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Rewarding the notplayer...

Rewarding the notplayer...
« on: January 14, 2010, 10:07:54 am »

This is a bit of a brainstorm. Please excuse the chaos.

This is probably not a good idea, but I imagine it may be one that we may run into once in a while, coming from game design. It's probably best to simply design something new from scratch. But even then it may be hard to avoid falling back on old habits.

When thinking about creating an entertaining interactive environment, implementing game elements is an easy way to keep people's minds occupied, to keep them amused. If you've created a game in which people need to find things, you can reward them with a virtual gold coin every time they find something or simply increase a number in the corner of the screen.

But, as an exercise, I want to reject this cheap solution. So players would simply explore and find things. But I don't want the experience to feel like a toy. Like a free-form interactive plaything. I want players to be more engaged. I don't want to engage them be rewarding them with things that form a meta-layer over the experience (points). But I also don't want everything they find to be a kind of key to get to something else (as in adventure games).

I want the payoff to be emotional or narrative. Like in a book: you force yourself to stay awake and keep reading because you want to find out what happened. Or in a film: you pay attention to the mumbling of an actor so you can catch a witty remark, or you watch their faces closely to figure out what they are thinking.

So I guess what this amounts to is a rejection of triviality. If there are things to find in the game, make these things interesting and pertinent to the story, the mood, etc. This may mean that there's not nearly as many things to discover as in a real game (which is filled with trivial things that only contribute to the system, not the story). This may mean that your notgame becomes a lot shorter than a regular videogame.

I don't have a problem with that. Short playtimes make it harder to sell to gamers. But perhaps they make it easier to sell to non-gamers. There must be a reason why a pop song is always 3 minutes long and a film is always 90 minutes. Maybe we should even try to condense our content on purpose: try to make the experience shorter (instead of the usual dragging out that videogame designers tend to do). But more pertinent, more impactful. Dare to change people's whole life in an instant, rather than changing only a few hours of their lives by taking their minds of of it.
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Re: Rewarding the notplayer...
« Reply #1 on: January 14, 2010, 10:24:33 am »

But not everything needs to be "heavy". We can still have trivial interactions mixed in with the meaningful ones. As long as they are pleasant in and of themselves and don't require a reward. So rather than making a game+poetry, we make a toy+poetry. Sounds a lot better to me anyway, because the toy will not distract the player from the poetry as much as a game can.

A game has its own logic and you can get lost playing with the abstract system completely disconnected from the representation, while toy-play almost always operates on the level of make-belief, which is exactly where we want our player to be. Toys may not have the same purpose as "notgames" but they seem more compatible than games.
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Re: Rewarding the notplayer...
« Reply #2 on: January 14, 2010, 04:40:21 pm »

I have been thinking a lot along these lines too.

Using plot twists and revelations as the main type of award worked out reasonably well in my game Blueberry Garden. This way of motivating the player made the playtime become very short (exactly like you say). There simply isn't much more to do when the story comes to an end. In that context it feels very weird to try to prolong the happening of events by adding "puzzles" or "challenges", it would just destroy the rhythm (still that's what most gamers would like, of course).

Me and a friend have been planning for a while to explore some other kind of motivation... more specifically the one that makes us humans want to travel. It almost seems like games about traveling would be the most basic form of notgames, right?

No matter if we go for a walk or travel by train through Europe there is something very goal-less about it.  The motivation is too see things (surroundings, places, people, culture) and experience events (sleeping at the floor in some strangers barn, etc), not really to get anywhere. Also, there is something silly and playful about the whole thing: usually we just try to go far away half of the time and then home the rest of it.
« Last Edit: January 14, 2010, 04:42:57 pm by Erik Svedäng »
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Re: Rewarding the notplayer...
« Reply #3 on: January 14, 2010, 06:45:50 pm »

Travel is a great idea!
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Re: Rewarding the notplayer...
« Reply #4 on: January 15, 2010, 11:26:17 am »

Did either of you play Spectre (www.spectregame.com) - it was an IndieCade finalist this year and really very interesting. Made up of very small minigames, as you navigate the memories of an old man to reconstruct his life. What's interesting about it is that is has a huge replay value, as there are so many ways of reading his life and that's what pulls you back in again and again (and the play itself is so simple that you don't have to think about the game at all, just a means of leveraging the story into the experience). Lovely writing too - and similar principle to what we attempted with Esther with the randomisation of the story, so even though the trad. gameplay elements are minimal, there's a reason to revisit. (Interestingly we came in at 45-60 minutes there too)...

