Monday, October 31, 2011

What Games are: The Other Point

I further elaborate on the application of the model and its limitations.

In the kickoff post I wrote

Games consist of
  • a simulation background
  • rules
  • and goals
The rules generate the journeys towards the goals by constraining the player. Rules carve journeys out of the possibility space.

When I discussed games in various blogs and forums in recent years, I always eventually encountered players who argued that rules should empower the player, not constrict him. The most stereotypical example is someone stating
“If you make my Paladin do more dps, the game would be more fun to me”.
The problem is that this isn't even wrong. Being overpowered always makes players have more fun. But it's like heroin. The effect vanished after some time and needs to be reinforced to be experienced again. At some point the game breaks - even if it is a single player game. Playing a game with an overpowered character is very boring after a short while.

That's why it is important to understand that rules exist to constrict players in the first place. This is especially true in single player games, where allowing the character to deal 1e40 damage per second would be the cheapest fix ever. A game designer needs to ask himself the question:
“What rules would constrict the player on his journey towards the goal in such a way that finding and walking the journey is fun?”

Another objection is that not every game requires goals. I agree in a way. Two points: First, some games allow the player choose his own goals (sandbox). That isn't a problem for the model. Second, some activities in games can be 'just fun' without any obvious goal. For example just flying around and enjoying the landscape. While it is possible to argue that this entails the goal of satisfaction of curiosity, this is not completely correct. Enjoying beauty is fun even though there are no goals, no journeys. So, yes, some parts of games don't require goals to be fun. I'd argue, however, that you can't make a game that consists entirely of enjoying art, but maybe someone can prove me wrong.

On another topic, I have been asked, why I consider the simulation background so essential. The reason is that it is impossible explain a game to human being without referring to the simulation background; even if some games only have very weak or maybe even a non-existent simulation background (e.g. Poker). Of course you could argue that a (computer) game can just as well be described in terms of '0' and '1', and that's obviously true. But this way to describe a game is useless for this and most other models.

For example, describing WoW raiding without referring to the simulation is not possible. Just talking about numbers and how to influence them isn't enough to describe the game to a human being. Imagine someone describes raiding to you by explaining how there are different numbers (like, quite a lot), how they can affect each other, and which number needs to hit zero so that you win. At some point you would wish he told you that this number is supposed to be your health, and that is supposed to be a boss, etc. This information is not irrelevant. If the simulation were irrelevant, computer games didn't require any graphics.

Moreover, the simulation is very important because it shapes expectations. And expectations, in the broadest sense, are one of the most powerful things there are in game design; that's why they need to be managed. The broadest sense including things like 'attitude' and 'consequences of past experiences'.
Of course there are other ways to express what a game is. Some people like to point out that games are different from real life in that they are not as serious. This is all (obviously?) true. But this model focuses on another aspect of games that is more useful for its purposes.

Another common objection is that I omit the 'equipment' when I state that games consist of a simulation, goals and rules. This leads to a very theoretical, but interesting discussion.

The rules sections of Chess usually omit that you are not allowed to move to H9. The reason is that there are only 8x8 squares: there is no square H9. This is why most people would like to distinguish between the equipment and the rules. In computer games, however, you are usually not only forbidden from teleporting everywhere you like, but you are unable to do it. And still, most people would consider the prohibition of almighty teleport a rule and not a property of the equipment.

The dilemma can easily be solved by declaring the equipment a part of the rules. And since the equipment naturally constricts the player from doing all kinds of crazy things, this fits well enough. The objection that the equipment cannot constrict the player, because it creates the possibility space in the first place is a good point, though.

Finally, a common objection is that I omit the player as part of the game. This is a good point. Right now, however, I want to keep the model as simple as possible. It should be noted that the players should not be counted as parts of the rules, because the rules in this model constrict the players; they do not constrict the game.

There's a nice story about a Physics model. As you might know, one of the most popular physical models states that electrons 'circle' the nucleus of the atom. And using this model it is actually possible to accurately predict how a hydrogen atom behaves (energy levels etc). Unfortunately the model fails at helium.

It is, however, possible to use a model where electrons don't circle the nucleus, but instead follow an elliptical path. Unfortunately this model fails for all nuclei except for hydrogen and helium (simplified) and is pretty damn complicated. Which lead to people ignoring it. Nowadays when people do research related to hydrogen they still sometimes use the circle model. But if they look at any other element they use quantum physics, which is way more difficult than the circle model, but pretty good at predicting almost any outcome. The elliptical model has been forgotten.

That's the fate of models. They have to be judged according to how useful they are. Nobody knows what exactly a game is. Arguably the best description would be a list of every possible game there is. The purpose of a model is to compress the relevant information as much as is possible, while still retaining the ability of the model to predict.

No comments:

Post a Comment