Learning new ways to play vs. being taught a new way

Over at the IGDA web site, Matthew Sakey has written an interesting column, Reality Panic. In it he discusses the fact that when people were play testing Deus Ex: Invisible War,

At one point, testers approached a T intersection: to the right were laser tripwires and gun turrets; to the left was a locked door; and directly in front was a (usable) window. He said every single one of them, without fail, went to the right. One can imagine how frustrated developers must occasionally get when they watch gamers consistently employ Neolithic problem solving tactics when modern development tools make much more advanced techniques available.

The column makes a strong argument that the dominant paradigm of gameplay is changing. More and more things are possible, but we have been trained to think in narrow ways when playing games. We have been taught in a million little ways that the door can’t be opened and the window is a dead end. But that is no longer the case. Technology has progressed and allowed for more possibilities.

The problem is, no one told us that. As Sakey correctly points out, game designers need to reteach us. We can learn that the rules have changed on our own, but it will be much more effective, and much more satisfying if the game teaches us that the there are new possibilities open to us.

To take this farther though, I wonder if it might be possible that ten years from now, when we look back at the games where there were fewer possibilities and reminisce about how great they were just like we now reminisce about the simplicity of games like Pac-Man. Will we look at Quake and say that it was more fun, a better game because we didn’t have to worry about ragdoll physics and being able to find our own path?

I’m sure we will. I can’t wait until we get the “id classics tv games” that we hook up to our HDTV’s.

Same old story, same old song and dance

From time to time there are always those who like to pull out that good old, “How can you theorize games if you don’t know how to program them?” and argue that videogame scholars need to know programming in order to really understand what is going on in a videogame. While I don’t deny that there is some validity to that and I, myself, have a tiny little bit of programing experience (Logo, baby! I made a shooting game and everything!). However, there is another part of the story. I’m going to go out on a limb and argue that all the programming in the world isn’t going to help you really understand videogames because there is more to games than the software and hardware. There is the wetware, to go all cyberpunk. Yes, I’m talking about, once again, the people who play the games.
Therefore, I’m going to turn the question around, “How can you theorize games if you don’t know anything about ethnographic methods?” and I argue that videogame scholars need to know some anthropology, folklore or performance studies to really be able to articulate what is going on when we play games. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t study videogames, I study the people who play them.
Anthropologists and Folklorists have been studying people for a long time now. They have written a whole lot about what people do in social situations. We should probably spend some time thinking about that. The more I think about videogames, the more I realize that the scholarly study of them really does require a unique background of information. There is the new media stuff, certainly, and there is the human computer interaction stuff, but there is also the good old fashioned human to human interaction too. We are people and we are doing things. What we are doing is just as important was what we are doing them with. So game scholars, take that intro to programming course, but make sure you also that that intro to ethnography, anthropology, performance, or folklore class, too.

you say liminal, i say liminoid

So this is a post that I’m imagining only the smallest portion of the smallest portion will know what I’m talking about but here goes.
So I’m thinking about liminality and liminal vs. liminoid in videogames, specifically in Counter-Strike. So Turner would certainly say that playing videogames at a lan party was a liminoid phenomenon. However, what about the world of the game itself? Again, specifically in Counter-Strike, which is basically war, would that be a liminal space or a liminoid space? I am thinking that the world of the game is liminal, especially if we look at it from the perspective of the characters. If so, then playing Counter-Strike is a liminoid enactment of a liminal performance. Of course there is all that Turner’s social drama stuff as well. I wonder how that fits in?

A little something I rescued from the recycle bin…

I”m editing an article for publication and as always happens in situations like that there are always little bits that have to be cut out. Cutting the out is always painfull and so rather than just deleting the paragraph I thought I would post it here. So here is something for people to mull over:

In the often cited “Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema,” Laura Mulvey writes that one of the pleasures of film is scopophilic, or based on looking (324). “[The] brilliance of the shifting patterns of light and shade on the screen helps to promote the illusion of voyeuristic separation” (Mulvey 324). However, in a FPS, the player is voyeristically looking at the main character because the player is the main character which means there can be no voyeuristic pleasure in playing a FPS because there is no one to watch. Indeed, even if one were to attempt to stop playing the game in order to look at one of the other characters and subject the character to a objectifying male gaze, the character would in all likelyhood shoot the player in a direct rejection of the voyeristic gaze. Additionally, what occurs while playing a Shooter is not a separation, but an immersion in that by using the first-person perspective, the player is encouraged to forget that they are playing a character and to feel as if they themselves are in the game. The pleasure in playing a First-Person Shooter is not in looking but in doing.

Of possible interest

I ran across a paper that might be of interest to anyone out there talking about gamers and the kind of gamers taht attend LAN parties. Jeroen Jansz and Lonneke Martens have written a paper called Gaming at a LAN event: the social context of playing digital interactive games” (pdf file, google also has a cache of an html version)
It is a pretty basic paper where they gave a survey to some gamers, but it might come in handy some day, so I thought I would post an entry about it.


Over at there is a story entitled, “Drug Addiction Integrated Into Achaea MUD” that while doesn’t have many details, talks about an interesting gameplay element that the MUD has recently added. While not the first online game to add adiction (according to a couple posters over at slashdot A Tale in the Desert also has addictive drugs.

The addition of addictive drugs which have negative consequences is an interesting subject. What is the purpose of having such a thing in a game? Is it to lend it a feeling of reality, to make the gameplay experience more realistic? Is it moralistic and attempting to teach us the drugs are bad? Does it turn addiction into entertainment?

I’ve not played either game, so I don’t know how the drug addiction is implimented except from what is written over at slashdot, and I can’t offer any great insite. However it is certainly worth pondering what this does to the gameplay experience, especially in a world where we are told that some drugs are bad and yet every other commercial is for a drug that we are supposed to ask our doctor about. Are there good drugs in these worlds? Are there fairly harmless stimulants? As the games we play become more complex, there are more complex question that need to be asked.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

The ESA has released their annual “Essential Facts” brochure (PDF file) with their statistics about who is doing what in regards to videogames. Yet again this year there is not one word of race. It would be nice if someone somewhere with the resources would do a study to see what the racial breakdown of videogame players is. It would also be nice if the ESA would release their raw data. I can understand why they don’t because this is designed for the general public, but it would certainly be nice to have more specifics on the data. I mean these numbers are already suspect in my mind because they come from the industry and so are spun in the best possible way. However, without even knowing how the data was gathered, what questions were asked, or how the questions were phrased, the data is next to worthless for anything by a soundbite — which again, is what it is designed for. It is just kind of sad that the most complete statistical data on the gaming industry is unacessable to the people who are really the most interested in it.

lazy summer days…

I made it through my first year of my phd. I’ve got an incomplete, but I’m working on it, i swear!
So E3 has started. Amazingly, I am soooooooooo unimpressed by what I’ve seen today. It seems like there is a huge concentration on graphics and physics. Not a whole lot of talk about gameplay going on…
Oh well, no exciting new games just means more time to catch up on my work.