What captures a notplayer - also captures a player, but through the fog of microgoal-feedback loops - is a world to wander, an atmosphere. In a way, this is an advantage the notgame has, as it ditches or reduces these loops, allowing space for other experiences and reactions to breathe and grow. We can wander. For me, this was what I liked best about The Path, not Grandma's house (the most plot-like element, I guess) but the forest itself, where the connections were neither fixed nor obvious, but the conjured world was dense and rich and intriguing. Which is a lot like travel, but unlike game travel, where it is all about both the destination, and the struggle (realised in short, short bursts), but the meandering and pseudo-aimlessness.

Final random thought - the core thing that distinguishes the notgame experience, again like the game experience, from other media is embodiment. The projection in some form into the presented world. But here, like in a book, it is the world laid out before us that makes us want to continue to explore. Ironically, this is not something lost on recent commercial games either. But the difference may be that they are tied, perhaps necessarily, to the loop of action that stops us from pausing, taking time to reflect, smell the virtual flowers, taste the air, stretch our backs, maybe sleep and dream....
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Re: Rewarding the notplayer...
« Reply #5 on: January 15, 2010, 10:17:51 pm »

Indeed, that's why I have had hopes for videogames to evolve for such a long time. Almost all the ingredients are there. All they need to do is allow us to play with them. By removing the game structure.
(of course, this is only true on a technical level, because if you remove the game structure you will need an author; and videogames are sorely lacking authors!)

I also find getting lost in the forest the best part of The Path. Smiley
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Re: Rewarding the notplayer...
« Reply #6 on: January 17, 2010, 12:24:35 pm »

I'm all for shedding triviality and creating shorter experiences. It seems that's all I have time for these days, anyway. Tongue I've never liked the triviality in game design, either - while I tend to be very result-oriented in real life, I am very process-oriented in games and I tend to focus heavily on moment-to-moment feel and overriding purpose rather than points and achievements and such.

In the game I'm working on now, in fact, I'm still trying to defend my choice (to myself) to keep the game-ness simple and not to add things like achievements, points, upgrades and all that stuff that I find pointless but that I know will increase the ratings on Flash game portals...

What captures a notplayer - also captures a player, but through the fog of microgoal-feedback loops - is a world to wander, an atmosphere. In a way, this is an advantage the notgame has, as it ditches or reduces these loops, allowing space for other experiences and reactions to breathe and grow. We can wander. For me, this was what I liked best about The Path, not Grandma's house (the most plot-like element, I guess) but the forest itself, where the connections were neither fixed nor obvious, but the conjured world was dense and rich and intriguing. Which is a lot like travel, but unlike game travel, where it is all about both the destination, and the struggle (realised in short, short bursts), but the meandering and pseudo-aimlessness.

This is what I like too, but I don't know that this is all there is to notgames. It is certainly not all there is to games, since it's one of many gameplay types in several classification systems:

Easy Fun in Nicole Lazzaro's Four Fun Keys,
Explorer play in Richard Bartle's player suits,
Wanderer play in Chris Bateman's DGD1,and
Seeker play in Chris Bateman's more recent BrainHex model

Of course, it is my preferred play mode, generally speaking, but I wouldn't assume that that's all notgames can be. Certainly a fruitful starting point though. Smiley

And walking through a forest, yes. I have to say, playing The Path was an experience that came closest to that of walking through a real forest, more than any other game, though it was more like a hint of the experience than the actual thing. (So many of these games and things I admire are like hints rather than the real thing, really.) But I've had some thoughts about what that would have to look like, for me. Maybe I'll write more about it in another forum thread. Smiley
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Re: Rewarding the notplayer...
« Reply #7 on: January 18, 2010, 10:27:23 am »

I don't think there is (or should be) a single formula. I think we could do worse than concentrate on our content, on the story we're trying to tell and the atmosphere we're trying to create. All interaction design and structure should flow out of that.

This is not necessarily a linear process. You can be inspired by certain mechanic, for instance, to change the setting. But as long as our focus point is the content, and not the form, I think we're ok. The thing I'm starting to realize is that, unlike regular games, notgames require an author. An author to take the place of the format. It's like turning off the automatic pilot. Smiley

Of course, I'm thinking mostly in my own category here (narrative experiences). There's probably many other ways of making digital entertainment that is not games. But I guess each creator needs to focus on their own talents and desire.
« Last Edit: January 18, 2010, 03:45:45 pm by Michaël Samyn »
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Re: Rewarding the notplayer...
« Reply #8 on: January 18, 2010, 12:14:10 pm »

Michaël, I think I understand what you mean, but it would be nice if you elaborated some more.

I would say that kind of a lot of games have authors too. The more visible and personal these authors are, the better (that's by far the greatest strength of indie games to me).

