Are we yet at the point where videogames are seen as a

Are we yet at the point where videogames are
seen as a sophisticated form of art and
How the way in which we deal with gameplay and narrative sequences is currently
holding back game creation
By Colin Ross
Word Count: 5553
Lecturers: Dr Ivan Phillips & Arlene Hui
‘Submitted to the University of Hertfordshire in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the
Degree of Bachelor of Arts (Honours), April 2009’
Are we yet at the point where videogames are seen as a
sophisticated form of art and entertainment ?
How the way in which we deal with gameplay and narrative sequences is currently
holding back game creation
Introductio n
The design of videogames has always inspired me from early age from when
I first grasped my hands on a Binatone TV M aster game controller. That memory is
not exactly vivid, but I remember it being a moment where I was interacting with
an interface which to me at the time gave me the impression I was playing tennis.
My young brain was enthralled w ith somehow I was affecting what was happening
on the TV, inside a TV (I must of been 4 -5 years old). This was eno ugh, I was
hooked; that moment I'll never forget. At the time I didn't see it as the simple
game of Pong, to me it was much more than a 2x8 pi xel paddle and a 4x4 pixel
representation of a ball rendered in glorious black and white. It is one of the
simplest games ever created but from that moment there has led me on to now
having a passion and a desire to create, entertain and progress the way g ames are
made and hopefully fo r others to enjoy those moments like my own in the future
when playing a videogame.
As with other forms of media like films, books and even music, videogames
strive to hit a personal note with the consumer. In this case wanti ng the media to
change peoples lives or to genuinely be important to them. Other forms of media
are able to do this, and you’ll often hear people explain abo ut a past experience
with either a book or a movie and that piece of media that has stuck with them for
many years. In my opinion t he games industry is still struggling with this even
now, and really this way of looking back at a piece of work can only be specific for
people who actually work in the industry or that are more looking at the work on
a professional game design level, and this is more of a cold mechanical way of the
piece of work reso nating and not the warm life changing effect we should be
desiring which other media pulls off so well.
In a way this can be brought back to the fact that this medium is still in its
infancy. Games are still not looked at in the same light by the mass as an accepted
form of entertainment where a piece of work can be looked at and be held up
high. I feel we are no w getting to the point where this is being questio ned more
and more so by both the audience and game makers and people’s stance is
starting to change on this and how they see the medium .
Videogames themselv es have always struggled to gain acceptance along
with other forms of media like music, literature and film, and we’v e always been
used to this form of entertainment having an aura of curiosity to those who aren’t
familiar with it or who dismiss it as purely a recreational past -time. Things are
changing gradually though and when I overhear co nversations about elderly
people being interested or playing videogames like Nintendo’s Wii Sports or Dr
Kawashima’s Brain Training then it makes me realise that this form of
entertainment is slowly going to be accepted by all just like cinema for example
has in the past. Or am I just jumping ahead here ever so slightly? Barry Atkins also
feels that the medium doesn’t get treated like it should by all tho se parents and
you could say ‘outsiders’, who’ve never dared to even pick up a game controller
because they feel this medium isn’t actually that sophisticated. To quote his book
‘More Than a Game’,
‘Th a t th e co mp u t e r g a m e h a s n ot, to d a t e, r e ce i v ed mu ch s er iou s cri ti ca l att en tion a s an
in d ep e n d e n t for m o f fi c tion a l exp r es s ion , rat h e r th an in p a ss in g a s a t e ch n o log ic al
cu r io sit y or a s a sp rin gb oard fo r so m e ext r e me l y sp e cu la ti v e t h e ori s in g ab ou t th e
p os s ib i lit i e s th a t mi gh t on e d ay b e r e v ea l ed in vi rtu a l r e ali ty o r cy b e r s p ac e i s h ard ly
su r p ri s in g , h o w e v er. I f t h i s i s a f or m o f f ict ion , t h en it is sti ll p e rc e i ved as a for m of
fi ct ion fo r ch ild r en an d ad ol e sc en t s, wit h al l th e p ejo rat i v e a s so cia tio n s th at su ch a
cla s s if ic ati on car ri e s wi t h it. G a me s, with th ei r v ast ti m e d e man d s an d la ck o f d i sc er n ib le
p rod u ct i n th ei r n ea r - on an i sti c en ga ge m en t o f a n in d i v id u a l wi th a m ac h in e, h a v e h ard l y
b e en w el co m ed wi th op en a r m s b y th e p ar en t s of t h e ir tar g et au d i en ce . ‘Ad u lt’, wh e n it
is in vo ke d a s a t er m a t all, m o st o ft en eq u at e s wi th ‘p o rn o gra p h i c’, rat h er th an
‘sop h i st ic at ed .’ [ 1 ]
I feel that videogames as a form of entertainment are still lacking in way stories
are told, and that we’ve yet to get to the point where videogames have a syllabus
to define gameplay, fun and the mechanics which are used .
