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Video Games as Media

February 16, 2011 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next
 

[Tale of Tales' (The Path) Michaël Samyn explores the interplay between games and existing media, urging developers to have a full understanding of precisely what the elements of the medium they're working in add up to.]

Frank Lantz once argued that games are not media -- because they "do not carry an idea from one place to another." I tend to agree with him. But I like to add that "video games are not games."

A Different Kind of Games

When it comes to traditional games -- board games and card games, as well as children's games and even sports and dancing -- Lantz is clearly right.

Games establish a set of conditions within which humans play. Any meaning or message that comes out of the game is generated by the players, and was not enclosed in the game's design.

Video games have been similar to some of those traditional games for a long time. But there have always been remarkable differences. From the very beginning, many video games could be played by a person on their own. Many did not require opponents or partners, as most traditional games do.


Some of the best traditional games have no author.

(Girls playing Hide-and-seek. Photo by Jacques Lessard.)

Video games have also been almost exclusively designed on purpose by individuals or teams. While the origins of many of the best traditional games are vague and complex -- they are essentially authorless. And finally, at least for over a decade already, the presentation of video games on computers is often immeasurably more elaborate and sophisticated than anything we've seen in any of the other games, many of which can be presented through arbitrary tokens.

There's a tendency among developers to dismiss the visual presentation of a video game as "eye candy" or "skinning" or the evil necessary to appeal to a larger market. But what if we would take this presentation seriously instead? What if we look at video games as simulations of fictional realities, as representations of humans and their behavior, as aesthetic spectacles of images and sound and text and motion? Don't they start looking very similar to a medium then?

A Medium Unlike the Others

To be sure, video games are a medium unlike any before. The central role of the player and their ability to interact and change the presentation, makes video games rather unsuitable for the kind of expressive or informative art that we are used to associating with media. But what if we look at this capacity for change as an opportunity rather than a restriction?


Building fictional worlds around the player.

(Assassin's Creed by Ubisoft)

Why would we want to tell a straightforward story like other media do? Have you seen a Hollywood film lately? All stories are the same, apparently. Why would we want to tell this same story again? And what about the desperate attempts of the more artistic directors and writers to cut their stories apart and make absurd associations for the sake of escaping the terror of plot? Pathetic! But at least they understand that there is a problem. They just don't know that we have the solution.

And neither do we, apparently.

Yet.


Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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Comments


Matt Cascio
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What an amazing article. Definitely something to think about for both veteran and amateur designers alike. I think the best example of this "games as media" argument is the recently released, critically acclaimed, Heavy Rain. I have never personally played it, though from my understanding "play" is a relative concept. In terms of gameplay mechanics, it did nothing groundbreaking by any means. If anything it was the simplest form of interaction possible. However it was the message, the story, the characters, that were at the forefront of this great game. Heavy Rain is just the beginning I believe. Complex narratives have only just begin to take hold in the last decade+. And just like the article suggests, this doesn't have to be an end to 'traditional' games, just a new way to harness the power of interactive storytelling through video games.

Luis Guimaraes
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Shadow of the Colosus, The Path, Immor Tall, The Graveyard, Hysteria Project... No Russian (?!)...



All good exemples too... Personally, better exemples.

Michael Samyn
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If you're mentioning Shadow of the Colossus, you should also include Pathologic. Both, however, are rare games in which typical game mechanics actually serve to express the content. This is rare precisely because of how game mechanics are limited to expressing strife, overcoming obstacles, competition, etc and there's very few stories that can be expressed exclusively in such terms.



Other interesting examples are Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Dear Esther, and even Strange Rain and Ruben & Lullaby.

Michael Samyn
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Heavy Rain's play mechanics are actually quite innovative.

But sadly also a weak point in my opinion in an otherwise impressive and undoubtedly important work.

Luis Guimaraes
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Thanks for the more complete info. I had written Amnesia before and didn't post it for some reason. Also tried hard to remember Dear Esther's name. The other titles are unknown to me yet.



I have to agree. Shadow of the Colossus is a rare case. But a really nice lead in my opinion.

Alex Belzer
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So by using Lantz’s definitions, calling many videogames “games” trivializes them. Hence the need for clarification. This was eye-opening to read, and I couldn’t agree more that “video-games-as-media” and “video-games-as-games” need to be categorically distinct (of course, some videogames will overlap). After all, TaleofTale’s own The Path was widely criticized, of all things, for “not being a game”. If we had had these categories already in place, I wonder if it would have been more widely understood.



However, I have beef with Lantz’s definition of media. He says that “The meanings of a game emerge out of a process”, rather than simply conveying a message from point A (the media) to point B (the audience). He’s essentially arguing that because a process has to occur first before meaning can take place, that videogames aren’t media. But then, by that definition almost nothing is media. No piece of art, book, or film is complete without the viewer; what happens in the audience’s mind is key. Much so called media requires the spectator to make the connections in his mind in order to “finish” the piece. Try watching a David Lynch or Richard Kelly film. Not all stories have an upfront, Disney-“believe in yourself”-message that it imparts to the viewer.



Michaël says “I doubt very much if artists really have some kind of clear message” and I couldn’t agree more. If people were easily able to do that, we would do that in a succinct way. We need novels and films and videogames to convey something that’s not able to be stated in a few words. Media doesn’t need to contain the message within it; it needs to present the seed of a message to take shape inside those who let it in. The actual delivery method, whether through watching, reading, or interacting, is just a technical detail.

Michael Samyn
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I agree. Duchamp once said "It's the spectator who makes the work of art."



But in media, the creator guides or directs the experience somewhat. There is always something subjective in media, that belongs to their author.



The fascinating thing about games is that this is not necessarily the case and yet it is possible for games to be experienced as meaningful. And this meaning comes exclusively from the player(s).



Personally, I like hearing an author's voice, and I find it pleasant to share questions and musings with other people. So I like media.



I guess, experiencing media could be considered as a game that you play with the author. While experiencing a game involves only the people who are playing the game, not the people who created it.

Alex Belzer
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@Michael Samyn



"Experiencing media could be considered as a game that you play with the author". I think that's a wonderful, and very fresh way to think of videogames-as-media. With that idea in mind, let me just say, I enjoyed playing The Path with you!

Frank Lantz
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Actually, I don't really suggest any definitions. Instead, I point out that the term "media" has lots of connotations, and this should make us feel uncomfortable when we use the term around games. That's all. I agree with you that most other forms of "media" challenge these connotations, too. That's good, that's us getting smarter about these things in general.

Alex Belzer
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@Frank Lantz



I stand corrected! I see I misinterpreted the point then.



I like what you've said though. Here's to us getting smarter :)

Brock Dubbels
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I like this distinction a lot.



I am not sure I can agree with the statement:



games are not media -- because they "do not carry an idea from one place to another."



Is Monopoly a game?



Does this carry a cultural value system with it?



Whenever we simulate a system, we are reinforcing values by creating reward systems.







This leads to another distinction:



Is gamefying an activity really making a game of something?



