January 10, 2005

Aarseth’s Anti-Quest

by Nick Montfort · , 2:07 pm

After this latest salvo, will the sjuzet need a health pack?

Espen Aarseth declares on the first page of “Quest Games as Post-Narrative Discourse,” his article in Narrative across Media: “The thought that these complex media [MMORPGs] can be understood by any existing media theory, such as narratology, which was developed for a totally different genre, grows more unlikely with every stage of the ongoing computer evolution.” I found this statement both potentially misleading and slightly amusing…

Misleading, because I think it is quite hard to find any narratologists – certainly Marie-Laure Ryan, the editor of that volume, would not be among them – who believe that narratology is the single, total approach that will provide a complete understanding of MMORPGs or other forms of digital media. Amusing, because the text of Aarseth’s article up to that point mentions how the GNP of EverQuest compares with those of the world’s nations and is otherwise replete with references to economics, a discipline that certainly pre-dates MMORPGs and was developed for a totally different genre. Indeed, a few pages later Aarseth even mentions that the progressive, episodic, and segmented nature of games like Half-Life is due in part to memory constraints (something that is true of the breakup of Zork I-III, also), and thus “what may seem like a narrative structure is also an economic one.”

Clearly, we will need several approaches to understand digital media, but it seems likely that we will be able to find some useful ideas in disciplines that were formed before the modern video game, including not only narratology, economics, and semiotics, but, dare I say, even antique disciplines such as computer science.

Aarseth believes that “the prevalent view among academic commentators of computer games seems to be that the games are (“interactive”) stories, a new kind of storytelling that can nonetheless be analyzed and even constructed using traditional narratology.” For those who do believe that – maybe these guys, based on that domain name that they have – his article will indeed be valuable reading. It points out how those narratological approaches that are insensitive to the nature of computer games (their performative nature; the players’ ability to make choices, to configure, to operate literal machines) are, at best, of very limited use. While the concept of quest that is introduced in the article is certainly not developed enough at this point to challenge narrative as an explanatory structural or cognitive system, it seems like it could be the basis for further understanding of MMORPGs as well as progressive FPSs, quest-based MUDs and MOOs, adventure games, interactive fiction, and other sorts of digital media.

[*] Perhaps there is a bit more to say about the monotonously “anti-imperialist” bent of Aarseth’s First Person article, in which he denounces textual and intertextual approaches to games, even though that article repeats many of the same points. While I certainly don’t mean to say anything along the lines of “I, for one, welcome our new film studies overlords,” it seems pretty reasonable to consider that the games in the House of the Dead series and those in the Resident Evil series might have some relationship not only to other computer games and to game forms such as the shooting gallery but also, you know, to zombie movies. There are cinematic-style subtitles, numerous genre markings and conventions from exploitation horror films, and even, in some cases, the imitation of an old, scratchy print on faded film stock, meant to evoke the past. Without simply pretending that these games are pure cinema, and while acknowledging that not only bad games but also bad movies can result from too much confusion in this area, there seems to be plenty of room for an intelligent perspective on them that accounts for both the way they function and how they signify and relate to other media. Jesper Juul’s dissertation takes some important steps in this direction.

The thing is, despite the way that Aarseth clearly targets narratology in this article in Narrative across Media, I’m not sure how the discussion there refutes or in any way contributes to the sophisticated narratology-inspired work that is being done in digital media. This certainly includes Marie-Laure Ryan’s work, including her own article on digital media in that volume; it should also include Jesper Juul’s discussion of “game time,” which Juul only grudgingly confesses is an approach analogous to some of those taken in narratology; and I would hope it might include my own narratologically inspired consideration of interactive fiction. Aarseth, bringing up an overgeneralization in another recent article, his piece in First Person, goes on to admit that “most proper narratologists, who actually have to think about and define narratives in a scholarly, responsible, and accurate way, are not guilty of this overgeneralization.” I have to wonder, then: Why is most of Aarseth’s Narrative across Media article devoted to picking off straw-man pseudo-narratological arguments rather than advancing his potentially interesting quest model or addressing how to improve the valuable scholarship that has been done on the relationship between narrative and games? Why, for that matter, did Aarseth’s First Person essay seem to cover much of the same ground, discussing how adventure games are crummy (that guy who did Myst decided to start making animated movies instead of computer games, after all), how games are not primarily textual or intertextual, how naive narratological approaches aren’t effective? [*] Why is Aarseth staying in one area as if waiting for enemies or useful objects to appear, rather than actively seeking them out?

