Notgames Forum

General => Everything => : Michaël Samyn January 27, 2012, 09:14:46 AM

: Thomas Grip vs Raph Koster: 1-0
: Michaël Samyn January 27, 2012, 09:14:46 AM
The discussion between Raph Koster and Thomas Grip that follows the latter's insightful reaction ( on the former's blog post, reminds me so much of why we started this initiative.

Mr Koster is a smart man, I very much enjoyed reading his Theory of Fun, but he simply doesn't get it. He even seems to refuse to get it -his life is complicated enough already, let's keep things simple!. He sometimes sounds like a grumpy old man sticking to what he knows and refusing to see new things when they happen (which is funny for me because I am usually this grumpy old man :D ).

I started reading his article but then he says "The core of a game is a problem to solve." That's what we have this emoticon for: ::)
It starts with the rhetoric technique of reducing everything to its -assumed- "core". Why would the "core" of something prove anything? Anyway.
On the one hand I agree with Thomas and Callois, and Jeroen Stout and Chris Bateman for that matter, that there is much more variety in games than strict definitions (à la Zimmerman's and Salen's) allow for. But on the other, I'm so tired of this endless discussion. It's much easier to just say "what we make is not a game, then". Some of these fundamentalists will then respond by trying to prove that our work is still a game (I think they could "prove" that anything is a game -I mean, sure one can define everything as rules and goals, but is it helpful to do so, always, to everyone?).

I don't think of my activity as a designer, nor of my activity as a player, as "solving problems". I don't care! I'm driven by curiosity and wonder, by a desire for delight. I'm driven by questions and finding ever more questions, with no answers. The more questions without answers, the greater the mystery. And I delight in the mystery, because I can understand it on a visceral, sub-rational level. And that understanding is much more clear and important to me than any kind of rational comprehension. Maybe this is the difference between knowledge through experience and knowledge through reading. Videogames allow us to experience things.

As a maker, I create my games as works of art. Creating art is not problem solving. If anything, it's problem-creating!
As a player, I play games as works of art: I'm looking for physical sensations, for emotions. I do not want to be bothered by logical constructions. I just want to play.

It's amusing to have such a rigid "old garde" to react against. But I must admit it would be a lot less fun without all of you around! Thank you for making this community. It's so nice to have a place where we can talk about these things and know what we are talking about, without somebody coming around to drag everything down to a reptilian level. Videogames are a new medium! The heritage from board games and the like is purely circumstantial (and possibly only exists because programmers tend to be the kind of people who play them). Let's look at this medium with fresh eyes, and use it for things that really matter!

: Re: Thomas Grip vs Raph Koster: 1-0
: ghostwheel January 27, 2012, 03:46:30 PM
Maybe I'm in a different headspace atm but honestly, I don't care what anyone thinks about what notgames are trying to achieve and more specifically, what I'm trying to achieve. I just couldn't get through the whole thing. I simply couldn't get interested enough. The dude can call it whatever he wants and create definitions to his heart's content. Whatever.

This community helped me find a direction and that's all that matters to me.

: Re: Thomas Grip vs Raph Koster: 1-0
: Thomas January 27, 2012, 03:47:52 PM
Haha, not sure how much I did win :) When it comes to academic understanding of definitions, and such Raph knows a great deal more than me.

Still, I think it is interesting (or perhaps I should say regretful) that the terminology is strange. I mean, if you say that all games are a series of problems, then that really projects a very specific kind of thinking into designers. What you then first do is to think "what problems does the player solve in my game?", which might make people back off from certain ideas.

And yeah, as I was replying I grew a bit tired to defend what a game/videogame/whatnot really is. The only thing of interest is if any terminology can help us think better about it. And because of that I do feel saying challenge or problem is not right. For example, with out new game, I never call anything a puzzle, but instead "activity", and I believe it makes me think about the problem quite differently. Now I have to make sure the activity is interesting to do in its own right,just thinking that solving a "puzzle is engaging!" no matter what one is actually doing.

: Re: Thomas Grip vs Raph Koster: 1-0
: ghostwheel January 27, 2012, 03:58:34 PM
Yeah, the activity is important, not necessarily the puzzle. That is one of the concepts I was able to make concrete in my mind discussing things here. Activity creates engagement, not necessarily puzzles or problems. The "problem" thinking is far too limited.

: Re: Thomas Grip vs Raph Koster: 1-0
: Chris W January 27, 2012, 07:26:20 PM
Well, that was fun.  I guess after reading through the whole back and forth, I'd have to agree:  Narrative is not a mechanic, and furthermore, why would you want it to be?  Seems to make the point of the article moot, but maybe I'm not seeing the what his initial argument is really about.

