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Opinion: Beyond 'Beyond Men In Tights'

Opinion: Beyond 'Beyond Men In Tights'

September 11, 2006 | By Simon Carless

September 11, 2006 | By Simon Carless
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More: Console/PC

Following Damion Schubert's recent Austin Game Conference speech on MMO design innovation named 'Beyond Men in Tights', a new Gamasutra Letter To The Editor from game professional Tim Carter has queried his findings.

In his in-depth response, Carter suggests the following:

"Views of those such as those held by Damion Schubert continue to convince me that game designers have simply lost touch with reality. (It is, after all, a common refrain that "realistic" games are intrinsically boring.)

Schubert claims that combat is included in games because it gives player "what they want".

This is a view that subscribes to a dionysian, internal-locus-of-control view - a view that desire is pre-eminent force in human affairs (as opposed to necessity). I'm really surprised to hear this coming from a "combat designer".

Let me spell a few things out.

Combat is "included" in most games not because it is what players "want". It is "included" because it exists in reality. It is the ultimate manifestation of conflict in any plot-based situation - such as a story. Since storytellers must necessarily be concerned with issues of conflict, they need to be aware of combat. In "Hamlet", for example, combat occurs at the climax not so much because Shakespeare thought the audience "wanted it", but more because it was a natural manifestation of Hamlet's dithering in the face of murderous conspiracies going on in the background. There was a *reason* for combat in the turning and machinations of the world of Hamlet - as there is in all of human experience.

Now since the designers of games hand the "keys to the car" of plot over to their audience they, above all other media authors, need to understand combat and incorporate its possiblity into their product (assuming, of course, they create a game world that is open and provides a very high level of agency to the user).

In just about any game that involves a first- or third-person perspective and conflict, combat must necessarily exist at the far end of the spectrum of conflict. And if you wish to have a mature understanding of power (power also exists in the real world), you need to understand combat. (Indeed, you and I think of combat and power all the time: when we are walking down the street late at night; when we lock our door for fear of an intrusion; when we choose not to travel to Haiti for a vacation; et cetera.)

My point is this: combat needs to be understood as it is, not turned into some magic candy bar for "baby game players". Even when combat is portrayed in a fantastic way it still needs to be understood, as here it often is simply metaphorical - for example, combat in "The Matrix" (the film) is a metaphor of the struggle of the independent creative voice against the crushing, dehumanizing agents of modern, industrialized society.

When you understand combat - its external manifestations in realistic and fantastic game worlds, its internal manifestations as traumatic events or expressions of character - you can develop a truly sophisticated and creative new language for it.

And when you include this, this can lead to amazing new experiences for players, because now you are not just appealing to some intangible desire that may or may not exist in the audience, but to an external and universal wisdom that permeates the world and that is very real."

Further replies to Carter's point of view via the Letter To The Editor interface are welcome - Gamasutra will be starting a weekly Letters column tomorrow, thanks to increased article feedback of recent.

[UPDATE: Schubert himself has responded in detail to this opinion on his Zen Of Design weblog.]

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