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Designing notgames - Discuss design for digital "entertainment"?


I've been making some tiny notgames for iPhone lately ("feelforit" is the best received at the moment), and when I came to catch up on the notgames forums I noticed that the Designing Notgames forum section (this one) bears the description, "Discuss design for digital entertainment."

I was vaguely of the impression that 'notgames' was coined with the intent of serving as a broader label, bringing with it a broad vocabulary of techniques from videogame development minus the roles that videogames have been assumed to fill (challenge me, facilitate my role in a competition, direct me through a narrative-supported obstacle course, entertain me, etc.).

Discussing design for digital entertainment seems not much further from videogames than discussing design for digital play. Many books are not for entertainment, and some movies are not for entertainment.

Was this merely my projecting my assumptions and own interests as an outsider to the movement? Or perhaps the word entertainment is intended here in an unusually broad sense, insofar as meeting new kinds of people is a form of entertainment, learning about new ideas is a form of entertainment, and freely exploring the artifact of another person's imagination is a form of entertainment?

Sorry to be concerned with semantics - escaping the baggage that words take on from their most common usages seems to me a big part of why the notgames concept is so important (!).

Edit: I've noticed this is prevalent, as in...
[another forum heading]
> Why notgames - Discuss the theory behind the idea of making interactive entertainment that is not games.
[from the manifesto]
> Can we create a form of digital entertainment that explicitly rejects the structure of games?
...I think maybe I have misunderstood - perhaps I am in the wrong place?
« Last Edit: March 30, 2010, 09:12:15 pm by ChrisDeLeon »
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Re: Designing notgames - Discuss design for digital "entertainment"?
« Reply #1 on: March 31, 2010, 01:05:17 am »

I do tend to use the word "entertainment" in a very broad sense. Philosophically, I consider our entire lives to be entertainment: just keep ourselves busy until we drop dead. So it's probably bad to use the word in that way. Sorry.

On the other hand, using the word "entertainment" was an attempt to reach out, to ensure our potential audience (and our videogames developing colleagues) that notgames is not some kind of anarchist rebellion, but instead an attempt to make the medium videogames use much more interesting and perhaps even appealing to a wider audience. I guess with all the controversy surrounding our work at Tale of Tales, I've grown a bit scared of provocation.

Anyway, words are lies. If you have a better one than entertainment, let me know and I'll replace it.
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Re: Designing notgames - Discuss design for digital "entertainment"?
« Reply #2 on: March 31, 2010, 07:52:46 am »

I also chose "entertainment" to differentiate the software we make from utilitarian software, without using the even more problematic term "art".
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Re: Designing notgames - Discuss design for digital "entertainment"?
« Reply #3 on: March 31, 2010, 01:26:37 pm »

Is "leisure software" a better word?

Sounds a bit dry. Pleasure software would be nicer. Smiley Joyware. Smiley Though that's not correct.
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Re: Designing notgames - Discuss design for digital "entertainment"?
« Reply #4 on: March 31, 2010, 01:28:03 pm »

I have added the word "art" to the description of this board.
"Entertainment and art". They are often grouped together. Does it make sense?
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Re: Designing notgames - Discuss design for digital "entertainment"?
« Reply #5 on: April 01, 2010, 05:29:05 am »

I think entertainment is good; you have good reasons, Michaël.  It's entertain in the engaging and fictional sense of the word.  Not really in the candy sense, which you might have first thought, Chris.
Re: Designing notgames - Discuss design for digital "entertainment"?
« Reply #6 on: April 02, 2010, 11:05:57 pm »

> I think entertainment is good; you have good reasons, Michaël.  It's entertain in the engaging and fictional sense of the word.  Not really in the candy sense, which you might have first thought, Chris.

I understand that engaging and fictional are the connotations of the word. That is the definition that I am objecting to.

And funny you should clarify the candy sense, as this is one of my favorite notgames that I have made:
http://interactionartist.com/classic/gameloader.php?GAME_NAME=Candy
Smiley

> I've grown a bit scared of provocation.

This was certainly not the impression that I got from the ToT presentation at AHoG.