This essay will attempt to take on the subject on two fronts. One being
from the perspective of how narrative is conveyed during a game and with that my
opinio n of it being co nflicted with gameplay actions; with this I will also attempt
to look at pieces of work that may have an answer to these pro blems as well as
stepping stones which I feel are progressing the industry in the way we convey our
narratives with actions . My second front of tackling the subject will involve why
videogames are still lo oked up on as not being as sophisticated as a form of
entertainment along with film, music and other mediums. My opinion is that these
two fronts are linked, with our stories and interaction still holding us back.
Why gameplay & narrative tend to be conflicte d
The work needs to be meaningful and important, and try to avoid the fake
unimportant careless decisio ns that pull the user out of the experience and makes
them question why that choi ce was made in the first place. I personally feel that
video games need to start playing to their strengths more. This is a medium which
is a mash up of various other forms of media, like having visual elements, text,
and also music. Maybe more focus back to the actual ‘gameplay’ which is a trait
no other medium has would be a n advantage and a unique way to then touch
peoples lives. With videogames we have at least two ways in which we can make
the piece of work be important to people. I feel the most important two ways are
by expression or by an introductio n of an activity. Ex pression in this case is what
we are accustomed to when watch ing a film or a television show and an
introductio n of an activity being a learning process, that when gon e back to later
on is remembered . When a certain level of an activity is achieved the end user
feels proficient and pleased they can achiev e something. In real life we could
parallel this to an activity like learning how to play football, and while the same
process of activity in a videogame could be the learning process o f how to play
Namco’s Pac-Man as an example . The activity there is learning the most effective
way to avoid the ghosts while also eating all the dots on the screen; this isn’t
something a user can be proficient in the m oment they pick up a game pad, it’s
something that takes time to achieve .
Story games are co nflicted. The audience can sense a piece of conflicted
work and this ends up not striking with the audience on a deep level much like
books and films inherently pull o ff much better currently. What needs to be
worked out is how to remove this conflict between gameplay and the story which
is trying to be told. We want to move away from the process where a person
playing a videogame then questions a decision he or she had to make, but really
had no choice whether they sho ul d turn on or turn off the ‘hacking computer ’ as
an example . It seems like a choice is given for the person playing the videogame,
but in essence there was only one option anyway as otherwise they couldn’t
progress and neither could the narrative . I personally could not get to point where
I could answer that question as to how to remove this conflict at a lower level to
cover all game design (and I do ubt anyone else could currently) , but more of a
desire to experiment in this industry may bring results over time. My opinion is
that it’s alway s going to be a case of making ‘baby steps’ where designers are
reiterating on both past design mistakes or improving upon them. Treading this
new ground which we’ve yet to explore is part of the process. We don’t yet hav e
set rules which need to be followed of what equals both fun and compelling
gameplay or anything to define either .
Tracy Fullerton is a game designer, educator and writer on v ideogames; and
her article on ‘Improving Player Choices’ brings up some very i nsightful ideas.
‘No matt e r wh at y ou ' ve b e en t old in th e p a st, d r ama an d su sp en s e in ga m e s s eld o m co m e
fro m th e sto ry l in e. I t c o m e s fro m th e a ct o f ma k in g d e ci s ion s t h at h a ve w ei gh t, an d th e
mo re w e igh t eac h d ec i si on ca rr ie s , th e mo re d ra mat ic th e ga me b e co m e s.’ [ 2 ]
I feel this quote above from Tracy Fullerto n’s Gamasutra article in question
cannot be taken serio usly eno ugh. Here she is explaining that the drama and how
epic these stories actually become during the game are o nly ever communicated
to the player thro ugh the gameplay c hoices which they have to make and the
gamers actions with their choices only start to resonate because they brought the
events into motion themselves and not upon a linear path where interactivity was
taken away from the player.