I’m afraid there’s only one explanation.

C’mon, Espen, enough of that. There’s a flag to capture, you know…

25 Responses to “Aarseth’s Anti-Quest”

  1. michael Says:

    Aarseth believes that “the prevalent view among academic commentators of computer games seems to be that the games are (“interactive”) stories, a new kind of storytelling that can nonetheless be analyzed and even constructed using traditional narratology.” For those who do believe that – maybe these guys, based on that domain name that they have…

    All right Nick, since you’re trolling, I’ll bite…
    I’ve never argued that all games are interactive stories (a position ever never heard anyone espouse – the closest would be Janet Murray in Hamlet on the Holodeck) nor that, even for the subset of games that have story-like properties, narratology is the way to go. As I’ve argued elsewhere, anti-interactive narrative folk use a narrow construal of narratology to argue that interactive narrative “…confuses the first-person gaming situation with the third-person narrative situation. A narrative is an already accomplished structure that is told to a spectator. A game is an evolving situation that is being accomplished by an interactor. Since an already accomplished static structure is not the same thing as an evolving, dynamic situation, then, the argument goes, narrative and game are fundamentally dichotomous. What this argument denies, however, is the possibility for hybrid situations, such as the storytelling situation, in which a storyteller constructs a specific story through interaction with the audience. In this situation, the audience is both spectator and interactor, and the evolving story only becomes an already accomplished structure at the end, yet still has story properties (e.g. interpreted in accord with narrative conventions) in its intermediate pre-completed forms. Aristotelian interactive drama is similar to this storytelling situation; through interaction the player carves a story out of the block of narrative potential provided by the system.” This is similar to Chris Crawford argument in his latest book that much of the tension in interaction vs. narrative dissappears if you take a generative, process-based view.

    I prefer to think about interactive narrative along a number of design dimensions, without forcing the entire practice onto the procrustean bed of narratology.

    In my interactive narrative class, I teach just enough narratology so that students can understand the ludology/narratology debate, not because it actually helps them to think about creating interactive narratives.

    Much of the interaction vs. narrative debate is really an agency vs. narrative debate. But not all interaction has to produce a sense of agency.

    If ludolgists want to keep having this conversation, they need to attack specific narrativist positions, and show how these positions lead to conceptual confusions that create misreadings of artifacts, and, more to my interest, lead to dead-ends in design.

  2. Malcolm Ryan Says:

    You guys argue about this stuff too much. Who cares what we call it? We’ve hardly even begun to build it yet! I have a vision for something I want to create. A new kind of artform. Something that combines interactivity and storytelling. My question is not, “what is it?” or even “can it be done?” but “how am I going to try to do it?”.

    I don’t think anyone can legitimately argue that it is impossible yet. You can highlight that some hurdles may arise, and maybe I’ll never be able to complete my entire vision (which is probably true, it is a grand vision) but we’ll never really know until we try. Let’s build something first and argue about it later.

    These guys seem to be doing some interesting work… if it ever comes to fruition. ;-)

  3. nick Says:

    In my interactive narrative class …

    See, I was indeed trolling, but for a different fish. My comment about “interactivestory.net” was actually tongue-in-cheek. If I were trolling for you I would have mentioned that you teach an interactive narrative class.

    Of course, Michael, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with approaching digital media from narratology, or even (to pick some things I know little or nothing about) from art history or popular culture studies or HCI, or for that matter any other methodology or discipline. The problem arises when you try to reduce an interactive computer program (maybe even a networked one that allows communication between players) to some “flat” and pre-existing medium, genre, or form.

