unique to Go, but they are distinctive. In Chess, the pieces rest on the board, or off, never to be touched save to punctuate decision. Although both games are cerebral, Go is far more sensual.
Go reminds us that the physical world -- games included -- have texture. They offer tactile sensations that people find interesting on their own.
Texture in Media
In painting, texture is a more frequently recognized aspect of creativity. The word describes the weave of the canvas, the application of the medium upon it, and the interaction of the two. It is a feature that frequently earns mention among critics and casual observers alike as a fundamental part of the finished work.
Impressionist painters like Vincent Van Gogh used thick applications of paint, partly to recreate the effects of light on the surface of the canvas itself as well as in the subjects represented.
And Jackson Pollock's abstract expressionist work relies almost entirely on texture; Pollock even added grains of sand and shards of glass to his already viscous industrial paints to increase the texture of the finished work.
Other media adopt their own understandings of texture. In the culinary arts, texture refers to the physical sensation of a food in one's mouth, such as the crispness of a cucumber or the slipperiness of an oyster.
And in music, texture is used metaphorically to refer to the relationship between sounds and voices in a piece -- as if they were layered through time like paint on a canvas.