> much more interesting and perhaps even appealing to a wider audience

Ah! But I am interested in a significantly more narrow audience! Videogames already have a huge audience. I'm looking to make and understand the things that appeal deeply to fewer people, rather than the things that appeal in a shallow way to as many people as possible (the market has done an excellent job of promoting the creation of the latter).

Professional wrestling and monster truck shows appeal to a wide audience.

> Anyway, words are lies.

Extreme forms of nihilism or skepticism aside, words are useful in setting expectations and direction, as it relates to both development efforts and consumer search/selection.

> Is "leisure software" a better word?

Leisure, pleasure, and joy are all in the same bin to me as entertainment. I.e. no, but your use of these words has perhaps helped to clarify what I am objecting to.

A dessert is more entertainment than it is food. A meal is more food than it is entertainment.

A romance novel is more entertainment than it is literature. A classic is more literature than it is entertainment.

Television news is more entertainment than it is journalism. Newspapers, at their best (which they certainly don't always achieve) are more journalism than they are entertainment.

A comedy show is more entertainment than it is instructive. A university lecture is more instructive than it is entertainment.

Hiring a stripper is more entertainment than it is fulfilling. Entering a relationship is more fulfilling than it is entertainment.

At least, based on the definition that I had in mind which had me excited about notgames:

Videogames are more entertainment than they are [anything else]. Notgames are more [anything else] than they are entertainment.

I recently wrote a bit of a tirade/polemic about "fun", a descriptor that isn't far from saying that something is "entertaining":
http://gamedevlessons.com/lessons/letter12.html#adv

> If you have a better one than entertainment, let me know and I'll replace it.

I propose that "notgames" is a better word.

I pictured notgames as including art, but not just being art. I pictured notgames as including entertainment that does not prescribe to established game conventions, but not just being entertainment that does not prescribe to established game conventions.

> I also chose "entertainment" to differentiate the software we make from utilitarian software

While understandably we'd like to exclude Microsoft Office and Firefox from notgames (otherwise we'd just use the word software), I think the main distinction to me  here is that (at least as I understand it) technologies from videogames are borrowed, such as real-time rendering of spatial metaphors, settings and systems that carry on between user interactions, and so on.

Is something that has utility discounted from being a notgame? Slide 29 of this presentation from the serious games initiative seems relevant:
http://www.seriousgames.org/presentations/serious-games-taxonomy-2008_web.pdf
Despite the word "game" being used in many of those titles, most lack the same purpose, target demographic, or structure of most commercial videogames. Do any of those categories fall within notgames? Do none of those categories fall within notgames?

> I have added the word "art" to the description of this board. Does it make sense?

This certainly helps, and is greatly appreciated. However I still that it's overlooking non-trivial portions of potential notgames. If the words "entertainment and art" sufficed, why would we need to term notgames?

Why does a forum section titled "Designing notgames" need to be clarified with a subtitle "Discuss the design of digital entertainment and art"? Isn't this communicating by parallel that "notgames" = "digital entertainment and art"?
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Re: Designing notgames - Discuss design for digital "entertainment"?
« Reply #7 on: April 02, 2010, 11:27:22 pm »

I really don't care about what things are called. I care about what they are.
So I have changed the subtitle of the board to "Discuss the design of things that are not games."  Cheesy

I understand your objections to the term entertainment better now. Thank you for explaining. I think I also understand why this is an issue for you. It seems to me that it is easy for you to make successful software. So for you the challenge is to make things that please a small audience deeply. We have had the opposite experience with our work. People don't get our work, so we hope to make it more appealing.

I disagree that videogames have reached a wide audience. Maybe that's because I'm in Europe where no-one above the age of 16 plays videogames. I don't know where you are located. But maybe it's different over there. As far as I can tell, videogames are for nerds. And maybe there's more nerds nowadays than there used to be. But most people don't own a games console. They watch television and movies, they read books and listen to music. They don't play games. I know for a fact that not all of these people are monster truck fans. In fact, most intellectuals and artists that I know do not play games. When I say "wide", I mean "diverse", as in consisting of many different kinds of people. I don't mean "mass".
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Re: Designing notgames - Discuss design for digital "entertainment"?
« Reply #8 on: April 03, 2010, 01:07:23 am »

> I have changed the subtitle of the board to "Discuss the design of things that are not games."