Fig 1 . Decisio n Scale
Source: Fullerton, Tracy. (2004) Improving Player Cho ices. [2]
Fullerton explains in the article that with the help of the ‘decision scale’
(shown in Figure 1) gameplay choices can be easily analysed. This for example
could be the player choosing whether their ally in the game world lives or dies
early on during the narrative, and for it then to have a consequence later on. This
sort of choice would be very critical and wo uld matter to the pl ayer (which is a
‘dilemma’ choice), unlike a minor gameplay choice of choosing which weapon to
equip for a boss battle for example when both weapons deal the same damage to
the boss. This would be so inconsequential to the player that they needn’t even be
given this gameplay choice. Why waste the players’ time with these choices when
they aren’t ever going to affect the narrativ e or more importantly be remembered
as an action that changed the users overall experience with the game ? With
having the choice of which weapon to choose currently being ‘inco nsequential’
the developer could indeed change this gameplay choice to being ‘important’ and
having an immediate impact. The boss for example could be a fire breathing foe,
while one weapon could protect the pla yer from such an element while the other
wouldn’t, but the other weapon would enable the player to deal more damage.
This initial gameplay choice now has a consequence for how the player deals with
the boss battle, and the interactive narrativ e of which we apon to choose now has
a reason and a substance. The reason why in a lot of narrative led games of recent
years have not a bearing on Fullerton’s ‘Improving Player Choices’ scale is because
typically designers go into creating a narrative first and foremos t and leaving the
actual ‘game’ and interaction to be then designed aro und the already formulated
plot. This then automatically brings gameplay actions that simply hold no real
weight or for the action to be meaningful, and this process could then continue on
in the gameplay space of a title while a narrative element is played out of which
would reduce both to nothing significant to write home about.
Often modern v ideogames tend to opt for telling narrative in no n interactive sequences or cut -scenes, with this in my mind shows that the overall
design of the game and how the story is told could have easily been done the
same using other established forms of media be it with literature or cinema.
Although I understand that there are many ways to tell a story , for me I’d like to
see less of the non -interactive cut -scene approach to telling stories in
videogames, and more use of the medium in itself being gameplay and what
videogames at the core element are through learning patterns and what our
actions can be interpreted as . Games industry veteran Warren Spector, founder of
Junction Point Studios, seems to agree with me here. He is known for being
outspoken with regards to narrative in video games, and in a recent interview with
industry magazine ‘Develop’ he pu t forward his opinion.
“Wh at p a s s es f or in t er a cti on in th e ga me b u sin e s s 9 8 p er c en t o f th e t i m e i s an i llu s ion ,
an d th e r ea li ty i s th at w e h a v e en ou gh co mp u ti n g p o w er an d w e h a v e e n ou gh s of t war e
kn o wl ed g e th at w e can actu a lly c re at e tr u e r i n t era ct ion th an w e cou ld i n th e p a st .” [3 ]
Maybe his thoughts here have more substance with how technology has
progressed in more recent years, but he also steps down on the v iew that game
developers can do so much more with telling narrative in videogames, and like
myself, I believe it co mes down to developers not attempting more creative ways
of telling these stories with the available technology. He continues on explaining
about choices and the player, “When I see people faking it – choices that don’t
mean anything, choices that have no consequences, choices where the game will
keep bum ping you back until you make the right o ne – I just can’t deal with that.
Really giving players power over how a story unfolds is the ultimate grail.”
This obvio usly comes back to ho w gameplay choices can engage a player
and push on the narrative with these choices and referencing back to the example
of the ‘hacking computer’ previo usly used . I understand that now with so many
genres of v ideogames being available to consumers and also with more people
playing videogames than ever before that there of course should be room for all
types of games and ways of telling stories, but I just hope that m ore videogames
try to tell their narrative through i nteractivity and gameplay. 2K Games BioShock
(2007) instead of jum ping into non -interactive sequences to tell the story opted to
give the player recorded conversations on D ictaphone tapes which are littered
around the game world. The player would then pick these items up with a
gameplay choice if they were ever sought o ut and the tape would then
automatically play while the player would then continue on their way with
whatever else they were doing i nside the wo rld. This itself had nev er been done
prior to the games release in any other title , and although it sounds like such a
minimal idea it never drags the player out o f the experience or detracts them
from it; and if anything it builds on what is already there and furthers the players
absorption into the game world. The Dictaphone tapes littere d througho ut the
game world were entirely optional pickups, so with this being the ‘choice’ then
the player then had the option as to whether their gameplay experience involved
more narrative or kept to a minimum; and ultimately the player having co ntrol o f
the narrative of when and what order to receive back story to the world. This way
of delivering the narrative made peoples experiences of the game rather varied
where some parts of the audience may not have listened to parts of the back story
that other players may of. While BioS hock was applauded for its decisio ns on how
to tell its narrative to the player, some gam es can’t have the same approach due
to gameplay constraints and what would fit in their virtual world that they’ve
created and especially fro m a design perspective if a narrative is constructed first
of all .