This article in the NYTimes begins to touch on this idea too-- http://nyti.ms/dWdL6I



Mark Cerny "displayed a slide of FarmVille and asked just the right question: Is this a game?"

Frank Lantz
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Monopoly is a great example of the perverse, circuitous route that meaning takes as it emerges from games. It began as a radical critique of capitalism, a kind of Cow Clicker style parody meant to illuminate the systemic faults of property ownership, and is now considered a celebration of capitalism, a kind of capitalist propoganda. What is it, a critique? A celebration? A parody? It's complicated.

Mark Venturelli
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Does a lack of a clear, intentional, unquestionable message makes the medium, well, not-a-medium? Interpretation is part of communication.

Frank Lantz
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No, it just makes us think twice, that's all.

Eric Schwarz
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I enjoyed this read, and while I have to agree with the overall premise, but I don't agree with the suggestion that videogames have to be divided into two camps of "like-games" and "like-media" - there isn't really a binary division between them. It makes much more sense to think of games as fitting on a spectrum, with ones resembling traditional games on one side and those resembling immersive experiences on the other. I also don't know if this necessarily constitutes two distinct forms of media... just as films can be summer blockbusters, or avant-garde masterworks, or somewhere in between. I'd say the division is more along the lines of genre than of fundamental medium.



A game can be both rule-driven and highly immersive, as well... take Just Cause 2, which I started playing last night. It's not what I'd call high art (if such things are even relevant to videogames), but it strikes an incredible balance of providing a unique, beautiful and malleable world to the player, while at the same time having its own consistent laws of physics, interaction, and higher-level objectives and goals for the player to complete.



The biggest problem, I think, with building the sorts of experiences proposed here is that videogames as a medium have been developed in a tradition where everything is conditional on some level, whether that be the rules of the game or the hardware and software running underneath. It's only now that developers have really begun to experiment with procedural content generation and have started to make those conditions so low-level that to the player, they aren't noticeable. It will be a long time before games will be able to transcend those conditional, rule-driven roots, both because designers will need to radically rethink the ways they approach creating interactive software, and because players will also need to be open to such experiences.

Michael Samyn
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I didn't mean to suggest a division in terms of categories. I agree that a wide spectrum with vague or no borders is preferable. I also hope that that spectrum can run a lot further than game-games and media-games.



But I think it is helpful for a creator to make the distinction during development. Because it helps us to choose priorities that can guide us to make decisions. Thanks to Frank Lantz's statement, I finally realized what bothered me about games and the game-like aspects in our own work. I feel liberated, in a way, knowing that what I want to create is media. And I don't necessarily need games for that.



It's a matter of deciding which aspect of our production is the follows which. I find it very helpful to know whether the game mechanics I design need to express my story, or whether the story I write needs to justify the mechanics. I believe video games get better when they clearly choose which aspects leads the other. And of course, I have my personal preference.



I agree that there is a lot of a hard work ahead of us. But I find it terribly exciting! It's not every day that one is involved in the birth of a entirely new medium! And certainly not one as powerful as this one.

Altug Isigan
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I think there is something fundamentally wrong in Mr Lantz' statement. A game doesn't come with its designer in it. It is something that is encoded to some degree and I have to work my way through the set of symbols and grammar that it proposes me to stick with in order to understand what it is about. There is the rulebook in it, the tokens, the game board, the game cards, and many other things. If you don't consider all these as a medium that is being used to carry an idea from one place to another -or as an invitation to an act of communication at least- then you basically just have a too ludocentric approach. What results from it is that you mystify games to a degree where we then have to accept that

noone else than ludologists are able to tell us what games are. It always arrives at the same point: Narratology, go gome; media research go home, and so on, and so forth. If you ask me, games are just a different communication format; one that can have many faces. It would be wiser to look into media studies and narratology to get a better picture of what games are (or can be).



I said it before and I say it now: This approach is too player-centric; it is almost the equivalent of "the author is dead" approach in literature studies and sees the reader/player as the only source that creates meaning. Why wouldn't we consider the limits of interpretation then? Can you simply interpret it as an apple when the game states in all openness that it is a pea? Pushing the makers of a game in the background and stripping a game from all kind of authorial intention is really not helpful if you ask me. What about the ways a game configures its players in order to be able to create meaningful action? We use the word interaction merely to refer to the players actions upon the game. But what about the actions a game carries out on its players? I think many people don't like to look into this because they then have to face exactly what they deem as unimportant: the author, the game designer, the limit setter.



I am also not sure if it really matters whether games are authorless or not. Does it result in something so much of being an un-story if we can't speak of a concrete author? I don't think so. Early film history tells us that most of the flicks at that time were presented authorless to the audience. Also there are thousands of folktales based on verbal culture: they are all anonymous/authorless. Yet the telling of the story takes place, and even if you wouldn't consider it to be the original author, the storyteller is still there and *is* the medium in this case. I think these sort of distinctions do not really tell us something about what makes games different.



I agree that "video games" as a cultural form at this point of history have their shortcomings. But I think we should stop using words like "media" and "narrative" in a pejorative way. This ideal video game that will be neither game nor medium will still be a game, delivered by a medium or being a medium itself, and it will possess narrativity, regardless of whether its the author or the player whose intensions will shape the experience and process of signification. Let's stop driving away words that can be helpful. Rather let's speak of the many ways media can be used and stories can be told/crafted in whatever cultural form that is: games, films, novels...

Altug Isigan
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As an aside, Lantz' argument is based on a model of communication which purposefully theorized the process in a linear fashion: as a one-step model, in which a sender transmits a message to a reciever. It is kinda funny that this model was developed by one of the fathers of modern computers, Claude Shannon. It aims to model the technical process in computer communication, and not really the cultural/human aspect of it. In that sense, I'm not even sure if the definition of media and communication here is the right one to discuss games. There are dozens of other media and communication theories with focus on reciprocity between author and reader and they see media and communication processes as anything else than a manifest message sent from a conscious sender to a passive reader that takes the message as it is.

Michael Samyn
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I think a big chunk of the games industry actually thrives on this concept of authorlessness. Because it allows them reject responsibility for the statements that their games are making. This is especially important since so many games are about violence, aggression, competition, envy, etc. All things that are morally debatable and that cannot be addressed in any other medium without an author's voice.



But in games, you can say what you want and pretend you didn't say it. Because it's just a game. And it's the player who killed all the bad guys, not the author.



Good point about folk tales also being authorless. Something to think about.