    Although I won’t bother trying to dig them up, I think there actually are a good number of examples of “specific narrativist positions” that are outmoded and uninteresting, and which start from these sorts of flawed assumptions about video games and digital media work. I’m not trying to deny that such totalizing approaches, or uselessly narrow approaches, exist. I’m not sayig that Espen is fantasizing them. I just wish he were engaging with those people who are doing good and progressive scholarship, rather than chiding the possibly part-time and rather disinterested scholars whose passing perspectives on computer games are so tedious.

  4. nick Says:

    These guys [interactivestory.net] seem to be doing some interesting work…

    Touché, Malcolm. You remind me that I should get to work on my so-called “interactive fiction” …

  5. michael Says:

    These guys seem to be doing some interesting work… if it ever comes to fruition. ;-)

    I know, we’ve been talking about Facade for so long… At least we have shown it (and had several hundred people actually play it) at various venues over the last year, so it’s not total vapor. Andrew just finished the last of the voice recording at his new house in Portland. We’re cleaning up the last of the bugs; we really are in the final push. Soon… Soon…

    My question is not, “what is it?” or even “can it be done?” but “how am I going to try to do it?”.
    I agree! Theoretical arguments are interesting to me when they help me figure out why things work and how to make new things. “How” is the hard and interesting question.

  6. Malcolm Ryan Says:

    You know Michael that my jibes about Facade are all in good fun, I hope. I am really keen to see it when it comes out. Having a background in AI and planning myself, I have given a lot of thought to how to build something like this.

    While I have the mic, I’d like to raise a question that may be slightly off topic. Does anyone know if there has been any serious study of role-playing games as interactive storytelling? I don’t mean computer RPGs, but actual table-top face-to-face games with a GM and a bunch of players.

    Obviously the amount that at RPG is a “game” or “collaborative storytelling” varies from game to game and from one group of players to another. D&D, for example, has a lot of emphasis on the game aspect, whereas “systemless systems” like The Window are much more tailored towards the storytelling experience.

    I wonder if anyone has seriously analysed these games, observed how the story emerges out of the individual contributions of the players and the game master, and what techniques game masters use to combine narrative destiny with the players’ free will.

  7. nick Says:

    Malcolm, I was unable to find any work along these lines when researching Twisty Little Passages. My impression was that RPGs such as D&D have been even more neglected in the academic literature than IF has been.

  8. michael Says:

    Off the top of my head, here are a couple of references (I agree with Nick – there hasn’t been much work in this area).

    Heather Logas, a masters student who worked with me at Tech last year, wrote a master’s thesis (see “Complete Design Doc” at the bottom) looking at what computer-based RPGs can learn from physical space RPGs (table-top and live-action). She’s looking more at the concept of playing a role (and why computer-based RPGs fail to let you really play a role) rather than storytelling per se, but they are related.

    Federico Peinado and Pablo Gervas had a paper in TIDSE last year looking at how game mastering heuristics from table-top RPGs can be applied to the design of a case-based interactive story generator.

  9. Marie-Laure Says:

    The main reason for the ludologist rejection of narratological approach is the desire to build game-studies from scratch as a brand new academic discipline. But as Nick observed a while ago on GTA (I think in May), the reduction of computer games to rules and strategy leads to what he calls “Tetris Studies,” and neglects the appeal of games for the imagination. The problem however is that it is very difficult to define the concept of rule in video games. In a board games rules are listed on the box , numbered 1 to 10, and the player must read and internalized these rules before starting to play the game. But in a video game the rules are inscribed in the code, and the player does not see the code. Players discover “rules” as they go, just as, in life, they discover the laws of physics (or rather, the consequences of the laws of physics) by trying to jump off skyscrapers or hitting the breaks while driving on ice. There’s much more in a rich gameworld than possibilities of action that make you progress in the game. How can one tell which parts of the code are game-rules, and which ones are not ? Is it a “rule” that the Sims speak in gibberish, or that you can take snapshots of the screen ? Or is it just “affordances,” some of which are exploited for fun, and others to progress in the game ? As I see it a narrativist and a ludological approach to games are not antithetic; rather, they complement each other: one studies what must be done to pursue the game goals, the other, how the goal-pursuing actions are fleshed out as concrete actions which matter to the avatar from a human point of view. Here are some of the ways in which a narrative and a ludological approach can be reconciled:

