Wednesday, January 03, 2007

They Took Away My Free Skype So I Will Blog Instead

Since I am on a graduate school hiatus (that awkward time between defending a thesis, graduation, and hearing back from PhD programs), I am suddenly overwhelmed with ideas and potential arguments for papers. Of course, this could be due to the fact that ideas are easy, its implementation that's work, and I have no real pressure to do the latter. On the other hand, it may be because I have time to canoodle and browse articles at my leisure, without having to preserve brain space for positions only relevant to my thesis.
Three ideas in particular keep bopping around my skull. I have had more, but they seem to largely require extensive ethnography in Asian countries, and I am currently SSHRC-less. These other ideas are theoretical and in some ways interrelated.

1) The Holy Grail- I posted about this before. What makes a game fun? What makes MMOGs work as immersive environments? What is that elusive element of games that everyone knows about but universally cannot put into words, theory or design. So instead design is often based on hardware capabilities like improved graphics, tried-and-true franchises, and gimmiky personas. Theory attends to other dimensions of games like structuralist analysis, discussions of representation, and studies of gameplay experiences. This leads to-

2) Smackdown Academics Vs. Designers- Otherwise known as Ivory Tower-supported anti-intellectualism. This is exemplified by the article “Immersion Unexplained” in Issue 57 of The Escapist, which charges academics with discovering how immersion works but dismisses the work done thus far by video game theorists, argued to be mainly semantic quibbles. Varney, who is a game designer, sums up the long and complex narratology versus ludology discussion as “airy palaver” (p. 22) and “buffleheaded pedantry” (p. 22). He charges academics to "get a job" (p. 22), preferably in game development. Varney is fixated on what amounts to the dismissal of academia and its work. This is simply representative of the derision felt by some game designers and industry heavyweights toward academics, and the sentiment that academics merely talk about games without ever playing them. As Andrew Stern writes in his response to Varney’s article in the Grand Text Auto blog, the pursuit of knowledge is not by definition necessarily applicable to the building of anything, including immersive video games.

3) Slacker Games- This leads nicely into my third fascination, which is thoroughly unprofitable to game design, and that is pinning down what makes a game a game. No not fun. Just a game. Because I think tying down a definition can be productive, and yet people seem to really like messing around with them. Jesper Juul, for instance, just posted his newest article, on games without goals. This piques my interest because I would argue that games require goals just as much as they require rule systems. I haven't read through this article yet, but his examples of GTA, The Sims, and Wow (all games I have played and enjoyed) are all to me totally wonderful examples of how goals can vary, not of how games can be termed as such without goals.

So I expect that more posts shall follow in the line of these 3 interests, especially since I have some reading to do, and reading is more fun when you can write about it later.

By the way, anyone know of a good free replacement for my beloved lost Skype?

1 comment:

ryro said...

All games have goals, even if they aren't explicitly stated. Even though games like The Sims, GTA, and WoW are open ended, it does not mean that players are playing without some sort of goal in sight, be it a game defined one or a personally defined one (like seeing how long it takes for two adult Sims to die in a "house" that is comprised of a 4x4 sq. foot box with no doors or windows).