1999, Doug Church proposed the use of formal abstract design tools
for game design . Part of Church's suggestion was to develop
a common design vocabulary. It's ironic that while the game design
community has started to develop these more rigorous design principles
for games, there is much confusion even about the most basic of
questions, such as what a game is, compared to a story or a simulation.
This confusion only increases when we start to consider new and
emerging forms like mobile games, location-based games and pervasive
games. It's obvious that we need some basic distinctions and definitions
at the highest level, so that more detailed methods can be sorted
into their appropriate areas of application.
a basic language for describing different types of games requires
different dimensions of distinctions. That is, we need orthogonal
taxonomies: not everything falls into a simple hierarchical
system of categories and subcategories. Orthogonal taxonomies allow
design concerns to be separated. So we can, for example, consider
whether a game is a real-time strategy game or a warfare simulation,
irrespectively of whether it is created for PCs, mobile devices,
or technologically supported physical environments. The gameplay
patterns for an RTS may apply irrespectively of the implementation
strategy. Or at least, we can specify for a particular pattern what
range of games it applies to within a system of orthogonal categories.
In some cases, we can even shed light on issues that still plague
academic game researchers, such as the relationship between gameplay
and narrative. How nice it would be to put this debate behind us
once and for all!
the taxonomy system proposed here, some fundamental distinctions
are drawn between game forms and functions based upon narrative,
repetitive game play and simulation; computer games can be seen
to manifest these three functional and formal aspects to differing
degrees, depending upon the particular game or game genre. Beyond
the boundaries of games played only via computers and consoles we
identify further classification dimensions, from virtual to physical
gaming, and from fictional to non-fictional gaming.
taxonomy has been developed within the Zero Game Studio of the Interactive
Institute in Sweden . We developed the taxonomy after many long
design discussions, and have found the resulting framework to be
very useful, saving time and getting us past some very basic questions
and confusions. It is, of course, impossible to precisely classify
many specific games, since their different aspects may belong to
multiple or ambiguous classifications. Nevertheless, this scheme
provides a heuristic and practical tool for clarifying many design
issues, saving time in proposal writing and design meetings, and
providing higher level categories for identifying where more detailed
design methods may be applied.
and Game Play
games encompass a vast range of interactive media productions. In
the broadest possible sense we call all of these things "games".
However, this is not necessarily useful in understanding distinctions
among the different creations that we're considering. It's much
more useful to adopt a narrower definition of "game".
So let us narrow the definition a little and state: a game
is a goal-directed and competitive activity conducted within
a framework of agreed rules. This can be referred to as the
ludic or ludological definition of game, the kind
of definition at the base of traditional game theory in disciplines
this definition of a game, it is often said that learning to play
a game involves learning the rules of the game. Notice however that
our definition does not require this. It does require that
activity obeys the rules, and that we implicitly or explicitly agree
to those rules.
rules establish what as a player you can or cannot do, and what
the behavioral consequences of actions may be within the world of
the game. But, successful play does not necessarily require learning
all of the game rules -- only those necessary to support a particular
playing style. Learning to play a game, making progress within a
game, and, with persistence and basic ability, eventually completing
or winning a game are a matter of learning how to interact within
the game system and its rules in a way that supports progress. This
is a matter, not necessarily of learning the game rules (although
at least some of these may become consciously known) but of learning
a gameplay gestalt, understood as a pattern of interaction
with the game system. Playing the game is then a matter of performing
the gestalt. It is what the player does, within the system and as
allowed by the rules of the game.
gameplay gestalt can have many forms for a particular game, capturing
different playing styles, tactics and approaches to progressing
through the game and (perhaps) eventually winning. In general, it
is a particular way of thinking about the game state from the perspective
of a player, together with a pattern of repetitive perceptual, cognitive,
and motor operations.
particular gameplay gestalt could be unique to a person, a game,
or even a playing occasion. More generally though, recurrent gameplay
gestalts can be identified across games, game genres, and players.