I find this change most agreeable! Thanks!

> People don't get our work, so we hope to make it more appealing.

The people that do get your work find it very appealing! But this, as you've mentioned, is not everything.

> I disagree that videogames have reached a wide audience. Maybe that's because I'm in Europe where no-one above the age of 16 plays videogames.

Ah! I'm in San Francisco CA, US. Many people in their 20's and 30's here play Rock Band at social gatherings, gather around for PS3 and 360 Tiger Woods Golf and Madden Football, spend their afternoons playing online playing deathmatch and RTS games on their 360's and PC's. People here of all ages are playing Wii Sports at bars, nursing homes, and family gatherings. Right before GTA4 came out, there was perhaps no spot along Market Street along the Soma/Financial district divide where I could spin around with my eyes open without seeing at least one GTA4 ad on a billboard, bus, or freestanding advertising space. College kids wear shirts with classic videogame characters, and people standing in lines are playing games on their mobile phones and DS's. Moms are playing Bejeweled in the evenings, non-nerds are also playing games on Kongregate, and grown people of both genders are playing Facebook games. Where I'm at I am not concerned with how many people videogames are reaching, I'm concerned instead with the relative lack of variety in what's reaching people.

> In fact, most intellectuals and artists that I know do not play games.

Most intellectuals and artists don't necessarily enjoy Hollywood blockbuster films, but in some cases indie films appeal to them. Most intellectuals and artists don't necessarily enjoy chart topping pop music, but in some cases other styles (classical, jazz, obscure techno or metal, Philip Glass) appeals to them. Most intellectuals and artists don't necessarily enjoy mainstream videogames, either, but the ones I know that do (they're largely computer science types or other indie videogame developers themselves) have a preference for either old and obscure stuff or little unconventional indie stuff they find online (is Jason Rohrer the Philip Glass of videogames?).

Or maybe Marc ten Bosch? http://xkcd.com/721/

> When I say "wide", I mean "diverse", as in consisting of many different kinds of people. I don't mean "mass".

Thank you for clarifying! *applauds*
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Re: Designing notgames - Discuss design for digital "entertainment"?
« Reply #9 on: April 03, 2010, 01:30:42 am »

In terms of people playing games, I like to make a distinction between games that aspire to be a medium and games that are just games, casual games, basically. The latter, in my opinion, are just electronic versions of the games that, literally, everybody plays (board games, card games, ball games, etc). The fact that people play these on electronic devices just means that they use more electronic devices. Not that they play videogames (as in the new medium). Those only seem to appeal to nerds at the moment. But I think they have a lot more potential.

Most intellectuals and artists don't necessarily enjoy Hollywood blockbuster films, but in some cases indie films appeal to them. Most intellectuals and artists don't necessarily enjoy chart topping pop music, but in some cases other styles (classical, jazz, obscure techno or metal, Philip Glass) appeals to them. Most intellectuals and artists don't necessarily enjoy mainstream videogames, either, but the ones I know that do (they're largely computer science types or other indie videogame developers themselves) have a preference for either old and obscure stuff or little unconventional indie stuff they find online (is Jason Rohrer the Philip Glass of videogames?).

I don't see nearly as much variety in videogames as I see in cinema, literature or music. It's not only the intellectuals that are not being served. It's also people who like romance, people who like comedy, people who like relaxing, etc.
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Re: Designing notgames - Discuss design for digital "entertainment"?
« Reply #10 on: April 04, 2010, 12:34:32 pm »

I recently wrote a bit of a tirade/polemic about "fun", a descriptor that isn't far from saying that something is "entertaining":
http://gamedevlessons.com/lessons/letter12.html#adv

Just reading the part about addiction now and wondering if the embrace in the audience of the idea of addiction as something positive isn't part of the self-indulgence promoted by the larger "iCulture" (the hyper-individualist state of our post-humanist society). In other words: the public wants to be addicted, addiction is no longer a disease that needs to be cured. Maybe this is a reaction to all the addictions that society is trying hard to take away from us lately: cigarettes, alcohol, illegal drugs, petrol, etc. Maybe we feel that our rights as individuals are being hurt by such top-down control. Getting addicted to a game, ironically, becomes a way to assert oneself as a free individual.
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Re: Designing notgames - Discuss design for digital "entertainment"?
« Reply #11 on: April 06, 2010, 08:40:37 pm »

> In terms of people playing games, I like to make a distinction between games that aspire to be a medium and games that are just games, casual games, basically.