    1. Investigate the heuristic use of narrative. Creating a game story, rather than listing a series of abstract rules, is an efficient way to facilitate the learning process. If an object on the screen is an abstract shape, we must learn from the user’s manual how to manipulate it; but if it looks like a car, and if it is involved in a narrative scenario relevant to cars, the user will know that it can be used to move around in the game world, for instance to escape enemies.

    2. Explore the various roles and manifestations of narrative in computer games:

    • The narrative script that is designed into the game
    • The narrative that players write though their actions, actualizing a particular sequence of events within the range of possibilities offered by the built-in script
    • The narrative that lures players into the game (cut scenes and background information that introduce the game; text on the box)
    • The narrative that rewards the player (cut scenes that follow the successful completion of a mission)
    • The micro-stories told by non-playing characters
    • (For games with recording devices): The narratives that players make out of the materials provided by the game

    3. Describe the various structural types of game narrative. For instance: narratives of progression (for games with levels); narratives of emergence structured as a playground, where players choose their own goals and actions in a world teeming with narrative possibilities; and narratives of discovery, featuring two layers of story, as in the mystery story: the murder being invetstigated, and the actions of the player.

    4. Investigate how the game story is dynamically revealed to the player: how much of this story is told top-down, through non-interactive cut scenes, how much is discovered when the player takes the right action or finds the right information within the game world, and how much emerges bottom-up, through the choices of the player. Are the player’s actions an integral part of the plot, or merely a way to gain access to spaces where more of the story will be revealed ? How are the personality and past history of the avatar presented to the player ? Which elements in the dialogue between the avatar and non-playing characters have ludological functions (i.e. provide clues on how to solve problems), and which ones serve the narrative function of fleshing out the characters and the fictional world ?

    5. Evaluate the connection between gameplay and narrative: could the same system of rules (provided we are able to determine what is a rule and what is not) be narrativized in many different ways, or is there an organic, necessary connection between rules and narrative ? Do the problems presented to the player grow out of the narrative theme, or are they arbitrarily slapped upon it ? (Critics of the game Myst argue for instance that there is little connection between the game story and the problems that need to be solved in order to unfold it.) When the player solves a problem, does he understand the narrative logic of the actions that led to the solution, or do the problem-solving actions appear random to him ?

  10. Jason Dyer Says:

    Even though academics haven’t been engrossed with tabletop RPG theory, enthusiastic amateurs are making some progress. (Given most IF authors don’t make money on their IF, I’d say the line between professional and amateur is thin to begin with.)

    One of the best-developed aspects of the theory is distinguishing Simulationist, Gamist, and Narrativist RPGs.

    Simulationist refers to precisely following a world model. Gamist refers to a design makes the most dynamic gameplay; that is, where strategy has marked effects. Narrativist refers to bending things so they produce the best possible story (even if it means tossing out dice rolls or charts showing how far a character can jump).

    (Imprecise definitions, to be sure; if you want the definitions in extreme detail you can refer to the site I pointed to.)

    Due to its inherent flexibility, RPG theory has a easier time influencing actual game design than computer game theory does. On a computer one needs to worry about the actual implementation; it’s *nice* to think about structures that require hard AI, but it isn’t like we are able to program it. With tabletop RPGs it’s quite easy to theorize something and try it out in practice right away. I think tabletop RPGs would make a good “laboratory” for some concepts being tossed around in computer circles.

  11. Malcolm Ryan Says:

    Thanks for these links. I also discovered the RandomWiki has a fairly large glossary of RPG-theory terms with references.