Some examples of gameplay gestalts include:
games: shoot while being hit, strafe to hiding spot, take
send fast character to lure enemy from group, all characters kill
enemy, take health, repeat
Games: order peasants, send to work, order soldiers, send
to perimeters, repeat while slowly expanding the perimeters (up
to the point of catastrophic win/lose); OR: move x archers to
tower y every n minutes to head off the enemy camel musketeers
from the east who arrive every n+1 minutes
General: overcome barrier, save if successful, reload and
retry if unsuccessful
patterns may or may not be explicitly designed for by the creators
of a game. They are not game design patterns in the same
sense that the paper/scissors/rock system is, ie. they are not designed
into the system of a game. If designers do take them into account,
it is in supporting the development and emergence of these patterns
in play, never, in a good design, by forcing them on the player.
and narratives can be defined as broadly as game: everything is
a narrative/story. Again, this is not very useful. We can define
a narrative as an experience that is structured in time. Different
structures then represent different forms of narrative, and a narrative
is an experience manifesting a specific narrative structure. A very
common narrative structure used in computer games, borrowed from
film scriptwriting, is the three-act restorative structure. The
three act restorative structure has a beginning (the first act)
in which a conflict is established, followed by the playing out
of the implications of the conflict (the second act), and completed
by the final resolution of the conflict (the third act). This narrative
structure also specifically includes a central protagonist, a conflict
involving a dilemma of normative morality, a second act propelled
by the false resolution of this dilemma, and a third act in which
the dilemma is resolved by an act that reaffirms normative morality.
Each act within the three-act structure culminates in a point of
crisis, the resolution of which propels the plot into the following
act, or to the final resolution.
computer action games that use the three-act restorative structure,
the central conflict form usually manifests recursively (ie. the
structure is repeated at different levels of temporal scale). In
action games, for example, the overall restorative three-act model
may be applied to the game experience as a whole, with the dramatic
arch being completed when the user finishes the game. At this level
the story is usually not interactive, since act one, key scenes
within the story of act two, and the playing out of the consequences
of the final resolution in act three are typically achieved by cut
scenes, sequences of non-interactive video material.
next level down within the recursive structure is that of the game
level. The game level is designed for the pursuit of a goal, that
of the player reaching the end of the level, that serves the purpose
of progressing the player through the second act of the higher level
three-act structure of the game narrative. Conflict is achieved
by resistance to the player achieving that goal, in the form of
opposing enemies, puzzles, barriers, and the like. There is rarely
if ever a one-to-one correspondence between game levels and acts;
more typically, the first act and the end of the third act are presented
via cut scenes, with playable game levels summing to form a highly
extended second act followed by the final resolution of the third
act as the end of game play (e.g., by overcoming the final and toughest
enemy, usually at the heart of the central conflict in the story).
The sense of level-specific conflict can be enhanced by increasing
difficulty through a level, or by an internal dramatic structure
that emphasizes the point of completing the level, such as the defeat
of a level boss, the big barrier creature at the end of the level.
The false resolution that drives act two of the three-act restorative
model at the highest level may be seen as a repetitive phenomenon
at the end of each non-terminal game level; when the game level
is resolved (completed), the player only finds themselves at the
beginning of the next game level full of conflicts.
the next level of the recursive decomposition of action game structure,
we see a series of smaller-scale conflicts and challenges within
a game level, which may include monsters to be defeated or avoided,
puzzles to be solved, or treasures, clues or keys that must be found
in order to progress in the current or future game levels, etc.
Usually it is only this lowest level of the action game plot that
is highly interactive. The linear and non-interactive cut scenes
framing game play are revealed in a predefined order, and within
a level all players usually start in the same place and must have
completed the same specific set of tasks in order to complete the
level. The low level and interactive parts of the game are played
by performance of a gameplay gestalt. So game play usually has little
if any bearing on the story being told; the story is for the most
part a structure imposed on top of, and different from, game play.