Warren Spector understands that there are these small steps dev elopers
need to take, and I’m assu ming that the dev elopers of BioS hock are some of these
people taking these small steps like he has mentioned below.
“Th er e ar e b a b y st ep s w e n e ed t o tak e alo n g th e way, an d t h e r e ar e p e op l e ta kin g th os e
st ep s, b u t b y an d l ar ge p eop l e ar e s til l in th e m ov i e min d s et . A s s oon a s I h ear of
s crip t ed mo m en t s t h at p ro vid e in c r ed ib l e e mot ion a l p u n ch , an d a s so o n as I go o n
for u m s an d re ad e v ery p er so n say i n g ‘ Wa sn ’ t it coo l wh en c h ara ct e r X j u mp ed a cr o s s
th at ch a s m ?’ a ll I wan t t o d o i s scr e am . I f e v ery p lay er i s d o in g e xa ctly t h e sa m e t h in g at
exa ct ly th e s am e ti m e, i t’s n ot a g am e . Go ma ke a mo vi e a n d g et ou t o f my m ed i u m .” [3 ]
Warren Spector’s statement backs up my feelings that although such a minimal
addition to Bioshock was made with the Dictophone tapes it still enabled that
non-scripted feeling where optio ns were available and no one was led down the
same path througho ut their experience with the title.
Dynamic stories
More and more games are now attempting ‘dynamic stories’ though where
more than just a linear path is there to progress, where decisions affect later
choices and so on. This is expensive to do in regards to man -hours it takes to build
these seemingly forev er branching webs of variables and the finances available to
do so, and it also brings up the problem of when you start being dynamic narrative
wise then when the limits are set for that dynamic narrative then they will also be
met and pushed to their boundaries by the user. Once these boundaries and
limitatio ns are met then the experience is degraded and brings back that feeling
of linearity .
Modern technology also gives game d evelopers many ways to tell narratives from
traditional approaches. But this technology can also have the pro blem of game
developers wanting to do things gameplay wise with o pen choices just because
they can. This would for example bring the player further away from the narrative
and overall experience. If a player can run up against a wall and just jump
everywhere without any purpose while also landing nowhere of any major
significance then wouldn’t this bring you the player further away from that
experience? Would this idea also bring into the picture a competition between
gameplay and narrative and what is vying fo r the players perceptual, cognitive and
motor effort?
Craig A. Lindley’s paper titled ‘Conditioning, Learning and Creatio n in Games:
Narrative, The Gameplay Gestalt and Generative Simulation’ puts forward that
motion, and gives an opinio n that there surely is a fine balance to achieving a
unification between these elements.
‘To e xp er ien c e a ga m e a s a n ar rat i ve r eq u i r e s th e cr eat ion of a n a rra ti v e g es tal t u n ify in g
th e ga m e exp e ri en ce s in to a coh er en t n ar rat i v e st ru c tu r e. Th e te n sion b et w e en g a mep lay
an d n ar rat i v e c an n o w b e vi e w ed a s a co mp eti ti on b e t we en th e se r e sp e cti v e g e stal t
for m ati on p r oc e s s e s for p er c ep tu al, co gn i ti v e, a n d m oto r ef fo rt. Wi th in th e ran ge o f
e ff ort r eq u i r ed for i m m er s ion a n d en g ag e m en t, if ga m ep lay con su m e s mo st o f th e
ava il ab l e co gn it i v e r e so u rc e s, th e re wil l b e lit tl e sc op e l e ft fo r p er c ei v i n g c o mp l ex
n arra ti v e p a tt ern s, an d litt l e p o in t in t er m s o f a d d in g to i m me r sio n an d en g ag e m en t .