Altug Isigan
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I must say that I really like your unstoppable drive and passion to carry "video games" beyond their current state. I think I completely understand the kind of feeling and experience that you dream of, and I am sure you're going to create its examples sooner or later, regardless of whether you can convince others to follow your vision or not. Besides, I think sooner or later, this type of play will find itself a space and create its own audience. But right now I don't see the cultural conditions for this being there. There are a few game makers that try to take games beyond and outside the profit-driven or "educational" realm and aim at something more radical, not only questioning our understanding of games, but also our understanding of society, culture and our identities. But I think that first and foremost more radical cultural movements are needed in society, before games as a form of cultural expression will step outside of the usual and challenge the ways things are done today. In a world in which independent game developer basically means someone who has to convert creativity into money so that he can live without big publishers, I think the "screw you" attitude required to imagine games differently still isn't there. All we hear about indies are stories about how they got rich over night with a very simple idea. But the truly scandalous, the Duchamp-like isn't there yet. With Cow-Clicker we maybe have the Warhol-like ;)



What I feel when I read your articles is that you deny yourself concepts that could be useful in your endeveour, because you prefer to use them to refer to the kind of games that you believe we should leave behind. In other words, I feel that you use terms like "narrative" and "medium" not as flexible and bold as you imagine the ways you want games to be. Yes, current "media" and "narrative" are not as we want them to be, but I think we shouldn't allow these useful notions to be taken away from ourselves just because we use them as referents to the type of games we think are limiting our creativity and hinder the realization of the possibilities that lie ahead. Instead of blaming it on words like "media" or "narrative", we could call the problems that we see in these games simply by the name: "poor/unimaginative use of the medium", or "poor/unimaginative narrative design". Because sooner or later we have to draw back to terms like media and narrative when we try to do our own work. But if we avoid these words, we have to invent other words instead, words that probably try to address the same. Hence they will feel forced and noone's going to use them. No need to multiply objects unnecessarily.



Maybe it's just me, but I have read quite some of the stuff of ludologists, and I find it absolutely crazy how much effort they have put in to deny themselves to use the heritage of media studies and narratology just to be able to claim this "brandnew" game studies area for themselves. I am still waiting to see some really convincing concepts that do not feel forced and are truly instrumental in helping us in a better understanding of games. I think as long as we insist to invent a different language just because we want this amazing thing called games only belong to us, we won't get really a grip of it, and we lose our connection to those we want to change: The industry, audiences and academia. They will remain unchallenged and we will keep talking to ourselves in a language that cannot give birth to itself.

Michael Samyn
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I actually think that the "radical cultural movement" of which you speak has already happened with post-modernism. The static and linear art forms have failed to address the shifts that happened in society. Which I feel is not unrelated to the rise of social extremism and political fundamentalism everywhere. We are in desperate need for a new art form, a form that can deal with the complexity of a "post-modern" world. And I believe video games offer opportunity for this form.



I don't mind the term medium at all. I think it's quite useful. I also like its connotation with the occult. I like the idea of the artist as a "medium", a conduit between the here and the "there". "Narrative" is a bit more problematic for me because sometimes it implies linearity and causality and I don't think those are very useful. But I don't mind at all the aspects of the imaginary, the sharing of situations, the poetic and the lyrical, which are also part of narrative.



Games are not new at all. They are ancient. Perhaps they have transformed because of computers. I don't know. But what I do know is that computers offer an incredibly powerful technology for representation and simulation, in a way that has never happened before (procedural, interactive, non-linear, etc). And that's what I want to explore.

Frank Lantz
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>> I think we should stop using words like "media" and "narrative" in a pejorative way.



I wasn't aware that the term "media" had pejorative connotations. It's sort of my goal to give it some, so I guess I should be pleased? As for narratology vs. ludology, I have no interest in re-fighting old battles, especially not ones that were so decisively won! :)



All I want is to trouble the simplistic picture of HERE an artist whispering secrets into a tin can and OVER HERE the audience unpacking these secrets. It may be the case that no-one actually has that simplistic model in mind when they think and talk about games. In which case, great, I was worried about nothing, but better safe than sorry, eh?

Michael Samyn
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I think many people still have this model in mind when they take about art. Even old and widely recognized art. We still hear people wondering about "what Boticelli meant with his painting". It's quite a ludicrous idea when you see how intuitive an artist tends to work.



I actually hope that the procedurality and interactivity of video games can finally put this model to rest by very clearly illustrating that it is indeed the "spectator who makes the spectacle" (Duchamp).

Altug Isigan
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@Frank



Ok, I understand now what you say; games are not simply transmissions of messages. Sure I agree with this. I also agree that noone here has a simplistic model in mind when they think of games. That's what got us to discuss things here, after all.



I can't tell whether you meant it in a sarcastic way, but I find it good, if not necessary, to try to establish pejorative connections to words. But somehow I feel that at this time we would benefit from doing this to the term "game", too, and not only to the words "media" or "narrative".



There are many media theories drawing a completely different picture of the communication process, where the roles of author and reader are anything else than clear-cut, where meaning is seen as something that is constructed in reciprocity. Hence I don't find it good when we equal the words media or narrative with linearity and transmission. I believe that it leads to an attitude where we think we can dismiss media studies and narratology as useless in understanding games. I simply feel that this isn't wise. I have seen too many useful things in media studies and narratology to accept this.



Just a very personal, honest, little aside (and absolutely not meant to tease you or others): Ludology hasn't won a battle. So far it only yelled "this is my toy!" and often just refused meaningful interplay with disciplines that could have been really helpful. I might be damned for saying this, but this is far from being a gamer attitude :)

Frank Lantz
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@Altug



I hear ya. Sometimes we overstate and exaggerate to make a point and be provocative. "Games are not media" was one of those times for me. But your points are well taken. And, as Michael has demonstrated, a little provocation can lead to very interesting and useful conversations.

Eric Carr
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"Video games that are not media are better games."



That says it right there. That's the best line in the whole essay. I always get confused by this far shore approach to designing games. The rather odd view that says that what makes a game special or anything, is all of the un-gameness that it has. People talk about the story, or the art, or how this one part made them feel, and it's all completely unnecessary to what a game really is, which is the mechanics. The rules, that's it. Everything else you don't need.



Having said that, arguing that whole concept of games that aren't games begins to not make any sense. If you're telling a story, tell a story. If you want to create a "narrative experience" feel free, but don't call it a game afterwards. This "new" media isn't new at all, it already has a name : electronic performance art.

Michael Samyn
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Good to hear you made your choice.

Now please let other people make theirs.

There's room for every one.

And just like I agree with Mr Lantz but choose the opposite side, I'm happy that my article can inspire both people on the games side as people on the media side.



As for the name we give these things, let's worry about that later. We shouldn't feel limited by definitions when we have so much new potential before us -for which there probably is no name yet.

Frank Lantz
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Please, call me Frank.

Michael Samyn
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Can I call you Daddy? ;)

Eliot Lash
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I agree about that being the best line, along with the opposite statement. This insight as to the dichotomy was what struck me about the article. Although, it came to my mind (as I saw that it did for other readers as well) that current games exist on a continuum between these extremes. It seems to me that such labels as "video game" and "interactive entertainment" may be useful for classification but could also wind up being pigeonholes. Can we just make interactive things and let them be what they are, instead of having to pick sides?

Josh Larson
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You don't have to pick sides, but sometimes it helps to know that they exist. The dichotomy is there, but it's not between games and "narrative experience" as Eric is suggesting. A narrative is on the same level as games, both of them are abstract structures for meaning.