The perspective upon games that emphasizes the narrative or story
aspects of the game can be referred to as the narratological perspective.
these definitions, the question of the relationship between gameplay
and narrative can now be phrased more clearly. In particular, the
apprehension of an experience as a narrative requires the cognitive
construction of a narrative gestalt, a cognitive structure or pattern
allowing the perception and understanding of an unfolding sequence
of phenomena as a unified narrative. The three-act restorative structure
is a very common, in fact the dominant, example of a narrative gestalt
in games and films. It is a pattern that people understand and expect,
and will often be disappointed if it is not satisfied (e.g., if
the story ends before the central conflict is resolved, or if the
hero dies permanently during the story). In playing a computer game,
one must learn and then perform a gameplay gestalt in order to progress
through the events of the game. To experience the game as a narrative
also requires the creation of a narrative gestalt unifying the game
experiences into a coherent narrative structure. The tension between
gameplay and narrative can now be viewed as a competition between
these respective gestalt formation and performance processes for
perceptual, cognitive, and motor effort. Within the range of effort
required for immersion and engagement, if gameplay consumes most
of the player's available cognitive resources, there will be little
scope left for perceiving complex narrative patterns (e.g., we forget
the motivation behind the character's battles, and what was
the uber-villain's name again?). More than this, the narrative adds
little to player immersion and engagement (who cares, it's fun anyway).
Conversely, focusing on the development of the sense of narrative
(e.g., in the case of multipath movies) reduces the player's need
and capacity for a highly engaging gameplay gestalt.
game design achieves better integration of the gameplay and narrative
structures of the game. This can be done by methods like continuously
but unobtrusively reminding the player of the narrative context
(rather than having a few perfunctory cut scenes), and using cut
scenes and cinematic sequences as rewards at appropriate moments
within the rhythmic patterns of game play (so they naturally fall
within pauses and rests, and are not perceived as interruptions).
however, that at the lowest level of the dramatic structure of a
game, the conflict within the detail of the gameplay experience
is never actually one of the player-character's survival, but one
involving tradeoffs within cognitive, emotive, and performative
effort. Is it worth trying to jump over a ravine at the risk of
falling and having to reload a past game state for the sake of a
health pack that may help me to get past the tough enemy ahead without
then having to reload and retry when the enemy defeats me? The conflict
is an ergonomic one within in terms of performing gameplay gestalts.
And this has nothing to do with the higher-level narrative context.
So the tension between gameplay and narrative is even more fundamental
than being a simple competition for cognitive and performative resources:
the player's investment in the low level conflict as an active participant
is disconnected from any deep narrative significance understood
in terms of the shape of the higher level narrative gestalt. Understanding
this explains the perceived tension between narrative and game play
and suggests strategies for overcoming this tension by developing
game play mechanics that are fundamentally dramatic, in that their
consequences do affect the higher level narrative patterns
of the game.
has been made over the last couple of years of the view of games
as simulations. But what exactly is a simulation, such that it's
different from a narrative or a game? A simulation can be defined
as: a representation of the function, operation or features of
one process or system through the use of another.
a simulation may involve no specific repetitive and goal-oriented
activities (there may be no obvious end state, other than the player
getting bored), and no specific predefined patterns in time. Time
patterns emerge over the course of running a simulation, and can
be completely different for different runs. Repetitive action may
be used to operate a simulation, but may not be directed to any
specific overall goal.
interesting to regard single-player strategy games from the simulation
perspective. During competitive play, there is an obvious goal.
But many games will allow us to continue playing after all of the
enemies are defeated. Until resources run out, these games may then
chug along indefinitely simulating a simple economic system. There
is no more gameplay by our strict ludic definition, and the narrative
after winning has no interesting temporal (dramatic) structure.
Simulations like flight simulators are often interesting from the
perspective of skill development; they are not interesting as games
or stories, but for understanding how a particular system functions
in different circumstances.