Con v er s e ly , fo cu sin g on th e d e v e lop m en t o f th e s en s e o f n a rra ti v e r ed u c e s th e p lay er s
n e ed an d c ap ac ity fo r a h igh ly en g ag in g ga m ep l ay g e sta lt.’ [4 ]
This brings together that attempting to tell a story in the same way as
which a film general ly does will always cause problems. It’s obviously apparent
that the medium of ‘videogames’ borrows heavily from other media, and in some
regards mashes it all together while chucking in interactivity. Is this what we want
videogames to be?
Frontier's founder Dav id Braben explains that in his company’s latest game
The Outsider that they are dealing with these problems that dynamic stories bring
up, but also at the same time it leaves an experience for a user who just wants to
zone-out and enjoy whatever is presented to them.
“Bu t al so, y ou h a ve to c ate r for a l ot o f d i ff e re n t typ e s o f p lay sty l e. Th er e a r e sti ll th e
so rt o f p eo p l e wh o w an t a b ra in -o f f exp er i en c e, an d I t h in k th at ' s a go o d th in g - - I d on 't
th in k th at ' s a cr it ic i sm . You d on 't wan t to h a v e to th in k, "O h , wh at a m I su p p o se d to d o
n ow, " b e cau s e t h at ' s th e fl ip sid e of th i s, th e u n sp o ken p ro b l e m.
[O b j ect i v e s] sh ou ld sti ll b e re al ly ob v iou s, b u t t h er e ' s so m eth in g n i c e a b ou t wh en yo u g o
th rou gh d o in g wh at y ou 'r e t old , an d y ou th in k, "Wa it a s econ d , th i s i sn ' t q u it e ri gh t !"
An d i t' s th at s a me e l e m en t w ith Ou t s id e r wh er e you ' v e got co rru p tio n , th at it' s r eal ly
q u it e i n t er e sti n g. N o w, y ou ca n p l ay th rou gh th e [ str ai gh t fo rw ard ] rou t e, an d you en d u p
wi th q u it e an in t er e st in g en d in g, b u t you can al so b r ea k of f at an y se co n d , an d st art
q u e st ion in g wh y th i n g s are h ap p en in g th e way t h ey 'r e h a p p e n in g.” [ 5 ]
Of course in practice the idea of doing dynamic stories seems like a
visionary ready to fail because the idea of having entertainment this way in the
videogame space appears to be a gigantic piece of work to tackle. Many titles
have indeed failed at this, notably Lionhead’s Fable game; altho ugh this could be
more put down to things being cut late on in the development and promises not
being delivered o n. The games visionary, Peter Molyneux OBE, has stated after the
original Fable game came out that they failed to deliver on what they promised
originally to gamers and went as far as publicly apo logising to fans of the game for
not delivering on pro mises m ade during the titles development.
“If I h a v e m en t ion ed an y f eatu r e in th e p a st wh ich , f or wh a te v e r r ea so n , d id n 't m ak e it
as I d e sc rib ed in to F ab l e, I ap o lo gi s e. E v e ry f e a tu r e I h a ve e v e r ta lk ed ab ou t WA S i n
d e v elo p m en t, b u t n ot al l mad e i t. Of te n th e re a son i s th at th e f ea tu r e d id n ot m ak e
s en s e.” [ 6 ]
A BBC article shortly after the game was released also referenced Fable’s attempt
to change the industry and how story and gameplay options would be delivered to
the audience.
“It wou ld o f f er a l mo st u n li mi te d fr e ed o m wi th a d izzy in g n u mb er of con s eq u en c e s fo r
e v ery a ct ion , w e w er e t old .
Th r e e y ea r s l at er a n d th e ga m e i s fi n al ly ou t, b u t it b ea r s on ly a p a s sin g re s e mb lan ce to
th e tit l e fir s t sp ok en ab ou t in su ch g lo win g t er m s.” [ 7 ]
The BBC article gives a glimpse at the promises Molyneux and his team wished
they could have delivered on when making the original Fable gam e with regards to
dynamic story and ho w more gameplay choices would be given to the user and
with also having more consequence at the same time with the players actions, and
undo ubtedly these promises were explored during the development of the title.
Lionhead Studio’s is no small fry in the gam e development world either, and its
designers are some of the finest out there. So when they have had to scale back
ideas and thought pr o cesses that they wished to implement into a game from a
design point then we can assume that again the industry is still in its infancy with
all these potential possibilities but only gradual development on what we can
achieve is being carried out. But it ’s a reassurance that that potential is there for
our medium to be something bigger than what it currently is.
