Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Year's Resolutions for

In 2006 I intend to...

1) Upgrade to geeklog 1.4
2) Remove all the spam comments
3) Re-design the website
4) Place mini-nongames on the website
5) Include versions of the articles in Portuguese

Happy new year to everyone!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Chris Bateman on The Anarchy of Paidia

Game designer and author of books on the subject, Chris Bateman just posted on his Only a Game a very good article about Paidia, term coined by Roger Caillois to designate the more anarchic, free-form aspect of play permeated by, as Caillois writes, 'diversion, turbulence, free improvisation, and carefree gaiety'. (On the other side of the spectrum is ludus, much more based on rules and requiring more skill and effort from the player. Needless to say, nongames are much more related to paidia than to ludus).

In his article, Bateman says:

´I have accused game designers of being remiss in overlooking the value of alea (games of chance) but we are, on the whole, prone to overlook paidia completely. This is not surprising: the game designer's craft is generally about producing the framework of play, which is to say the rules and abstractions that define the game world and its gameplay. In essence, the game designer works in the field of ludus, and this application of ludic elements is a contrary state of affairs to paidia.´

That could help to explain why one of the most sucessful nongames ever, Electroplankton, was created by a multimedia artist and not a game designer. However, I do think paidia is getting much more space within the game industry than it used to. Just take a look at Nintendogs, Animal Crossing and, to avoid a Nintendo monopoly on this post, The Sims.

Here is the link to the article.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Pixel Chix (Tamagotchi x Barbie) - ludic aspects and gender issues

I saw an advertisement for the Pixel Chix toy (and that's how it looks like).

(Manufacturer's Description):

Pixel Chix pal is a 2-D Girl Living in a 3-D World, (...) Using the input buttons on the fashionable, handheld house, help your Pixel Chix pal decide all kinds of things(...) Your Pixel Chick pal will talk to you and tell you what she wants. She'll tell you if she's happy (or not!) about the choices you make. There are five levels of play. At each new level accumulate more choices of foods, fashions, games and places to go! The more you play, the more stuff you get but if you ignore your Pixel Chix pal, the more stuff you lose! Connect two houses together and then the Pixel Chix pals can visit or have a party!

It sounds like a good idea, and my guess is that it could not only sell quite a lot, but also get a series of dedicated studies in electronic toys and gender representation.

The reason i am saying that is because I am not quite sure if girls interact with dolls in the same way as with virtual pets. When playing tamagochi or nintendogs, the user is quite aware of his presence as a provider. On the other hand, dolls and figure actions have a more, say, 'proactive personality' during play. It's like they have a mind of their own, and make things for themselves through the player. In a way, it's like playing a 3rd person game instead of a god game (which is more applicable to virtual pets).

There is another fundamental difference: virtual pets and their behavior are nurtured and maintained with whatever tools and resources implemented by the designer. Dolls, however, can behave and have pretty much anything the player imagines. So while Tamagotchis have their lives very much structured inside quite narrow boundaries, Barbies can do the most different and unusual things.

My fear is that when you have the functional aspects of virtual pets embodied in a doll (or a dollhouse to be more precise), you end up having the designer's vision as a definitive statement on the life of those characters and whom they represent. In this particular case, you might never see the Pixel Chix going to the army, a church or a demonstration (just to give some really bad examples). For a user, it might fell like playing with dolls that live in a really constrained universe. Of course, children are quite smart, and I don't think that they will think that everything a young woman does is contained in the Pixel Chix set of activities, or that they have to be kept alive and happy by an external provider. Still, because of issues like these, the crossover between dolls (or action figures) and virtual pets should get some attention.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Political non-game

There are probably more, but Ragdoll Bush is the first politically charged non-game I've ever seen on the web.


Saturday, December 03, 2005

MA Final Project featured on

Insular, my MA final project, is now featured on Gamasutra's Education section, where you can read the design document, the critical appraisal and download the prototype.

The project is a group of interconnected 'non-games' for the Nintendo DS handheld system. The prototype is a PC demo, though.

So many people helped me with this project that I wouldn't try to list them here. To all of them, thank you very much.

Click here to go to the page at Gamasutra.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Half-Real - New book from Jesper Juul

Published by MIT Press, Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds, the new book by (the) ludologist Jesper Juul, has now been published. From his own website:

Half-real is a book on video game theory, but it is generally readable. As for method, the book is an eclectic mix of theories on games, film and literary theory, computer science, and psychology.