The dichotomy is between abstract structures for meaning and the media that can contain those structures. It exists in every other medium. You can take token-based role-playing and just play with your legos if you want. Or you can attach an abstract game structure to that and play a board game. See the distinction? Board games are token-based role-playing with an embedded game structure.



This new medium - new as in only a few decades - is technology-based (just like any other medium ever), and up until now we seemed to have gotten confused that games are somehow fundamentally tied to it. This is not the case; any meanings that can be unlocked in the minds of those that experience this medium can come from any number of structures - be it games, story, or even something else.

Michael Samyn
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Yes: something else! Something that _really takes advantage of the technology's unique capabilities. Games are almost like digital movies: old forms done with a new technology. And that's fine. A computer is a versatile device. But I'm looking forward to seeing new forms done with this new technology!

John Mawhorter
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It's obvious from the games you've made the position you take and it's good to see that your talk and your walk are aligned. Again, I wouldn't call interactive simulations like you make games, though. I think a truce really should be called between those arguing about the future of games, ie ludology and narratology or ludology and narrative simulationists, because there is room for both approaches. The problem that I feel, however, is that narratology and such dominate the discussion of games even when game design and mechanics of the games in question are more interesting and important.

Altug Isigan
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I think it has to do with the level of abstraction that is used in these approaches. Narratology has some very good tools to detect the underlying form and structure in narratives. I find it sad that because of medium-centrism, ludology denies itself to make use of this wisdom. In A Theory of Fun for example, when you see Raph Koster pointing at the underlying formal structure of games (i.e. his explanation of how the actual "story make-up" of the game doesn't really matter in regard to the system that lies beneath), you see an attempt to reach a level of such abstraction, and why, I wonder, would it be impossible to connect this search for "game atoms" with the level of abstraction that narratology has reached in the study of narratives? What seems necessary to me is to establish the theoretical connection, i.e, how do game mechanics and systems produce narrativity (or how can narrativity be achieved through the use of game mechanics and systems)?. Therefore I find the call for a truce completely at place. However I believe that it is rather ludology that has to become more flexible, because I for my part believe that narratologic approaches show more respect to the findings in game research than ludologists show to the findings in narratology. It doesn't really help anyone when you just say "games aren't stories, full stop" and then produce really wacky theories because you have forbidden yourself any positive reference to narratology. My favorite example for this is the claim that games do not have discourse time. Many ludologists avoided to use this great concept of narratology, and the result were articles on game time that bordered at the ridiculous if you ask me. More than that, I think some ludologists did not really understand the concepts of narratology, how and for what purposes they were constructred. I for my part find this really poor, especially when you consider that quite a few ludologist where people with a background in literature studies and you expect these people to have a command of the concepts of narratology.

Michael Samyn
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I thought this was an old debate that had been buried a long time ago. Presonally, I'm against both ludologists and naratologists. I don't think video games are a great medium for telling stories. And I think it's silly to limit interactivity to game rules. So there. :)



I agree that there is room for both. But in terms of the future, I think making a clear choice is necessary. The current mash-up of media+game only appeals to a geeky mega-niche. If video games are to appeal to a wider audience in the future, I think they have to focus on either becoming purer games or better media. Games are already reaching a wider audience outside of the AAA style, through casual games and social games. I feel it is time that we deal with the other side -the media side- and start developing forms that appeal to people outside of the mega-niche as well.



It's easy today to find a computer game that gives you the kind of thing that a board game or card game does. But it's not easy to find a computer game that gives you an experience like a film or a painting or a piece of music or a poem can. This is the area I am interested in.

Luis Guimaraes
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I like all articles in this matter very much. Don't really so much the way most people want this kind of experiences to be. Only the mention of Heavy Rain puts me away from the subject (Nothing against the game itself, but the way people talk about it as the movie-like genre being the peak of game narative...).



Designers pursuing more rich narrative experiences, asking for a "great vision of the shiny future of what games can become" shouldn't fall so short in ambition. I'm not denying the fact that such ambition is easier said than done. Games have the power to be more indirect in the way to deliver information, telling things in more interesting ways than "this happens, than that happens".



Still, these talks give so much inspiration. Sometime maybe...

Michael Samyn
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Heavy Rain is important because it was the first AAA video game to explicitly use interaction in the service of the expression of a fiction. As a big budget yet risky title, I feel it is fraught with compromise that will prevent it from ever being considered a great work of art. But historically, I think it will remain important.



I personally find the linear story-telling technique of Heavy Rain not very interesting. It's not very different from other AAA games in that respect anyway. With the great exception that the death of the avatars is actually part of the story. Which I find a very admirable decision. But what is interesting to me in Heavy Rain is the little interactions: rocking a baby, making love, putting my coat on the shoulders of a friend who is cold, etc. I've paid tribute to this aspect of the game here: http://notgames.org/blog/2010/03/27/tender-rain/



Any way. The point here is not to find a single golden formula to make "media-games". Quite the contrary: the idea is to open up the medium to all sorts of subjects and styles (after the long imprisonment by an all too rigid game format).

keith burgun
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This is the worst article I have ever read on gamasutra. The reasons for why are long and in-depth. Basically, the article ranges from "wrong" to "offensive". I wrote out a full explanation here:



http://expensiveplanetarium.blogspot.com/2011/02/wrong-wrong-wron
g-wrong-wrong.html

James Patton
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Keith, I think you've misunderstood a fundamental point of the article. Michael is arguing that "video games", ie. the things you "play" on a console or computer, are fundamentally different from traditional "games" such as hide and seek, sports and chess. "Games" are based almost solely on rules; Michael argues (if I've interpreted him correctly) that "video games", while based on rules, are also artistic in that they can also present lush visual, interactive worlds, settings and characters which can evoke emotions in a way which is less to do with typical "game" states such as winning/losing and more to do with traditional storytelling techniques such as use of light and sound, and emotionally affecting characters. Most of your points which criticise the article stem from this fundamental misunderstanding.

keith burgun
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"Keith, I think you've misunderstood a fundamental point of the article. Michael is arguing that "video games", ie. the things you "play" on a console or computer, are fundamentally different from traditional "games" such as hide and seek, sports and chess."



No, I got that - it's just that he's wrong. Games are based on rules. Not everything that is interactive & digital is a game.

Mark Venturelli
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While a lot of isolated sentences written in this article offended me in many ways, I'm not inclined to make inflamatory comments on each of them in the manner of Keith Burgun up there. The overall intention of the article, however, is what concerns and worries me the most, specially because of the exposure it gets here in Gamasutra.



First of all, you are stating that "video games are not games" - that somehow video games should divorce themselves from traditional games.



Your "games" are surely not games. That does not mean that all electronic games should follow. The definition of a video game seems quite clear to me: a game that you play on a computer (yes, consoles are computers). Why make it completely obtuse and confusing by saying that a "video game" is not a game?