Fable, and its sequel Fable 2, are the titles that are often referenced in this
space by gamers when asked about notable titles that attempted to deliver a
gameplay experience that is dynamic in the freedom which is given to the
audience. I personally think this was a stepping stone tho ugh, and obviously many
titles after this looked back at Fable’s development and tried to work out its
shortcomings, as well as the final product to see what worked and what failed.
In my eyes Peter Molyneux and the Lionhead team which has created the
Fable series of games have done more than a great favour to progressing how
dynamic stories can be told in a videog ame. For our games to be looked at as
more of a sophisticated art form to the mass -market then we as developers need
to push these boundaries of game design, find our limits, and at the same time
develop ways in which players feel attached to their actions and consequences. He
also believes that this progression with stories and how they attempted to deal
with player to character relationships is what ultimately will attract a wider
audience to videogames. The BBC interview with him explains his ambitions a s a
game creator.
“To reach his ambitions Molyneux has spent a long time tackling two key issues:
how to make people care about the game and how to make it rich and deep
enough to satisfy hardcore gamers and simple enough to attract new players.
"I wa n t p eop l e to s it d o wn a n d p l ay th e ga m e w ith a f ri en d . No w so m et i m e s you r fri en d
cou l d b e a ga m er . B u t p rob ab ly mor e li ke ly yo u r f ri en d i s goin g t o b e s om eon e wh o h a s
n e v er p lay ed t h e ga m e b e for e .“
"B oth of y ou sh o u ld f e el good ab ou t wh at you a r e d o in g, n eit h e r o f y ou sh ou ld f e el
stu p id a b ou t wh at yo u a re d oin g. " [ 8 ]
Indie games
I want to avoid examples of big -budget titles and go back to how to deal
with the problem of narrative and gameplay conflicting. Indie gam es like Rod
Humble’s Marriage [9] and Gravitation by Jason Rohrer are two examples that
leave the narrative, themes and ideas of a game to be portrayed through the use
of gameplay, perceptual primitives and also colours and shapes on screen. The
Marriage itself is a sm all free downloadabl e game which encompasses two
squares, one being pink and the other being blue [figure 2 ]. The game features an
attractio n between the two squares along with other primi tives that are shown as
circles. The game would be seen as abstract by the majority of p eople and in a
way not actually feel like a game, but the idea of how it’s communicating is what
we’re after here. The Marriage communicates to the user thro ugh how the game
plays and the on -screen primitives. This is then depicted as a marriage, where the
blue square represents the husband, while the pink square is obv iously the wife.
The circle primitives represent o utside pro blems, chores or maybe even
difficulties that the marriage has to deal with. These circle primitives then affect
the size of the bl ue and pink squares making one more dominant in the space
while also dragging them apart. A healthy balance here is key for gameplay to
progress. This breakdown of the game is definitely possible to understand without
the need to explain it. Colours being representations and then also themes being
extracted with how the game plays.
Fig.2 – Rod Humble’s ‘The Marriage’
Big budget titles do this, but it's only possible to see these primitiv es’ once
high level visuals and everything else we expect from a ga me nowadays is
removed. At its core they still retain these themes which you’d no t need the
visuals and everything else to hide. Here it’s a case of small indie games retaining
clarity; its fun damentals are not lost unlike a game which has a m ulti millio n
pound budget alo ng with a three y ear development time. So if we were to extend
The Marriage’s way of expressing itself and how it communicates with the user to
any game, then anytime a system behaviour is setup then that system
communicates something to th e player (whether the meaning is intentional or
not). The Marriage has thematic elements but doesn’t tell a story.
I’ll call this way of doing things the ‘progressive system’, while the meaning itself
is the ‘progressive meaning’.
