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Purpose

Purpose
« on: January 04, 2011, 10:50:11 am »

Reading somewhere that Keita Takahashi would be dissatisfied with Noby Noby Boy got me thinking.

Quote from: Keita Takahashi
My hypothesis was that you can make a fun game without clear goals. Noby Noby Boy proves that this hypothesis is incorrect. It only became about 40% of what I expected.

I adore Noby Noby Boy. I also think it is one of very few games that would hold up in an art gallery next to other contemporary fine art. But I must admit that I don't play it very often.

I've had similar experiences with Ico and Grand Theft Auto 3. In both games I loved the non-game aspects of being present in the simulation and interacting with the virtual world and characters for their own sake. But once I had completed the game, I hardly every played it again, despite of desiring to experience those aspects again.

So even though the non-game aspects were the ones I enjoyed most in the game, the removal of the game also removed my desire to play.

In a way, I'm ok with this. I think it is fine for a game to offer a limit amount of amusement and that it is over at some point. Games are more like live performances anyway. There's no point in regretting that the theater or the ballet or the concert is over. The finiteness is simply part of the medium, and of the experience.

But on the other hand, I am attracted to the potential infiniteness of a procedural simulation. I like to think that the video game medium can provide a solution for the sadness that occurs after having finished a lovely novel: one wishes one could stay in that fictional world forever, or at least revisit it once in a while.

By offering extensive replayability, the structure of a rules-based game generates a motivation for the player to spend time in the simulation. I think this has been the key to the success of video games. I deeply believe that it is the simulation that draws people to these games. But so far we have only been able to keep people in these simulations by providing them with trivial tasks.

We have all experienced the problem with this: the tasks can feel so mechanical that performing them becomes a goal onto itself. And such activity disconnects us to a large extent from the experience of the fictional world of the simulation.

But simply removing the gameplay doesn't seem to work entirely. Or at least it requires too much discipline from the player. It is not seductive.

Keeping the gameplay is not an option, since we know it ruins and replaces the experience of the simulation that is our focus. But maybe we need to replace it with something.

We don't really want to provide players with a hard goal to achieve, because then we risk losing them again as they work towards this goal. Instead maybe we should offer the player a sense of purpose. A sense of belonging in the virtual world, perhaps even being needed, not necessarily to save everyone from annihilation, but maybe just to keep things going. Or maybe the virtual world clearly enjoys your presence.

Pet games (like Tamagotchi) come to mind as games that feature such activity: your pet really enjoys your visits, and in some cases requires it for survival. But there is no real goal to the game. Animal Crossing is another: the villagers know when you haven't visited them for a long time, and things change in your absence.

These are fairly trivial examples. Because the fictions of these games are rather shallow, artistically. But I'm sure a similar non-goal oriented sense of purpose can be found in other stories.

Maybe it's as simple as thinking of the avatar for the player as the protagonist in the game's story. In most games, the player's avatar often feels more or less like a bystander, a tool that is being used by the other characters to accomplish their goals. Or the character knows nothing about the world and the game involves discovery of the story (rather than telling it). But what if the player really feels a sense of responsibility for the virtual world, or at least for some character(s) in it?

I guess management games like Sim City do something like this: your influence as a player is crucial to the evolution of the story, in a way that is not so predefined as in most -linear- games. You're not playing the role of a character whose destiny is already foretold. You create your own destiny, and the world really needs you to do this. It's easy to create such emotions when the player is given god-like powers. But I don't think this is necessary. And it probably makes for a better story if the power of the player is limited.

Anyway, I'd like to hear your thoughts about motivation to play in a non-goal oriented way. And what you think about this idea to give the player a purpose in the fictional world, rather than a goal in the game structure or and end to achieve in the story structure.
« Last Edit: January 04, 2011, 10:58:02 am by Michaël Samyn »
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Re: Purpose
« Reply #1 on: January 04, 2011, 12:47:39 pm »

Maybe this is another question that can be answered with its inversion: to make the player want the game, you need to make the game want the player.
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Re: Purpose
« Reply #2 on: January 13, 2011, 10:27:18 am »

I'm a casual player of hardcore games... since I usually enjoy just admiring the really detailed fictional worlds (without having to achieve all trophies/achievements by collecting every artifact/killing all enemies in the hardest setting, etc.)

