December 1, 2005

DAC 2005 Session 2

by Michael Mateas · , 8:18 am

OK, I guess it’s my turn to blog now. So it continues…

Player-Centered Game Design

Olli Sotamaa

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?

Andreas Gregersen

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

Vili Lehdonvirta

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

Espen Aarseth

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).

8 Responses to “DAC 2005 Session 2”

  1. noah Says:

    I have to admit that I was pretty disappointed by Espen’s presentation. I’ve seen him give great presentations in the past, but somehow I just didn’t see what was interesting about this one. I realize I need to read the paper before saying much more, but my impression of the presentation was this: Espen’s planning to argue against people who see computer games as procedural fictions. His first move is to substitute the definition of fiction used by such people for a different one. Using his definition, it’s clear that anything that can do more than one thing (that is procedural) produces an experience that is incoherent with the definition of fiction just introduced.

    In some ways I felt similarly about the “rules” paper: I introduce a definition of rules that makes what other people say about rules seem incoherent. It’s not the definition of “rules” that they use, but pay that no mind.

    Overall, I thought the afternoon sessions I attended were very strong. Not sure if that comes through in my notes (and perhaps it’s just an artifact of jetlag) but I was a much happier conference attendee in the later sessions.

  2. ErikC Says:

    Was there any response to the lev manovitch comment or was it said in private?

  3. Espen Says:

    Sorry to have disappointed, Noah, but, actually, I haven’t been able to find or argue against any such definitions that you are refering to; my point was rather that they tend not to exist.

  4. noah Says:

    Espen – sounds, as I suspected, like I need to read the paper. And I agree that the “I view this game as a procedural fiction” approach is often undertaken without any explicitly stated theory of fiction.

    But if you could satisfy my curiosity before I have a chance to read the paper, can you tell me which elements of Facade you would see as fictional? I’m worried that little of it would be, given that most of it can be different on different playthroughs, it’s possible to test hypothesis about various elements, etc.

  5. Emilia Branny Says:

    Note to the distinction between the fictional and the virtual made in Aarseth’s paper.. What would happen to a virtual door if we try to knock at it?

    I guess it should turn virtual, because we cannot do that..

    So, being ‘virtual’ or ‘fictional’ is not an inherent quality of a game object. The notion of ‘testability’ refers to aspects of objects. We can test against visibility, opening, locking, breaking.. in some aspects we succeed, in others we fail, and this usually provides clues. So, the aspects will be mostly functional.. the door basically does what is needed for gameplay. It can do a little bit more, but still it ‘represents’ partially. Making a ‘total representation’ is a utopia.

    Summing up, I don’t quite understand what is the point of distinguishing ‘seeing’ from other actions and setting up the categories of ‘fiction’ and ‘simulation’.

    One more point: ‘visual presence’ is also procedurally ‘testable’ – if the avatar moves, he will see the objects from different angle, according to his expectations from real 3D world.

  6. Matthew Weise Says:

    I haven’t read Espen’s paper either (Please let me know where I can!) so I can’t comment on his entire arguement, but in reference to his claim that definitions of fiction tend to not exist in game studies I’d like to say…

    There is no such thing as a non-existent definition, only an unstated one. Maybe these people are not stating their definition, but they are certainly *operating* under a definition. It seems to me that the thing to do to understand the situation more fully would be to tease out these implicit definitions, make them clear, and *then* critique them.

    My personal opinion is that the duty of academics is to clean up messy discourse, not toss it out just because it’s messy. But that’s just me. The urge to simply flush the toilet is tempting, I will admit.

  7. Espen Says:

    Noah: Obviously, the relationship of Trip and Grace in Facade is simulated, and not simply fictional. It is dynamically modeled, and we can experiment with it, and influence it. Can we influence their appartment? Their furniture? Their hair? Clearly, the phone calls in Facade are fictional, as is the initial conversation we hear as we approach their door.

    Emilia, your point seems to be that no game object can be simulated fully. But this is of course what a simulation is. It is by necessity partial, focusing on the important aspects, that is, the aspects that are important for the game. Some “doors” are mere textures or words in a textual adventure game, with only their visual or symbolic qualities represented. Others are simulated in terms of their dooral behavior. As Gonzalo Frasca has pointed out, simulations model behaviour, not appearance. Obviously, fictional elements may have the affordance of being seeable, but I would not term this a behaviour, since there is no change of state.

    I hope this makes it clear that my distinction never was between ‘seeing’ (I don’t use this term in the paper) and other actions, especially since you don’t have to see to play a computer game. There are games for blind people, and it would be quite possible to navigate a labyrinth blindfolded. It makes perfect sense to say that fictional and simulated qualities together constitute a game object, e.g. in an openable door made of “wood” that cannot burn or even be damaged by heavy artillery. But as long as some aspects of an object is simulated, it is a simulation, since there cannot be a total simulation.

    Anyway, thanks for the comment, as it helps me to understand how my position can be made clearer. This is a complex matter, that has been sleeping ever since the highly unfocused term “interactive fiction” was introduced almost 30 years ago, and there must without doubt be explanations that would work better than mine. I see this paper just as a first step, and would not at all mind if someone took steps in other directions, as long as we progress somewhere.

  8. Dominic Arsenault Says:

    By virtue of coincidence I am resurrecting a two year-old post on DAC 2005 just as DAC 2007 finishes!

    I recently came across Espen’s recently published paper “Doors and Perception: Fiction vs Simulation in Games”, in the latest issue of the Université de Montréal Intermédialités journal. I don’t know how different it is from the DAC paper/presentation discussed here, but I wrote my thoughts on it on my blog. It goes somewhere along the sidestep taken by Emilia.

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