Maybe your article should be named "Interactive Simulations as Media". Is there something wrong with that? Do you think your work looks "sexier" if you name it "video game"? There is absolutely nothing wrong with "Interactive Simulations".



Why don't you use it? In my opinion, Heavy Rain failed exactly when it tried to be a game. You seem to think so yourself. "The promise of participating in a virtual world holds irresistible appeal. But the discovery of rigid systems of game rules underneath the seductive spectacle turns all but the most persistent away."



If you really think this way, you are not a game designer, you are a virtual world designer. What is wrong with that?



Also, this: "According to Lantz the term "medium" implies "something that carries information from a source to a destination." But I think this too materialistic and too functional a way of looking at media. Media are not just conduits for messages."



Yes, they are. That's the definition of media. You seem to have a serious problem with definitions that you don't "like", or that do not align with the way you chose to look at them.



Changing subjects a little, I do not agree with Frank Lantz's famous "games are not media" claim.



Like you said yourself: "I doubt very much if artists really have some kind of clear message they're trying to convey in their music or their painting or their film". Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. That does not mean that music is not a medium, and does not mean that their messages are going to be perfectly understood. Also, you argue that visual representations, sound and dialogue can convey meaning. They do. But gameplay does, too.



When a game is played, there IS communication between the designer and the player, and between the players. The game is designed in a way that shapes the meaning of this communication. It is not a telephone. Being something does not require you to be JUST that something. A telephone can shape the way people communicate, but it does not convey meaning. Games are media. They carry a message. Communication is not one-sided. Games create meaning.



The game does not even exist unless it is played, and I believe that this is crucial to understand why they are as much media as a 3D model of an old woman. You may think the 3D model exists by itself, while the gameplay requires interaction, thus diminishing its value and capacity to convey meaning. It is just not true. Your 3D model does not "exist" the way you believe it to, unless someone looks at it. And when this happens, it's always a gamble.



There is no problem with NOT being a game designer. While I personally would not be interested in designing something like The Path, it is relevant and should be done, regardless of perceived quality. Just please be honest with what you are making. The tools do not define the work.

Michael Samyn
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The reason why I say that video games are not games, is that I see a lot of effort (and indeed money) being devoted to the creation of elements that don't have much to do with the purely game aspect of -specifically mainstream AAA- video games. This effort certainly pays off. People love a beautifully rendered game that takes place in a detailed world filled with life. So there's something going on with video games as a medium that cannot be reduced to games (unless you prefer to use a very broad definition of the term -which is ok by me).



I want to explore this new opportunity. And I think a lot of mainstream developers want to as well, judging by the aforementioned attention they give to all these non-game aspects of their work. And we shouldn't be held back by some kind of loyalty to the traditional format of games, just because our productions inherited the name "game".



It shouldn't matter what these things are called. It's only normal for something new to not have a name yet.

Mark Venturelli
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It does matter for the reasons I stated below, in response to Craveirinha's comment.



"Specially when electronic games are still trying to define themselves, this type of article just creates noise and misunderstanding."



People also love beautifully printed boards, pieces and cards, or detailed terrain and units for wargames that take place in lively worlds filled with details about society and beliefs. They are still games, and mainly concerned with that.



Also, AAA video games are still games. Most of them might not be "good" games, but they still are. A lot of huge productions are still mainly concerned in being good games: even Call of Duty would not be the blockbuster that it is if it wasn't for its multiplayer portion.



Does that mean "games" are better or worse than "non-games-made-with-the-same-tools-and-technology"? They are just different things. Don't mix them up.

Rui Craveirinha
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What I find most interesting in this whole debate is how game logic seems to not only have taken hold of videogames, but also of our discourse. There is a subversive logic ruling our (pre)conceptions of videogames, one which tends to be as dogmatic and puerile as the abstract binary outcome of gameplay - true or false, win or lose, blind belief or harsh criticism.



I would contest that the relative infancy of the medium and its often obscured, ill-known History, force us to search for metaphors of their nature outside it, as we desperately seek conceptual frameworks which can capture our own vision for the medium. We’re at the dawn of a new age of media, and so all we conjure is what we know from before – whether from other art forms, mediums, or play-activities. Most preoccupying is how we tend to choose a source of inspiration and deny the validity of all others! Imagine such a scene at the birth of cinema, where writers and directors and cinematographers and actors and composers would discuss if film should be better understood as literature or theatre or painting or performance art or music. Or maybe they would discuss whether films should all be classic drama or comedies, tragedy or melodrama, pulp or highbrow, western or science fiction, composed of Aristotelian arcs or destructured narratives, documentaries or fiction!!! Naturally, they were all right and they were all wrong, for film was all that and was neither, rendering such a discussion in clear-cut terms completely absurd and devoid of any purpose or valid output.



Videogames are neither games nor simulations, neither narrative nor art, neither linear nor non-linear, neither naturalist nor abstract. Whatever you think videogames are or should be is completely true and absolutely false. Videogames are everything you create and interact with in a computer system that has no functional purpose… period. There is no need to sum up diversity. There is no need to shy away from all the wealth of these varied conceptual propositions, for each holds its merits and flaws, each born from authors with different aesthetic sensibilities and world views, and each catering to different audiences. There is no need to establish terms into good or bad, high or low, grand or menial. And there is no need to understand what lies ahead, unless for our own personal answers to such a dream of tomorrow. We should pursue all avenues and let them bloom as new forms of videogames, for somewhere in between them all will lie the very nature of “Videogames”.



Which is why Michaël (and others such as he) need to be listened, for the medium’s discourse has, for too long now, avoided diversity in the conceptualization of videogames. Too many have become blind to different acceptions of videogames, defending their own as the one and only, as if in a nail-biting ludic challenge, oblivious to the rampant wealth of this eclectic medium. There is simply no losing scenario when it comes to new forms, new archetypes, new genres or new classes of videogame – they're all additive, not reductive. The future of the medium starts with aspiring authors that can create new avenues, new aesthetic currents, and new formal systems to both deconstruct and devise new artifacts. To shy away from each current, whether we identify with its values or not, is to shy away from videogames themselves.

Mark Venturelli
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"Videogames are everything you create and interact with in a computer system that has no functional purpose… period."



Why call it effin' GAMES then? Why not call them "play software", "digital play" or something cooler-sounding?



I agree 100% with your view of new forms of expression trying to define themselves by looking at previous ones. This happened a lot with film.



The thing is: if there is something we can do with the tools and technology of video games that is not a game, we should call it something else and not let it be defined by video games, simple as that. Movies and TV News are not nearly the same thing, but the tech is roughly the same. You don't call TV News "Movies". Don't call interactive simulations "Games".



Specially when electronic games are still trying to define themselves, this type of article just creates noise and misunderstanding.