With how mainstream vid eo games are made I feel designers are not thinking
about the pro gressive meaning, of which co mes from the users actions and what
they see on screen if the content was boiled down to its primitives. In a way the
medium is being used to fill in the blanks a s much as possible from using
techniques from both films and literature, and not quite using its unique aspect of
‘play’ and interaction to tell the narrative o r for the user to work it out through
patterns and puzzles that the game offers . While designers are m ore focusing on
implementing a story as well as gameplay mechanics that are ‘fun’. These stories
and ‘fun’ mechanics tend to have separate meanings that would then often clash;
this is because the sto ry isn’t designed around the ‘fun’ mechanics. Again though,
the games industry now reaches people of all ages while everyone also has
different tastes in what they’d like to take in with their spare tim e (which of
course is always limited), so maybe this way of ignoring using techniques fro m
other media is a non -entity. For me though I desire that this experimentation is
taken out more often and we see more of it in a way that a game communicates
through the actio ns made by the user and the core primitives that the user sees
on-screen and if we have to look at the indie game space for inspiration then so
be it. Indie game designers don’t have the money, the large 30 -1 00 team of people
or a street date that needs to be met no matter what; they always have the core
elements of interactivity and learning patterns as foundatio ns which big budget
titles tend to put as a lesser importance during development.
I've given examples of my feelings as to why I feel the way in which we tell
our narratives in gam es could be very much progr essed and there are still ways in
which we can tie our gameplay sequences and patterns to carry more meaning and
our actions in a game to also have meaningful consequence. Whether this is what
solely is holding back videogames from being a sophisticated medium could
forever be debated, but my opinio n is that this is our problem. Parts of the
audience are still confused or possibly even scared of what unfamiliarity’s the
videogames we create posses. I could define music, film as well as literature (as
could anyone else), but when given the task of trying to explain what a game is I
feel no one could ever accurately deliver a statement. Katie Salen and Eric
Zimmerman in their book Rules of Play deliv er something which I feel is probably
the most systematic explanation being “a system in which players engage in an
artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome” [10]
although at the same time I'd still questio n it because aren't gam es really just a
load of old fun, and defining how to create fun is then even more of a task in my
opinio n. Another notable game designer in Sid Meier illustrates a game is sim ply
“a series of meaningful choices.” [11] This example of what represents a ‘game’ to
him is in many ways reiterating my stance, F ullerton’s, and also Warren Spector’s
that we need to strive for meaningful choices through our actions and how we
interact with representations on screen. This in my eyes is what a game is; simply
meaningful cho ices that resonate with the audience and the game player. Many
will still have the o pinion that v ideogames as a sophisticated medium can only be
taken as seriously as something along the lines of your typical Hollywood popcorn
flick, where games designers will only ever explore conditio ns like sex a nd
violence in our narratives to the point where it will always be deemed as shallow,
having little meaning with our actions and the consequences that follow. The
game Grand Theft Auto steps upon these themes, and altho ugh parts of the
audience see these parts as shallow, as progressing our boundaries as game
designers it is al so pushing these limits that have yet to be explored in o ur
medium of videogames which both literature and cinema did in both their
infancies and have progressed to the point where they are less critiqued . An
example being in literature where Mills & Boon novels have in the past attracted
incensed critics to both the content and thought process these books suggest to
their readers [12], this is a case of these bo undaries being explored in this
medium when it was in its infancy, as well as culture changing w ith the times . Will
videogames take their rightful place among other forms of entertainment is only
something history will dictate when we look back in years to come as something
meaningful, a learning experience and actions that as games players we felt
fulfilled that it was so mething that changed our lives.
1. Atkins, Barry. (2003) More Than a Game. Manchester University P ress.
2. Fullerton, Tracy. (March, 2004) “Improving Player Choices” From the World
3. Fear, Ed. (March 20th, 2008) "Q&A: Warren Spector". From the World Wide
Web: -Warren-SpectorPart-2
4. Lindley, Craig A. (2002 ) Conditioning, Learning and Creatio n in
Games:Narrative, The Gameplay Gestalt and Ge nerative
5. Braben, David. (January, 2008) “David Braben on dynamic stories in games”
From the World Wide Web: 008/01/david -braben -ondynamic -stories -in.html
6. Slashdot | Peter Molyneux Apologizes for Fable =04/ 10/01/1651219
7. BBC NEWS | Technolo gy | Fable falls short of legend
8. BBC NEWS | Technolo gy | Molyneux driven by past failure
9. Rod Humble’s “The M arriage” From the World Wide Web:
10. Salen, Katie; Zimmerman, Eric. (2003) Rules of Play: Game Design
Fundamenta ls.
11. Koster, Raph. (2005) Theory of Fun for Game Design. Paraglyph.
12. Mills & Boon: 100 years of heaven or hell? | Life and style | The Guardian lifeandstyle/2007/dec/05/women.fiction
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