“Game Writing: Narrative Skills for Videogames” by Bateman (ed.)

I got some new books. Game Writing Narrative Skills for Videogames is one of them. I have just browsed it throught, but I desided to comment one thing that I noticed.

In Chapter 1: Introduction to game narrative Richard Dansky writes:

Immersion is arguably the ultimate goal of videogames. Immersion is making players forget that they’re sitting on their couch twiddling joysticks with their thumbs, and instead making them believe they’re mowing down Nazis, leaping from platform to platform over boiling space sludge, or exploring a mansion full of masticating mutants. (p. 16.)

How immersion is the ultimate goal for video games? The argument is missing, and I do not thing that there are very good arguments to back up the claim. To me, it seems that the author(s) is exluding wide variety of possible effects by setting up immediacy as his ultimate goal. Irony or comic effects can be heightened by other non-immersive means as seen, e.g., in Monkey Islands series. Also, Fahrenheit’s split screen technique is not about making players forget that they are sitting on their couch, but creating tension dispate that the game reveals it gameness.

Anyhow, I need to read the whole book. Despite the abobe-mentioned stuff, the book seems really interesting.

Bateman, C. (ed.) (2007). Game writing: Narrative skills for videogames. Boston: Charles River Media.

Play and Its Role in the Mental Development of the Child (Vygotsky)

Some notes on Play and Its Role in the Mental Development of the Child by Vygotsky:

  • Defining (child’s) play through pleasure is not correct for two reasons. 1) there are activities that gives much direct experience of pleasure than play, and 2) there are games that do not afford pleasure or that are often accompanied with displeasure.
  • Young children tend to satisfy their desires immediately. Without development at preshool years where needs cannot be realized immediately there would be no play. Development of play is connected to intellegtual and affective development.
  • Imagination is play without action.
  • Play can be discriminated from other types of activities by role of imagination; in play a child creates an imaginary situation.
  • Play imply rules.
  • “[E]very game with rules contains imaginary situation. For example , what does it mean to play chess? To create imaginary situation. Why? because the knight, the king, the queen, and so forth, can move only in specified ways; because covering and taking pieces are purely chess concepts; and so on.”
  • Acting based on imagined situations teaches a child to guide decision-making not only by perception but also by the meaning of a situation.
  • In play a child needs to create structures meaningobject; meaning determines her behaviour.
  • It is inccorrect to thing play as activity without purpose.

Freeform, Jeepform, and Limitations

I stumbled across Tobias Wrigstad’s blog, where he discusses freeforming, railroading and the players’ freedom. He makes good points about the nature of railroading, freeforming and the role of limitations. However, I find following claim rather curious: “In a generic, ‘tabula rasa’ freeform adventure there are no limitations”. Even without predefined structures like characters there are limitations: the word ‘freeform’ have it’s meaning that guides player’s expectation and player expectations guide their choices (making some more probable and some unthinkable).

Game structures are much like rhetoric: “[T]he author cannot choose to avoid rhetorics; he can choose only the kind of rhetoric he will employ.” (Booth, 1983) Even in freeform (or Jeepform) someone is distributing power, making choice to call event as Jeepform, etc., and thus structuring a game. There are no tabula rasa, unlimited freeform games.

Booth, Wayne (1983). The rhetoric of fiction. Chicago: The Chicago University Press (2nd edition).

Games and Philosophical Investigations

I managed, at last, to take time to read Wittgenstein’s Philosophical investigations.

Wittgenstein argues:

For a large class of cases — though not for all-in which we employ the word “meaning” it can be defined thus: the meaning of a word is its use in the language. And meaning of a name is sometimes explained by pointing its bearer. (PI, 43)

Thus, when this is taken as a premise, following makes sense:

Consider for example the proceedings that we call “games”. I mean board-games, card-games, ball-games, Olympic games, and so on. What is common to them all? […] [I]f you look at them you will not see something that is common to all, but similarities, relationships, and whole series of them at that. (PI, 66)

What follows is that in a language there are words that cannot be defined through common denominators. Consider:

Also, meaning of a word is can be blurry without context — like sentence the word appeared in: e.g., king (of England or a chess piece). (PI)

All categories do not have clear boundaries–based on necessary and sufficient condition (odd numbers vs. game); rather categories are fuzzy. After Wittgenstein critique, the nature of concepts has been in under investigation. Some proposed models, based on empirical evidence, are:

  • probabilistic view (prototype, exemplar): people classify the instance based on similarity between instance and category;
  • theory based (schemata): causal knowledge is used to guide categorization along with the information about typical attributes of the members of a category (Kunda, 1999, pp. 15-52).

Wittgenstein also examine the concept of rule; what is a rule, how one learns and follows rules (PI, 143, 185-243.) Wittgenstein comments on the nature of rules:

It is not possible that there should have been only one occasion on which someone obeyed a rule. […] –To obey a rule, to make a report, to give an order, to play a game of chess, are customs (uses, institutions). (PI, 199.)