Rui Craveirinha
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I didn't call anything games. I called them videogames. It's not the most fortunate of terms, I agree, but it is the one we have. Do you honestly believe all videogames are just "video" + "games"? That the artifacts which we encompass under that same term have not evolved to a point in which even the mention of video + games is a simplistic misconception? Is "SimCity" (just) a simulation? Is "Heavy Rain" (just) a narrative? Is "Call of Duty" (just) a game? Is "The Path" an aesthetic/not-game/multimedia piece? Or are all they videogames? All videogames share different elements from different currents and different conceptions of videogame. If videogames were still narrowly defined by the term "videogames" as it was originally proposed, we would only have abstract graphics and turn-based, rule-heavy interfaces and systems.



Semantics evolve, here as elsewhere. We use terms whose genesis is paradoxical with current understandings of it, and such evolution is natural. Furthermore, it makes no sense to artificially create a chasm between different currents of videogames by applying different terminology for each, when the underlying structure of the artifact (not the tech, as you imply) is similar. A videogame that has no game in it is as much a videogame as a film with no plot is still a film - the medium is the same, there is no sense in being xenophobic and brand it with a small conceptual corner for us to dismiss it entirely. More so, there is no barrier between these two different currents, but a continuum of meshes between videogames that are ludic, and those that are not (the same with simulation, narrative and all other aspects). You cannot simply say - this is a videogame, that isn’t, this is simulation and that is narrative. We can use the terms “game” and “simulation” to further analyze specific aspects of each videogame, but always under the assumption that they share a common identity that can't be denied but by the most feverous of fundamentalists.



"Specially when electronic games are still trying to define themselves, this type of article just creates noise and misunderstanding."

Perhaps it creates it for someone who does not cherish the richness of the medium, and who wants to constrict videogames to just "electronic games", even when such a term has been out of date for many years now. To those that love videogames, I see only bright futures in people such as Michaël.

Mark Venturelli
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You can make it philosophical all you want, like your less interesting companions below, but I am not advocating "categorization". This is a website for creators, not critics or fans. My mother will probably think that everything is a videogame. I am advocating a critical vocabulary, one that empowers creation.



Semantics do evolve. And they must evolve in a way that facilitates communication instead of truncating it.



Also, it is ridiculously highly debatable that the underlying structure of something like "The Graveyard" is the same of a game.



As a designer, I find empowering to be able to discuss, with myself and others, the elements that are in place when I do my work. My argument is an argument in favor of vocabulary, not a "xenophobic branding". It's an argument against solving the same basic problems over and over, against limiting ourselves of starting to go on to more mature grounds, and against idiocy in general.



People such as Michael is now - that propose new ways of thinking before understanding what is already in place - are responsible for generating pretentious and ultimately empty work.



Also, in no way I defended "pure" forms of creation. I believe in games with simulation elements, simulations with game elements, dance with elements of architecture. But you must understand things to create powerful compositions. You must understand "game" to apply it as a way of looking at "videogame". Michael's argument is the one in favor of "pure-forms", not mine.

Luis Guimaraes
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I think the "interactive simulation" The Path plays an interesting game with the "player". We should not forget that the word "game", in many languages, have more than one single meaning. Interaction is about input and output, comunication in both directions.



"Games", "Puzzles", "Competitions", "Toys", "Simulations", are all tagged to the same root: "Entertainment", which is a very broad term, please don't confuse with "storytelling" or "show". Giving somebody a puzzle with mantain him entertained for a long time. Giving him a movie will maintain him entertained for a couple hours.



People want worthwhile high quality entertaiment time. One can go whatever path he wants to accomplish the goal of delivering such time. Even fooling the customer with not so worthwhile entertainment is a well known way which is bringing thousands of millions to step inside our land (Facebook?). Sooner than expected there will be huge demand for better time.



We compete for people's time and atention. Every article about game design, mechanics, social worth, narrative, shaders, procedural generation, immersiveness or augmented reality are good investment in our arms race. There are billions out there hungry for more, not only more of the same.



One can make any of them, none of them, or all of them in the same piece of work. Do we really need to create labels and separate everything apart?

Mark Venturelli
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Creating "labels" does not mean we separate things. It's calling effin' _communication_.



That's why we have a name for "Toys" and a name for "Entertainment". It's a different, specific thing, but it belongs in a group of similar things. How would you buy a chair if everything was called "furniture"? It just makes no sense.



It's just a ridiculous position to defend. A movie has actors, but why would you call it a play?



You are brazilian, you must be familiar with the play "A Vida é Cheia de Som e Fúria", and other works from Hirsch that toy around with film aesthetics. If both forms were not firmly established, the value of the work would be no doubt diminished.



Vocabulary strenghtens the possibilities of creativity, it does not limit them. It allows different forms to evolve on their own, and allows creators to merge them together in meaningful ways.

Michael Samyn
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I personally find it inspirational to call a film a painting, or a sound poetry.

Luis Guimaraes
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"How would you buy a chair if everything was called "furniture"? It just makes no sense."



That's was the only thing I thought of as a reason to go the category approach. Customers need genres to find what's for their taste.



But again, if we go that route, every single player game is a puzzle, you can't lose in a single player game. You either keep trying until you beat it, or you leave it unfinished. Definition can surely spark creativity in different directions. But we need better games, toys, puzzles, simulations, competitions, sandboxes or any combination of them, more than we need to created game mechanics out of game development, or divide everything in classes like an RPG.

Mark Venturelli
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My chair example was not to be taken that literally, but that goes without saying.



"Every single player game is a puzzle". A puzzle has only one solution, that's hardly the case with proper single player games. It has nothing to do with not being able to "lose". That's one of the reasons it's helpful to call them "games", not "puzzles".



Michael does not seem eager to debate any of the arguments I make, so I'll just call it a day since I believe I made my point. Fool me for expecting reasonable discussions with someone with such adolescent disrespect for established knowledge.

Luis Guimaraes
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"A puzzle has only one solution..." Nope.



Edit: Puzzles often have a single solved stated, but not a single path to solution. Others even have more than one solution state, there's Sudoku cases which have more than one possibility. Don't most single player games will in the end get a solved stated? A binary value that tells if you did it or not, no matter how you got there?



"Fool me for expecting reasonable discussions with someone with such adolescent disrespect for established knowledge." "This is a website for creators, not critics or fans."



Everything you're told today, somebody has learned by himself before. I'd call that somebody a creator, not a critic or fan. There's no good reason for a creator to be just a follower.

Mark Venturelli
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At least the "puzzle" from most game design and game theory definitions. See how vocabulary is tricky - and useful - in our field?



As for your other point, I frankly did not understand how it is not in agreement with what I stated.



Also, if you want to stand by your convincing "nope", think about this: if single player games these days often contain puzzles, how can we tell them apart if they are the same thing? And if they are not, what is the main difference between one another?



Or you could study previous guys and THEN form your own opinion. Way more powerful.

Michael Samyn
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I'm sorry, Mark, for not addressing your concerns. I refuse to participate in semantic discussions. I find them futile.

Luis Guimaraes
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Just to make sure you're were not going too close-minded. I was wrong then.

The same way you said above that too blured notions and terms will lead many juniors and students to bad directions, I also wouldn't like such an ISO or ABNT rules telling how game shall be made.