One thing the two of you touched on that I agree with you on is about how the rules are imposed, and I think I have a clearer way to look at that.  Videogames use an additive set of rules, whereas boardgames and other non-digital games use a subtractive one (there are real technical terms for this, but I forget what they are at the moment.  It's something like "permissive" vs. "non-permissive").  The point is that in a computer game, you start with nothing, and all actions, interactions, and mechanics happen because the designer (or the computer itself) puts them in there.  Nothing can happen that isn't specifically allowed for.  On the other hand, a board game starts with the possibility-space of "everything a human being is capable of doing", and then by implicit agreement, we reduce these possibilities until we've constrained ourselves to a system that we think will make a enjoyable experience.

I think that for us here, the problem is how to build up this permissive system in such a way that it will allow individual users to have unique meaningful experiences, rather than constraining them to being the rat running on the spinning wheel.  In fact, it may be this heritage of restrictive rulesets that informs the design choices that are so prevalent today.

: Re: Thomas Grip vs Raph Koster: 1-0
: Jeroen D. Stout January 28, 2012, 12:23:54 PM
I think the danger is that people are taking academic terms as absolute value. You could look at almost everything as 'a series of challenges' - horseriding, growing ferns, making a cup of coffee after a night in the pub - all of these are 'challenges'. But I think that just means they 'pass' the 'can be a challenge' filter in our heads. They are not really challenges in a "the fabric of the universe has challenges" type of absolutism.

As much as modernity embraced pluralism (or had to), games lag behind in this with this one-size-fits-all series of ideologies that seeps through even in academics. A model where a game is a series of challenges (or interesting choices) can be helpful, or limiting. To think of Dinner Date or Cheongsam as 'a series of challenges' is an approach which is not entirely unreasonable, but it is certainly unhelpful to me while making it, and probably unhelpful to the player while playing it.

I gave a talk yesterday and I found myself ad-libbing that other arts would laugh at the mere notion that 'making the player cry' is something hard to be angled for, because they have been doing that for centuries. Afterwards someone found many problems with what I had said, and on this she said she made some relativistic argument that for games that is an achievement, and 'in a different way', and etcetera. To which I replied (realizing) that because I have been so immersed in other arts, I cannot put on my 'game hat' any more. I had to concentrate to realize how all the words I had used were different in her head. I have had my heart broken in Les Misérables. I cannot go back to a game's idea of sad drama, as much as I can see others find it 'good enough'. (She also commented that she 'did not agree that games and art were different', which naturally I never asserted but I think was assumed because of the language I used.)

My talk was mostly about game development segregating itself and being distant from the way the other arts think, making people take ideas from other games rather than their own lives and the other arts. Someone asked me to give a 'concrete' example of how to do this, which was a difficult question. Because concretely, you should just read all the books, view all the paintings and listen to all the compositions, and be observant in life. And then sit down and write your narrative as-if it is a 6-episode BBC drama, or something similar. In my head it has become more about marrying games with the other arts by 'lending' their thoughts, rather than developing games in their own direction too much, too quickly.

The radicalism behind part of the 'finding the true game definition' probably is some smart people trying to cope with the fact that they have isolated themselves intellectually and artistically, and find they must therefore restore their confidence by saying they did this 'because that is the word of god truth of games as seen in Plato's realm of ideas.'

I like Thomas' approach to say 'activities', and I like the idea of the interactivity cycle. It really hits home with me, because it sort-of connects with my idea of symbiosis, as the player's experience of extreme involvement derives from a suspension of disbelief caused by interactivity. The idea of an interactivity cycle also fits with the idea that a 1.5 hour drama could have 1.5 hours of interactivity cycle.

: Re: Thomas Grip vs Raph Koster: 1-0
: Thomas January 28, 2012, 07:17:57 PM
More on mechanics vs narrative here:

Raph makes some good points I think and they are valid. But he basically sees any game mechanic as an abstract system, and this leads to the idea that the more clean and beatuful or whatnot the abstract core mechanic, the better the game design. That is my take away, especially since he seem to see over-reliance on other attributes as THE problem facing narrative games.

What I see as the problem is that many designers are so focused on this abstract core, that it is later impossible to marry it with anything else. Uncharted is a great example of this where combat is obviously seen through the abstract lens first and far most, trying to fit anything thematic on top of that. And this is what I think creates this reliance on cutscenes and whatnot, because the abstract core cannot deliver on its own, but designers have a really hard time seeing this. And I think that terminology as supported by Raph (and others, who I think take it too much larger extremes) is a problem here. So I do not think Raph is incorrect, but that his view indirectly halts progress in some areas of games.

: Re: Thomas Grip vs Raph Koster: 1-0
: Thomas February 01, 2012, 10:08:24 AM
The point is that in a computer game, you start with nothing, and all actions, interactions, and mechanics happen because the designer (or the computer itself) puts them in there.  Nothing can happen that isn't specifically allowed for.  On the other hand, a board game starts with the possibility-space of "everything a human being is capable of doing", and then by implicit agreement, we reduce these possibilities until we've constrained ourselves to a system that we think will make a enjoyable experience.
Forgot to say that I thought this was a really nice and clear way of putting it!

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