Indeed!

I for one am particularly interested in things that may have some lasting effect on their users - forming new memories, changing perspectives, encouraging the imagination or curiosity - as opposed to filling time, or (possibly overstating this? trying it on...) merely providing an alternative context for social interaction where the main draw is still other people. Is this the sort of distinction that you have in mind, or possibly close to it?

> I don't see nearly as much variety in videogames as I see in cinema, literature or music. It's not only the intellectuals that are not being served. It's also people who like romance, people who like comedy, people who like relaxing, etc.

There's a degree to which I think that action and strategy in videogames is a bit like love or rage in songs - the structure of the medium and how it interfaces with the consumer makes those particular applications both easier to produce successfully and also more profound in their effect on the user. While songs can be made about surgery or algebra, they are novelty mostly and lack the sort of reach (even across the many genres) of love songs or angry music. Likewise we can make things like videogames that are mechanically about something other than action or strategy, but they often come across as little more than novelty (often being labeled a "toy" or "virtual experience" depending upon its level of abstraction) to most users, even if they strike a chord with folks that the conventional varieties didn't appeal to.

> In other words: the public wants to be addicted, addiction is no longer a disease that needs to be cured.

There is definitely an element of this going on with regard to smoking here in the US, where (at least from what my self-filtered media exposure has me suspect) it is simultaneously less socially acceptable than in much of Europe but consequently also seen as more rebellious. The same goes for fast food like the double bacon cheeseburger. "Yeah, I know it's bad for me. I don't give a **** it's a free country, and no one can tell me what to do" being a sort of rarely spoken attitude underlying these things.

I think that how much this applies to addiction related to games though very much depends upon the particular audience and type of game. Casual games and Facebook games seem more like minor distractions, that someone isn't even going to try to excuse themselves for ("I was bored, so I did this to fill the time"), as opposed to World of Warcraft, an addiction which I have seen people attempt to hide on a number of occasions due to minor embarrassment over it (telling people they quit, then sneaking in matches when they say they're out with friends, etc.). The main form of addiction-as-defiance may be in the hardcore gamer market, the people that obsess over the latest $60 shelf games for the PS3/360/PC, squirming in rationale to defend gamer culture (which I'm not really sure even needs to be defended? perhaps I'm too close to it?).
Smiley
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Re: Designing notgames - Discuss design for digital "entertainment"?
« Reply #12 on: April 07, 2010, 01:45:08 am »

I for one am particularly interested in things that may have some lasting effect on their users - forming new memories, changing perspectives, encouraging the imagination or curiosity - as opposed to filling time, or (possibly overstating this? trying it on...) merely providing an alternative context for social interaction where the main draw is still other people. Is this the sort of distinction that you have in mind, or possibly close to it?

Yes, it's along those lines. I'm actually happy that more game-games are becoming social again. I have missed that very important aspect of games in computer games. This also creates an even greater distance that might help the other video-"games" to define themselves and developed their own unique qualities (being not games).

There's a degree to which I think that action and strategy in videogames is a bit like love or rage in songs - the structure of the medium and how it interfaces with the consumer makes those particular applications both easier to produce successfully and also more profound in their effect on the user.

Sure, but there's a lot of music outside of the song format. There's symphonies and opera's and all the other formats of baroque, classical, romantic and contemporary "art music". And there's movie soundtracks and experimental sound art. And even lots of non-pop songs (French chanson, or traditional folk songs) about other subjects.

Videogames are only biased towards action and strategy because of the "game" aspect. If you relax that requirement, a lot more becomes possible. Film and literature have a much greater palette than pop music, e.g.
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