But I'm still agreeing that people will break out of the box by themselves when they're ready and feel like. The formal game development education is still babysteping, specially in Brazil, but it's sure an inevitable future. We're not calling ourselves an industry for nothing, after all.

Mark Venturelli
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@ Michael: It shows. Also, go read a book on Communication Theory before you make use of its fundaments to make an argument. And the definition of "semantics", too. Tip: it's not just semantics.

Ronildson Palermo
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@Luis



True that Game Development education in Brazil is babystepping, but practice is the most important thing, and this can be done at home, using flexible rulers, cards, dice, miniatures, paper and pen. A hyper complex TPS such as Dead Space 2 can be entirely prototyped as a paper & pen version. This is entirely up to the designer.



Same thing goes to programmers and artists, 3D artists and etc. People need to get together and start to get things done, even if simple things. We have "'1 Carnaval de Distorções", Critical Studio (which, by the way, is Mark's studio) and other endeavours, mine being among them. So, people also need to be eager to produce, even if they don't know. They need to risk, be ready to take a chance. To make a mistake and readily correct it, until it is good enough, until it is polished.



And please note that I'm NOT talking about professional, budget-driven projects,. It's all indie, independent. Fueled by love, interest and faith in the medium.

Luis Guimaraes
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I know exactly what you're talking about.

Ronildson Palermo
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If books represent a tale a storyteller is telling his audience, then games represent the ability of this storyteller to analyze his audience and tweak many aspects of his story to such way that all people will be equally interested, engaged and, perhaps even, touched.



All the audience wants to see the end of the "story", if they don't they'll leave. They don't need a piece of software telling them they can't do it, or that they don't deserve it.



What I'm talking about is the possibility of tweaking game input and challenge on-the-fly, something I haven't seen... yet.

Sting Newman
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Bah lets not forget the reasons why videogames are called games. Video games were for a decent chunk of their history considered something for the kids from societies perspective. Even today games are primarily aimed at kids and teens still.



I think what is happening is just that games have reached a graphical level of fidelity where cinema enters the picture, and the masses love cinema. The real issue though is the tension between watchers and players, the people who buy games for the cinematic experience (story, character development, etc) are not the same as those who play games for the experience and mechanics (i.e. tactics, strategy, missions, leveling up, etc).



Take a game like World of Warcraft and compare it to a fighting game, completely different audiences. The real problem is though that games sell now mostly weighted towards cinema and not gameplay anymore and this is why games like Mass effect, Call of duty and deadspace are so popular. The production values have reached sufficient level of fidelity to attract the lowest common denominator to the medium. Those who come for the graphics, not the interactivity.



More and more games today are just movies you can "play around" in. Game designers play the role of "director" in the sense that they control the flow of the game, how the story is structured and told. The real issue is though that game story-telling is not the same as cinema, hence the use of audio-logs in games like deadspace where the player can digest the story at his own pace, or skip it outright.



Games are games in the sense they don't have to try to force the player to experience what he doesn't want to do and leave it optional.

Sting Newman
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"The impressive graphical presentation of video games has lead to their enormous success. The promise of participating in a virtual world holds irresistible appeal. But the discovery of rigid systems of game rules underneath the seductive spectacle turns all but the most persistent away.



Now, we could be stubborn and insist that everyone just become tough enough to deal with the missions and tasks and grind we so carefully construct -- after all, we enjoy it, so everyone must be able to! It's a matter of literacy, some would say. Or we could be nice designers and try to cater to people's expectations. If they can see such a wonderful thing in our medium, why can't we?"



This is idiocy, the idea that game developers need to try to convert the unwashed game hating masses is dumb. You can't force people to like your medium. The idea that you'd call the game mechanics "rigid" is disturbing enough. Do you really think the average non-gamer person is going to want to pay you $50 bucks for a game that they don't have to play but watch instead?



There is a point where a game stops being a game and becomes a cinematic gimmick. The real truth behind Heavy rain was that it was a gimmick. If all game developers want is $ they are going to destroy the foundation the industry was built on by trying to bring everyone and their grandma into "gaming", we've seen how first person shooters have come to dominate all other genres because it's the most accessible and least taxing game mechanic outside of highly abstracted and automated World of warcraft.



I can see a day where developers water games down to such an extent that the traditional gamers hang up their controllers...



The real issue is developers need to focus on cutting costs so they can make the games they want to make for themselves again instead of having to worry about being the biggest most all encompassing big tent everyone in society can come to.



The problem with attracting the masses is you then have to cater to the lowest among them to reach the widest audience, which stifles creativity. The game industry has some of the most deluded characters in it.

Michael Samyn
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I don't think diversifying equals "attracting the masses". I'm arguing for the emergence of many different styles of playing with computers, styles that appeal to many different groups of people, some perhaps big, others small.



I don't find it ok that nowadays it is possible for a person to say "I don't like video games." I hope that in the future this will be as silly a statement as saying "I don't like books" or "I don't like music." Such a statement is silly because there are many different styles of books and music and it is simply impossible that there's not one or two that you do like.



I understand that some developers and fans prefer "pure" games. And in fact, in my article I encourage the development of such games. But I don't believe that "pure" games are the only style that should or can exist. There's room for a lot more.

James Patton
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If anything, Tale of Tales are doing the opposite of attracting the masses by developing games that break convention. Just because they're trying to broaden what a video game can consist of doesn't automatically mean they're appealing to the lowest common denominator.

Simon Fraser
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Video games are not games, but actually they are, but they're not media, but sometimes they should be, and when they are media they shouldn't be games, but when they're games they shouldn't be media.



Does that about sum it up for everyone?



I feel like this article jumped between way too many topics, made way too many points, made far too many assumptions (both about the material and about the reader's knowledge and philosophy) and was just generally confusing and kind of pointless.

I DO think there are some very interesting points here, I just think they should each get their own article with a lot more clarification and justification.

Simon Fraser
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In fact, the original article you linked to http://gamedesignadvance.com/?p=1567 is a good example of how to present your ideas from this article.

Philip Athans
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I agree on this point to the very core of my being:



"Make the experience about the characters and their adventures! Don't craft some kind of story to justify cool game mechanics, but invent new forms of interaction that support and enhance the experience of the fiction."



And disagree, though maybe a bit less stridently, with the idea that games are not media, in that in their purest form they don't carry information or a message.



On a trip to the zoo a few years ago I watched a pack of African wild dogs running in circles in their enclosure. I was waiting for my wife to come back from the restroom so had a chance to pause and watch them for a while--and I quickly realized they weren't just running around in circles. One dog would volunteer to be chased and half the pack would chase him while the other half of the pack hid behind a boulder in the enclosure and jumped out at the prey-dog from cover. They weren't just running around in circles, they were running through a cooperative hunting strategy. Isn't that exactly what hide-and-seek is, and like this pack of African wild dogs stuck in a zoo in Seattle, we don't necessarily get a chance to use the pursuit and evasion tactics we run through in hide-and-seek, but as pack predators we're compelled by our natures to work it out.