Can you explain more what difference you see between the creator of a normal game and a notgame, in terms of being an author?
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Re: Rewarding the notplayer...
« Reply #9 on: January 18, 2010, 04:02:02 pm »

In very rough terms, the difference may be the same as that between a genre novelist and a writer of literature. The former submits their story to the conventions of the genre while the latter works above any sort of genre classification and invents a format to serve their content.

This is too rough for a proper comparison because the technical format of a games is far more restrictive than the narrative format of genre fiction. In other words: the genre novelist has a lot more freedom to talk about the things they want to talk about. Another difference is that there are many genres of fiction while "game" is a single genre. In terms of format, it doesn't matter much if something is a puzzle or an RPG or a shooter. The format is the same. But if you're a writer, you can choose the genre that best suits the story you want to tell.

But, more pertinently to my assessment, game designers more or less hide behind the conventions of the game format to escape from their responsibilities as an author. Cliffy B is famous -at least in my book- for saying that the reason why he make people shoot things in his games is because that's the easiest way of allowing them to touch the virtual world. Games are always about some kind of warfare, not necessarily because their creators are aggressive machos, but because violent conflict is about the only thing you can express in the format of games. So rather than being an author and telling a real story, conveying some real meaning, game designers simply accept the limitations of the format.

This is horrible because on the other end, when people are playing these games, they do interpret the things they see as a story, as an experience, as a virtual world, as characters. And not just as the expression of the abstract system underneath. So the player always gets a story about being a hero who always wins and learns how aggressive behaviour is the best way to resolve any conflict, etc. If the designer had taken up their responsibility as an author, they would have portrayed a more nuanced picture. But this cannot be done within the games format (according to me).
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Re: Rewarding the notplayer...
« Reply #10 on: January 18, 2010, 05:21:24 pm »

OK, that's very nicely put!
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Re: Rewarding the notplayer...
« Reply #11 on: January 20, 2010, 07:01:18 am »

Quote
Sounds a lot better to me anyway, because the toy will not distract the player from the poetry as much as a game can.

Why would the toy distract the player from the poetry at all?  That statement seems to suggest that interaction is still standing in the way of narrative, just not as much as gameplay does.
Re: Rewarding the notplayer...
« Reply #12 on: January 20, 2010, 09:23:21 am »

Not as much. I said less so.
I wasn't describing an ideal situation. Obviously the ideal situation is that interaction fully expresses the content.
But I'm not against frivolous play, even if it distracts from the content. This can be part of the pacing of the experience. My only argument was that toyplay is better suited than gameplay because it is lighter, more free-form and more imaginative and doesn't come with the same systems that players might get lost in.
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Re: Rewarding the notplayer...
« Reply #13 on: January 20, 2010, 11:17:17 am »

I think it should be possible to have knowledge as a reward. One first needs to hint to the user that there is some understanding to be gained and then hint at what needs to be done in order to understand it. Then the world would needed to be explored and interacted with in order to gain this knowledge. Even better would be some kind of layered knowledge where one piece can be used as a building block for some other greater knowledge.

This is not a trivial thing though and I think it is a bit like a puzzle, with the major difference that you can partially gain knowledge of something (not really possible for a puzzle). As for an example of what I am thinking about, it could be some kind of ecological connection in the virtual world or it could be something that connects to the real world more directly (like learning physics). At least for me, knowledge is a great carrot when reading some kind of books, and it also allows one to come back to a work, since the more can be understood each time.

A bit connected to this is listening to classical music and for me there are two things that reward me when listening. First of all it is the beauty of the experience and one can sort of dream away to another world when listening. Secondly, especially on subsequent listening, more details start to appear and one can focus on certain aspects of the music that will reveal more of it. For me that feels a bit like gaining knowledge. Especially in complex music like Bach, it can be very rewarding to listen to a piece several times, each time discovering something new.

Sorry for the rantish nature of this, hopefully something made sense Smiley
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Re: Rewarding the notplayer...
« Reply #14 on: January 20, 2010, 11:40:35 am »

Two things to add.

I don't think the content of a game needs to be something that is known to the author only at first and then slowly discovered by the player. I agree that this is one of the joys of reading fiction. But, thanks to our medium, we are not bound to this logic. Perhaps it sounds a bit utopian, but I believe we can also build applications that allow the player to discover stories that the author did not put in the game explicitly. The key to this is the realisation that good art is about the viewer, not the artist. If our content starts connecting with something in the player's real life experience, we can create very deep experiences. To which the player can add a lot of themselves.

Another reason why I enjoy listening to classical music is interpretation. The choices that the director and the musicians made as well as the sound of the instruments and even the way the music was recorded. I have a few favorite pieces that I've heard many interpretations of and they are very different. I have also had the experience of learning to appreciate classical music when I finally heard good interpretations after a youth filled with Herbert von Karajan and his armies of violins.
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