Peter Winch (1979/1958), following Wittgenstein, argues that the concept of rule is inseparable from the concepts of breaking and obeying rule.
If the above premise is accepted, computer games do not have rules; mostly they implement systems that acts like the ‘natural laws’ (see also entry Are video games art). In this sense, there is qualitative difference between “rules” of, e.g., board and computer games; not between board games and role-playing games like Juul (2005, 43-44) suggest (the qualitative difference there is in the customs of obeying and breaking rules).

Juul, Jesper (2005). Half-real: Video games between real rules and fictional worlds. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
Kunda, Ziva (1999). Social cognition. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1958) Philosophical investigations. Basil Blackwell & Mott, Ltd., 2nd edition. Translated by G.E.M. Anscombe.
Winch, Peter (1979/1958). Yhteiskuntatieteet ja filosofia. Transleted to Finnish by Ilkka Malinen from The idea of a social science and its relation to philosophy.

Magic circle and pervasive games

Nokia Games Day 2006 presentations yesterday got me thinking about pervasive games, the subject of my research in previous job.

Markus Montola (2005) has presented that pervasive games can be distinguished from traditional games by using notions of spatial, temporal, and social expansions. Idea is that “regular game is played in certain place at certain time by certain people.” These kinds of predefined and fixed boundaries are refered by the concept of magic circle. A pervasive game extends one or more boundaries (e.g., the game can be played anywhere, anytime, or players cannot distinguish other players from non-players). We have been usign that notion in Pervasive games design and evaluation guidelines for IPerG phase II.

I started to think that there might be an alternative way to approach the qualities of pervasive games vs. traditional games by using Goffman’s notion of framing and frame anlysis. Fine (1983) discusses in Shared Fantasy how frames are switched (e.g., from primary frame to game frame) and how these switches are made visible in table-top role-playing games.

Pervasive games could be thought to obsfuscate some of the frame switches, e.g., not providing clear cut distinctions to players and non-players where a playing area starts and ends (Botfighters vs. soccer).

Montola, Markus (2005). Exploring the Edge of the Magic Circle. Defining Pervasive Games. DAC 2005 conference, December 1.-3. IT University of Copenhagen. Available at: http://users.tkk.fi/~mmontola/onlineroleplay.pdf.
Fine, Gary Alan (1983). Shared Fantasy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Anima Mundi: Dark Alchemist

Anima Mundi: Dark Alchemist (Hirameki International Group Inc. 2006) is a Japanese gothic horror game targeted to girls, or to be more exact, interactive visual novel giving a player change to influence how the events progress. It is very similar to Fighting Fantasy game books published in 80’s. In the beginning choices offered to a player are very scarce: Later on there are more choices after Georik (the player character or protagonist) is introduced to alchemy–the forbidden art: to search material, do research, buy materials, or to go to library. How the game progress is determined by the choices the player makes (including how alchemy research progress). Anima Mundi is like puzzle where one tries to find right combination of choices that lead to a good ending.

Anima Mundi is charming and engaging game–despite that you need to be ready to sit back and watch how situation evolve after making choices. Minuses are also that some twists are quite predictable and there are some inconsistencies.

I also bought Chain: The Lost Footprints (ZyX Inc., 2003). It is a hard-boiled suspense dating sim game, where a player takes a role of private detective who has been hired to investigate extramarital affairs. I need to find time to play it…

Some Articles about Role-playing

Novitz, David (1996). Disputes about art. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Critisim, 54(2).

  • Novitz investigaes relationship between table-top role-playing games and art.

Punday, Daniel (2005). Creative accounting: Role-playing games, possible-world theory, and the agency of imagination. Poetics Today, 26(1).

Tavinor, Grant (2005). Videogames and interactive fiction. Philosophy and Literature, 29: 24-40.

  • Game objects are used to build link with theories of fiction and games. Punday uses Pavel’s Fictional worlds (1986). Tavinor builds on Walton’s Mimesis as make-believe and Currie’s The nature of fiction (1990).

“Are Videogames Art?” by Smuts

Smuts, Aaron (2005). Are Videogames Art? Contemporary Aesthetics, 3.

(Quotations are from Smuts’ paper.)

Smuths argues that many contemporary computer games should be consider as art based on varius definitions of art. He uses Max Payne (Remedy Entertainment, 2001), Halo (Bungie, 2001), and Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell (Ubisoft, 2002) as examples.

I do not claim that any of these games are great art, but they are all adept at achieving the goals they set for themselves, goals of provoking specific emotions that are typical of similar genres in other art forms.

Smuts makes interesting point about rules: Computer games lacks them. He compares computer game system to natural laws; games system offers physical limitations comparable to e.g., gravity. “We would not say that the law of gravity is a rule governing our behavior.”