I think 'Simulation' is the perfect term to describe what we are trying to achieve.  To me, games are no different than books, media I consume whenever I don't have the budget to go out and travel to different countries around the world (Also, I think studying abroad in a foreign school is likewise a worthwhile experience.)  Plus, they are so far the only medium to truly explore futuristic concepts which are yet impossible to achieve in real life.

I especially love games with advanced NPC AI companions... they're the best ambassadors of their worlds to yours.  They don't break the fourth wall like real human players in MMOs do.  They're like the no-name actors you see in movies that perform their part so well, you only know them for the role they played (unlike Superstar actors which break your immersion because you know their 'real' personalities).

Sorry if it's been discussed already (I'm trying to refresh), if I understand it correctly, goals set in stone, and an addiction-cycle-mechanic to achieve them are the main features of a game today.  Stuff like:  Collect X items to achieve reward;  clear level of all monsters;  reach destination in under X minutes.  Something that can be rewarded with either a score, a trophy/achievement, or both.  Then the way the addiction cycle works is that a new stage or level will have bigger challenges or harsher limits, ad infinitum.  In other words, this is typical arcade design to get players to push more tokens into the machine.  It's pretty ironic that arcade design is the most popular type of game design in indie circles today, since trying to get players to push more tokens was the earliest form of micro addiction mechanic that modern social games like Zynga use today.

I'm glad I was born when home consoles were around, so I don't feel so nostalgic about the arcade era.  What I loved about home consoles was the ability to return as many times as you want to a game without having to pay any more than the upfront purchase cost.  It's only the recent online subscription model that reversed that.  When game developers recently announced yet another 'death of the single-player game (and that the single-player game was an anomaly between the arcade/board game eras and the modern connected console era), I interpreted it to mean that it was only single-player games and books that offered the true 'unlimited replay' experience after you bought the item once.  But with everything else, you have to shell out money every time you want to experience something, even if you experienced it before.  Even with online Flash games, you have to redownload some new ads which is equivalent to a 'new purchase cost'.

Home consoles also introduced save points in games, making them more linear in progress like books.  I used to care about beating my high score in Pacman, but with the new JRPGs I didn't care about high scores; I just wanted to explore and continue the story.  I think save points still have a role to play even as mere bookmarks, even if it's not important to me what other statistics get saved as well.

Now if most of those statistics are derived from keeping track of the results of goal-oriented addiction-mechanics, if I make a true 'notgame' that does away with these statistics, that means I don't really need anything to save at all!  I'll only need a bookmark feature at best.

I'm starting first with describing a world and taking the audience through it's paces (my current game), but I do plan to have a game entirely run by AI simulated characters eventually.
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Re: Purpose
« Reply #3 on: January 13, 2011, 04:32:41 pm »

It's pretty ironic that arcade design is the most popular type of game design in indie circles today, since trying to get players to push more tokens was the earliest form of micro addiction mechanic that modern social games like Zynga use today.

True. Ironic. And sad.
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Re: Purpose
« Reply #4 on: January 26, 2011, 07:50:14 am »

For Weiv, the project I've been working on for a while now, I'm trying to provide that purpose through the context of the play itself - in this case, a worship service or musical performance.  The purpose then becomes to perform as a visual band member.

Maybe you could carry that idea to other forms of play as well.  A mobile videogame about exploration and meeting new people, a desktop videogame about introspection and self discovery, a console videogame about cooperative play.
Re: Purpose
« Reply #5 on: February 08, 2011, 11:15:13 pm »

If the players enjoyed your game for fifteen minutes, and these fifteen minutes made a lasting impression, isn't that enough?

For me its similar to books: even my favorite books, I don't want to read all the time. Even if I really enjoyed reading a book for the first time, it's going to take a while before I want to read it again. (And even then, it's not going to be the same experience that I had reading it for the first time) Nevertheless, my favorite books influence me a lot, even when I'm not currently reading them.

Maybe this is another question that can be answered with its inversion: to make the player want the game, you need to make the game want the player.
I would express that differently: to make the player need the game, you need to make the player feel like the game needs them.

Tamagochi is a good example: you play with it often because it would starve if it didn't. It's a chore, an obligation. One that you follow willingly, because it's a cute and helpless being which loves you back that you have to care for. It makes people play by exploiting the human urge to care for their loved ones.
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