So we may not be aware of the content of the information contained in games like hide and seek, Monopoly, or Frogger, but it's in there. It's media at least as much as a movie like Transporter 2.

Aaron Casillas
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aking a structuralist approach, games today vacillate between imperative and indicative interaction, where as a non interactive movie represents the utmost imperative mechanic. I don't think we should confuse the rich systems ecology that many games represent today with the form not being "a game." The cake has simply just gotten richer. I guess one could argue that imperative non interaction during millisecond tactical gameplay is a violation of the definition of low level tactical gameplay (I wouldn't disagree), but certainty need not be a violation of being a Video Game. Or more providing some contextualized reasoning for the next series of mechanics.



From the low level a game might be seen microscopically as purely mechanical or gamey and macroscopically as narrative, this is as of late might seem new or novel. But really it's been with us all along. In the past meta trans-formative aspect of gaming simply relied on the "high score" and the signature call sign. The act of scoring higher, created the transformation and narrative not only for the 1st person but for the voyeur and subsequent player.



While structurally games on the meta game level are constructed to arc the player through a transformation, the trans-formative aspect of the avatar(s) can vary from appearing optional (like itemization) to imperative (say a game with cut scenes).



In a game like tag, the low level micro compulsion loops contains the fundamental ruleset, while the meta compulsion loop is where transformation, recollection and progression are contained or the story of playing tag. An example People who have played tag normally say it was fun to play Tag and then tell a story about playing Tag, rather than it was fun to count to the number "3." Counting to the number 3 is a mechanical aspect of that game. But it's not the entire game. At a high level players of the game of tag could be memorizing great hiding spots or even cheating.



The same structure exists in the examples in the articles, are games more a simulacra of reality thus should not be considered a game? I wouldn't go that far, seems too accidental. I know that devs make choices to abstract components of our reality and turn them into parts for compulsive mechanics. The new wrappers that we are seeing, is a just a longer duration mechanic that gives players the ability to customize their avatars or should I say their high score names. Encompassed within this, in some cases is the potential and emergence of the personal narrative.



Personal narrative does not need to be spelled out imperatively by the designer, the various indicative mechanics simply provide a point of recall and inspiration. I can't think of any game where this isn't so; it's probably more fundamental to humans constructing and reconstructing experiences. Just the mere thought of attempting to recall this causes story to occur. This could be true regardless of medium.



The over the top cinematic elements are examples of us having the ability to further create rich contextualize experiences for a more meaningful tactical game; while simultaneously constructing a larger game/player arc. I don't think the definitions are exclusive or that draconian, it's just a matter of style.



However, the more we move towards the game playing itself, the more it becomes a passive voyeuristic non interactive movie, the more it becomes not a game.



Food for thought:

Can anyone make a non interactive game?

Is going to the movies a game? (why not there are social rules and a social contract like not yelling “fire” inside a theater.

Michael Samyn
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I think what you are saying about players being able to use playing a game to construct a story that is deeply meaningful to them, is certainly true for some people. But not for others. A sort of story might be there, for sure, but not a very meaningful one, not one that really affects us, that moves us. These people need other interactive structures.



I can play a game in my head with things that I see in my room. I can, for instance, challenge myself to find 10 objects with the color red. That's not very interactive. Yet it is a game.



When it comes to interactivity, I find the definition that Chris Crawford proposes in his book on Interactive Storytelling very helpful. He describes interactivity as a "cyclic process between two or more active agents in which each agent alternately listen, thinks and speaks." What is interesting to me in this definition is that it puts the agents of an interactive process on an equal level. This means that the software, the game itself is on the same level as the player. And that true interactivity only happens when both of them are "listening, thinking and speaking". In other words, when the game plays with the player as much as the player plays with the game.

Josh Foreman
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Good article and great conversations here in the comments. It's a lot to digest and I bookmarked it so I can come back later and re-read at some point.



I've been coming to some similar conclusions as of late, as I see a bifurcation of the products we call video games and your stuff about media and games being in a sort of conflict sheds some light on what is causing the division I think. I'm certainly more on the side of ludology as I find the art of game mechanics to be fascinating and powerful, but I'm also an artist and story teller. And I find that when one has to be sacrificed for the other, I'll always side with the game mechanics. However, I don't project that prejudice over the whole spectrum of video games and insist that all designers must feel the same way I do.



Anyway, thanks for the thought-provoking work!

Ferdinand Fayollet
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Another good article. I already liked the one on the escapist website (http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/issues/issue_291/86
08-Almost-Art).

I really hope that video games can become more than what they are at the moment. Seeing studios like tale of tales or that game company trying to demonstrate this idea, is really encouraging.



If I aknowledge the fact that this new craft of programming computers allows us to do things that cinema or books couldn't do before, it's still hard for me to understand how we can make the interaction process equal as Michael say between the player and the game itself.

First I don't see how we can make a machine reach the level of complexity in relationships that a human can reach. The example of HAL in "2001, a space odyssey" is still very far from us for what I can say (and it's maybe better that way knowing what HAL is capable of in the movie :) ). But my point is that no matter how complex your dialogue/scenario tree can be, the player will always figure out where it breaks and where the illusion disapears.

To take again the example of heavy rain, I couldn't stop, voluntarilly sometimes but also unconsciously, trying to do the opposite that what the game wanted me to do. Yes the game should let me do what I want but the game has to have limits. That's why, when I tried to build my own story and my own character, I sometimes ended up failing, because I missed a button or because the game didn't let me stepping out of my car when I was supposed to go down the motorway on the wrong lane at a crazy speed just to please a foolish guy who took my son away from me and deliberately played with me over the phone so that I go kill myself and potentially others. It's the same in RPGs like mass effect or dragon age where I just go through every dialogue option if it's possible or take a random option even if it's totally not coherent with the story. It's so easy to say in those games anyway what the choice really is about : good, medium or bad. All that matters in the end then is "how many bad points should I get to be able to get that secret item that I want".



But anyway, even if in the future we could have a machine reacting really dynamically to the player inputs. I can't see how we would reach what for me is the most important thing in all art : the idea of the artist himself.

For the work to have some influencial value to our emotions, the author needs to have inputs. If he can't even predict what the outcome for the players will be, how can he frame an idea, a spirit in his creation ? If I'm biting my nails while watching the shower scene in hitchcock's "psycho", it's because he designed it for people to have that reaction at that particular moment. I know that a lot of the things that come out of a piece of art aren't always the direct product of the author, but I still think that he is the starting point of it. Even if Hergé didn't mean to make the "Castafiore Emerald" comic book what some philosophers refer to as an essay about communication (yes my example might seem a bit weird, but it's true !), I really think that he did it unconsciously or for other reasons (like comedy) without necessarilly realising the impact.



If I really hope there is a solution to that and know already that we can do other things than just RPGs, FPSs and action video games, I still wander what path we could take to make it reach the level that other medias have reached.


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