    The distinction between “Gamist” and “Narrativist” RPGs sounds dreadfully familiar.

  12. scott Says:


    Thanks for the most cogent suggestions in response to the whole ludology/narratology hullaballoo I’ve seen to date. I’m in the middle of writing a syllabus for new media studies and I think you just came up with a great assignment for my students.

  13. nick Says:

    Marie-Laure, thanks very much for mapping out, in detail, these big questions involving narrative and game.

  14. Marie-Laure Says:

    Nick, Scott: Salen and Zimmerman “Rules of Play” deserves credit for my summary.

  15. Michael Says:

    Marie-Laure, I like your list (or Salen and Zimmerman’s list) of the possible uses of narratives within games. When I said:

    In my interactive narrative class, I teach just enough narratology so that students can understand the ludology/narratology debate, not because it actually helps them to think about creating interactive narratives

    I was refering to narratology narrowly construed, all the talk about diegesis, focalizers, story, discourse and so forth into which so much of the ludology/narratology debate is cast, with, as far as I can tell, few returns. Narrowing the discussion of the role of narratives in games to formal narratology misses the cognitive role narrative plays in the player’s interpretation of the gameworld, and the relationship between player action and the narratives constructed through this action.

  16. Espen Aarseth Says:

    Nick, there is a quite significant difference between what I have said about narratology and its (lack of) potential, and what you make of it regarding narratologists. I don’t attack narratology or narratologists, merely the still common belief that unmitigated narratology is the answer to the theoretical problems posed by games. Boring point, sure, but hardly the same thing, so duh.

    And speaking of aleading mismusements, what “genre” was economics developed for, then?

    If you really want to discuss straw people, it seems like the strange construction of “ludologists against narratology” is a very relevant place to start:

    Since all of the so called “ludologists” are informed by narratology, and often use it in their analyses of games, the idea that you can’t use narratology to study games must come from somewhere else, no?

    What I actually say in that article is that quests are a better way to look at so-called “game stories”, since there seems to be no “narrative games” that are not quest games. Show me a “narrative game” that is not a quest game, and then we’ll talk.

  17. nick Says:

    Espen, thanks for the comment. Of course, I only mean to assail you for repeatedly making a boring point, not for being wrong about anything.

    I also didn’t mean to rephrase your argument as simply “you can’t use narratology to study games.” You didn’t say that, as far as I can tell, and I’m no longer trying to promote the ludology/narratology debate as a conversation piece – as fun as it was to do that last time. I was just picking on you for engaging the least interesting approach of “unmitigated narratology” rather than the interesting approaches of thoughtful “progressive narrativists.” I mean, look at us – we may have to make up some term like that now to get any respect in game studies circles, and I know how much you hate neologisms.

    Perhaps my accusations were unfounded. After considering the pace of academic publishing, I have since thought of a kinder explanation for why a pair of print articles by you, focusing on this topic, were published last year.

    You got me about economics not being developed for some “genre,” but Marie-Laure’s argument from the first sentence of Narrative across Media is that narratology wasn’t, either: “Narratology, the formal study of narrative, has been conceived from its earliest days as a project that transcends disciplines and media.” I know she’s talking about disciplines and media there, and I suppose there is a slight chance you could think of narrative itself as a genre – with a comic strip, a narrative movie, a narrative poem, and a novel all in the same genre – but I would guess her statement applies to genres as well, just about any way they are defined.

    Show me a “narrative game” that is not a quest game, and then we’ll talk.

    Although I won’t endorse “narrative game” as a phrase, there are games that, among other things, generate narrative texts (for broad sense of the word text) and might be better conceptualized as something other than quests. You define quest games as “games with specific goals” and “hunt[s] for a specific outcome”, where the player seeks a particular objective by progressing rather than just killing everyone else or trying to get the most points. So, games where you do not have a clear goal at first, but where goals and options (perhaps different ones during different sessions) make themselves apparent only during the course of play, seem to fit uncomfortably in this category. I believe Façade is a “game” of this sort, as is James Willson’s 2001 Schroedinger’s Cat. And I’m not sure what to do with Emily Short’s situated chatterbot Galatea, which produces a narrative, and which some people make into a game by formulating goals for themselves, but which provides no goals to begin with.

