December 1, 2005
OK, I guess it’s my turn to blog now. So it continues…
Player-Centered Game Design
Players are an important source of innovation, and can inform the early prototyping stage (the “mysterious” stage of game design). Based on the Cultural Probes tradition (first introduced by Bill Gaver), in which people self-document their lives, not with the idea of collecting existing user needs, but to provoke new, unexpected ideas. They provided participants with a box (reminiscent of a board-game box) containing a rules sheet, workbooks, disposable camera, sticker sheets, daily bonus cards, fabric bag, drawing pens and paper glue. Some tasks are closely tied to particular games and gaming situations, while other tasks are more open, speculative. Example: various games are presented on target-like backgrounds (e.g. croquet, mobile-phone game, slot machine, etc.); people place tags corresponding to words or phrases they associate with the game, closer to the center of the target means more central to their idea of the game. Example: people take photos of games that have collected dust, not been played lately. Example: Given a low-detail cartoon image of, say, a family sitting in a livingroom with one person playing a video game, people are asked to fill in talk bubbles and facial expressions to indicate how they feel about the situation. The method offered participants means for coming to terms with implicit knowledge of games/gaming, and inspired participants to articulate their relation to games. Data can be used for basic research into meanings and habits associated with games, inspiration for game design, and theoretical investigation of player-centered design.
Designers, Games and Players: Same Game, Different Rules?
Narratology is the general science of narrative; semiology is the general science of signs; ludology is the general science of games – all are concerned with unpacking various kinds of “texts” (games are cybertexts) – Nick notes that narratology is not a about texts, but is general to any medium (unless you generalize “text” to be everything). Ludology assumes that games are all about rules, that they are “rules all the way down”; his talk argues against the pure form of this rule-centric approach. He proposes that rules stipulate goals while simulation of physical laws (not rules) govern the operation of the gameworld. We make a similar distinction in the game ontology project, where we make the distinction between Gameplay Rules and Gameworld Rules (Pseudo-physical Rules are the specific subset of Gameworld Rule that are the simulation of physical laws). He doesn’t want to call the Gameworld Rules “rules”, because, though they are implemented in code, they are not actually rule-based. There’s a big, confused discussion about “rules” going on – I haven’t been able to jump in on the question session, but this confusion has been long-settled. There is an old distinction in the philosophy of mind between rule-governed and rule-following behavior; rule-governed behavior describes any causal process, even when explicit rules (of the if-then variety) are not being followed, while rule-following behavior is a subset of rule-governed behavior determined by explicit rule following. Much of this debate really goes back to Wittgenstein’s treatment of the notion of “rule” in the context of language games.
Lev Manovich is sitting right in front of me – he’s only at DAC for the day. After seeing the first couple of sessions he says (paraphrasing) that all the bad rumors he’s heard about game studies are true, that it’s even worse than he thought. Game studies people talk as if there are no other cultural artifacts in the world, just games.
Rule-Money Trade of Virtual Assets: Ten Different User Perceptions
Discussing the real-world economy of virtual world assets (characters, weapons, etc.). Most MMO publishers don’t like real-money trade (RMT), as it “breaks the magic circle”, “violates the achievement hierarchy” etc. (Nick opines that RMT increasing the liability of MMO publishers – probably the real reason they don’t like it). Players like RMT: “allows me to skip the boring grind, keep up with my friends, fit my avatar with gear that suits my style” or “I worked for those assets, so I can do what I wish”. He wants to develop a categorization scheme for different views toward RMT. Briefly flashes through a number of typologies of play (LeBlanc, Bartle, Yee, etc.). Starting with Yee’s model of player motivations (e.g. advancement, mechanics, socializing, teamwork, discovery, etc.), categorizes the attitude toward RMT as a function of player motivation (details available in his paper).
Doors and Perception: Fiction vs. Simulation in Games
Opens with a story of playing Call of Duty 2; Nick opines “note that he’s telling a story of his game experience.” Puts up a picture of a labyrinth and asks whether it’s real or not; it’s real because you can actually trace your finger on the labyrinth and solve it – it functions as a labyrinth so it’s a real labyrinth. Similarly, are game worlds real or fictional? They’re real, because they function. Games contain fictional elements (e.g. Laura Croft’s background) but game events are simulated, and un-fictional (incompatible with fictional conventions). Old Ludological Point: game conventions overrule fictional logic. Labyrinths can be fictional, like the labyrinth in The Shining (it’s not a real labyrinth one could actually follow), while game labyrinths are real: physically virtual, cognitively real. A literary fiction has no truth value in our world (e.g. does the ghost of Hamlet’s father exist? Is it true or false that Pinocchio’s noses grows?); however, Possible Worlds theory is used in literary studies precisely to talk about truth values in fiction. But in Counterstrike, it is true that you win or loose. Game worlds are not fictional worlds; they are ontologically distinct from fictional worlds because they are testable (you can determine whether Godot really will come or not, unlike fictional worlds).