    But my argument wouldn’t be that some narrative-producing game is “not a quest game.” Rather, I’d look for other approaches that might work better than “quest,” or approaches that are analogous to “quest,” whenever the direct application of the concept seemed awkward. One of the alternative concepts might be “riddle,” as I discuss it in Twisty Little Passages; another might be “intrigue,” as you discuss it in Cybertext with reference to Deadline. And of course another idea, yes, would be to make use of approaches analogous to “narrative,” or to use the concept “potential narrative.”

  18. scott Says:

    I know some hard-core structuralists who would argue that all narratives are quests, or reacting to the quest narrative. Every protagonist, after all, is trying to acheive or find something (usually). I don’t know. But isn’t the moment of the narratology/ludology debate in the past? I thought we resolved that, like, weeks ago. Narrative folk agree that playing a game isn’t listening to a story, gamers agree that the narrative makes for richer games, or failing that, for the formula that the game industry is now cooking with. You can’t read a game the way you can read Ulysses, you can’t play Grand Theft Auto the way you used to play Galaga. Somebody throws you a ball, the ball starts telling you a story about how its mother got killed while it was away in Liberty City. You try to decide whether to throw the ball or shoot it or figure out how its mother died. You end up killing cops.

  19. Jason Dyer Says:

    So, games where you do not have a clear goal at first, but where goals and options (perhaps different ones during different sessions) make themselves apparent only during the course of play, seem to fit uncomfortably in this category. I believe Façade is a “game” of this sort, as is James Willson’s 2001 Schroedinger’s Cat.

    I would refer to Schroedineger’s Cat as a toy rather than a game, much like the items listed as toys on Little Fluffy.

    If a player has a ball, it’s not a game in itself, just a potential game. The rules must be set first. The player may invent the rules on their own (bounce the ball for 120 seconds, figure out how the Schroedineger’s Cat machine works) or they may be derived from elswhere (using the rules of kickball, Schroedineger’s Cat giving some “you win” message at a certain state).

    Now, Schroedineger’s Cat has suggested rules (work out what’s going on, then stop), but I’d consider them akin to the instruction manual that comes with a checkers set. Perhaps someone would like to play Turkish checkers instead of standard checkers, and there’s nothing intrinsic in the system itself stopping you.

  20. nick Says:

    I agree that “toy” is one valid approach to understanding Schroedinger’s Cat – my point was that “quest” isn’t going to be the only useful one.

    I don’t think “toy” will tell you everything about it, though. Perhaps there is the further distinction between a toy and a game platform, brought up by your mention of a checkers set. You can’t really “work out what’s going on, then stop” with most toys (Etch-a-Sketch, Frisbee, etc.). You can solve Schroedinger’s Cat, however, as Storme Winfield and others showed on rec.games.int-fiction. So I think the literary riddle might tell you something about that work that “game,” “toy,” and “quest” don’t.

  21. Jason Dyer Says:

    Some extra comments:

    The rules to a game can be set on the fly, of course. Perhaps one starts bouncing a ball and realizes 50 seconds in hey, this has been in the air for a while and tries to keep going until 120. This has the odd result of the non-game-playing activity being spun into the game-playing activity.

    Also, I neglected to comment on Façade and Galatea, mainly because I’m going to end up arguing against myself. Let’s try having person A (aka “ego”) and person B (aka “superego”) face off. (Id can be the referee.)

    A: These games are quest-based. The authors have set finish states in both of them; I would say the goal is “reach some sort of finish state”.

    B: So if there’s a finish state, it’s a quest-based game? What about Myst? Didn’t it keep going after it was “done”?

    A: Myst had a clear ending state — it was clear where the narrative was complete.

    B: I’m not so sure about that. I’m guessing some people would search for secret things after the game declared a finish. And is one really “done” when one finish state is complete? Clearly this would cause one to be dissatisfied with, say, Aisle. This same situation applies with The Dreamhold — even though there’s a finite state ending it’s hard to tell if everything has been seen.

    A: Let’s back up — would you say every game can be played as a toy?

    B: Sure, you can noodle around all you want.

    A: Can a toy be played as a game — without any external rule setting? That is, rules that are suggested rather than enforced?

    B: No, I don’t see how you’d do that.

    A: So, when I refer to the end of Myst, that’s internal rule setting — nothing else is going to be thrown at the player, no matter how hard they try. External rule setting consists of the player looking for more. But the game has “ended” still.

    B: A little vague — what about when the player flails uselessly with external rules in some bit of a game, with no internal rule setting? Are they playing the game?

    A: Hm. Maybe not. When they do that, it’s more like a toy.

    B: But playing with a toy can be fun, right? Isn’t that part of the game, then? And wouldn’t that mean those parts *aren’t* quest-based?

    I’ll report back when my multiple selves have come to an agreement.

  22. nick Says:

    Perhaps it’s useful to note that your perspective on some object should not just suit the object, but the questions you’re asking about it. You can ignore “quest” and “game” and “narrative” and think of Myst as a “CD-ROM produced in Director” if you only care about the capabilties of Director for CD-ROM production, or you can think of it simply as a “product” if you’re interested in how many copies of Myst you can sell. So if you want to think of some digital media work as a “toy,” you might ask, first, what does that tell me about this work that I didn’t know already, or that other perspectives don’t reveal? And, second, are these things I care about? Or am I better off, for instance, think of this thing as “interactive fiction” for the moment, because I’m rating it in the IF Comp?

  23. Jason Dyer Says:

    Point well taken, Nick.

    One nice thing about real-life toys is that they can be combined. Not only can you have a ball, but you can have a bat.

    What if the equivalent was created with an interactive work? What if I were to make a “quantum slit viewer” and “import” it into Schroedinger’s Cat somehow?

    For an implemented example, Catz and Dogz were combinable.

  24. nick Says:

    I think “combinable in play” is a feature of objects in the same ontological world, not just things that are intended as toys. Not only can I play with both a ball and a bat, I can play with both a ball and a bag, if I like – playing catch, for instance – even though the bag may be clearly labeled “THIS BAG IS NOT A TOY.” However, I can’t play with a ball and the kidney that Leopold Bloom purchased in Ulysses, because that kidney exists in the fictional world of the novel, not in the “real world” where the ball exists.

    I’d say that you can play with Catz and Dogz together because they share an ontological word, as do different objects in the same MUD or MOO. But an interactive fiction has a separate fictional world; toys and other objects can’t be easily imported from other worlds.

    Jill’s dissertation (which Espen supervised) is about the exceptions to the rules I just mentioned: how the boundaries between fictional worlds and the real world can, in some cases, be transgressed during play.

  25. Jason Dyer Says:

    I think the distinction here (distinguishing game-based combining and toy-combining) is that combining toys causes no worry about losing ‘balance’, whereas adding a new element to a quest structure does. For example, suppose Schroedinger’s Cat were given an end state of “kill the white cat”. Perhaps accomplishing this would require an understanding of the world and it represents some sort of difficulty.

    Now suppose one adds a ‘gun’ to the world universe. Killing the white cat is now much easier, and the difficulty of reaching the end state is undermined. If the only elements combined are toys, however, no imbalance is caused, since the gun is simply something new to play with.

    I once was on a MOO (the now-defunct SpaceMOO) where players were free to create their own items. However, if they were to have an affect on combat (that is, the play balance) they had to be approved by the administrators before they would work. Therefore one could not simply make an ‘instant kill’ gun and hope it would smite everyone in the game.

    Obviously, as you say, world-sharing is a requirement for any of this to occur.

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