Just recently I noticed, reading website of the the IT University of Copenhagen, that Juul's current research interests include "The borders between games and non-games". I wonder if he explores this subject in his book.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Electroplankton's lost ancestor (not really)

(via - According to, the Nes Cover project is a series of 16 popular songs remade with a "synthesizer based on the classic nintendo entertainment system's psg audio system".

I assume that they did not use the NES system to actually re-write the songs. However, it makes you wonder how succesful a game Elektroplankton could have been if released back in the NES days (maybe except for the fact that those sounds are regarded as "retro" today, which gives them a little bit of a status).

Additional note: it could be a nice soundtrack for Cory Arcangel's Super Mario Clouds (a NES-based art made with a modified cartridge of Super Mario where only the clouds are displayed against a blue sky).

Friday, November 04, 2005


It is amazing how many nongames can be seen at any time at the Macromedia Site of the Day archive. Interestingly, some of them (most of them?) are advertisements or part of marketing campaigns. Some are pretty well done (like the Cheerioke and Sprite Refreshing Wall ones).

I suppose there is one thing or two that the game industry could learn from advertising. But that would be a subject for future postings.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

The games of Gabriel Orozco has an interview with Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco, who, among other media, uses games (and non-games) in his work.

About his work "Horses Running Endlessly", he says:

"I play a lot and I wanted to make a chess game that was about the knight—the horse—and then I multiply it by four. They’re all horses so there are no queens and kings, towers and bishops, just horses. And they’re running endlessly because they are all together running in this open field. You have a game that I didn’t put any rules."

This is not the only game-based piece by Orozco, who also did works around the themes of ping pong and billiards. In the interview, he explains his attraction to games:

"Every game has a connection to how we conceive nature and landscape. How we order and we structure reality."

Read the interview here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Types of Play, by Evan Robinson

Originally published in 1990-1991, Types of Play, by Evan Robinson, is a short article with some insights on computer games and non-games as well.

"I believe we are trying to categorize the wrong thing. I suggest that the critical element in our taxonomy is the way users interact with entertainment products, not whether or not the product has sub-systems that 'anticipate' the user's moves. In addition, we are attempting to overlay new meaning on words that have common usage, which will invariably result in confusion both among ourselves and among our users."

Check the whole article at Chris Crawford's Library

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Google Earth - ultimate non-game?

A colleague friend of mine once called Google Earth 'the ultimate non-game'. I've played with it some time ago, and I have to say that I agree. In fact, I included it as part of the literature review for my MA final project (which I might publish here), and I paste below a passage about it.

Recently released Google Earth is a real-life application that also can be used as an interactive toy or non-game. An interactive terrestrial globe, it allows the user to navigate around the world and zoom in to see, in real-time, detailed territories made from high-resolution satellite photographs rendered into a bump mapped 3D terrain

What seem to attract users to Google Earth is not any practical aspects of it, but the mere pleasure of navigating around the globe and seeing both familiar and unknown places in a very realistic way. This very pleasure, detached from any functional needs, is what makes blurry the line between the application it is and the game or toy it is used as.

Another interesting thing is how it is probably not perceived as a toy by its users - something the game industry could aim for, in order to attract different audiences.

In case you haven't tried yet, the link for the application is

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Old news

During the last 30 days without posting I've finished my MA course and started a new job - having no much time for this website (or the internet in general). I am not being able to catch up with the (non)gaming news, and the Nintendo Revolution controller is the only thing I read about lately.

However, I might keep updating the website weekly or bi-weekly, and maybe post the MA project here.

Let's see how it goes.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Serious Games London Showcase

The prototype of the game I am designing for the MA course will be showcased at the Serious Games London Showcase.

More information about the event at their website.

Monday, August 15, 2005


For the next weeks at least, this website will not be updated, reasons being the approaching end of MA course and the need for finishing my work.

I hope I can get back to this website later, maybe publishing the final project.

Thank you for everything.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Lack of updates and spam

I still have to post the second part of the NTI* conference report. However, I have been quite busy lately, and I am getting lots of spam posted as comments in this website.

If anyone knows how to limit comments to registered users or delete them easily using geeklog, please, post a comment here.

Thank you.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Non-game: Fridge Magnets

Fridge Magnets is a multiuser non-game where you share magnetic letters with other players in a sort of collective writting.

Developed by FlashComGuru

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

NTI*: Films and Games at the BFI - Part 1

Last Saturday I attended two sessions of the Non Trivial Interaction conference at the British Film Institute, in London: Peter Molineux: The Trailer and Playing with Games.

Both talks were very exciting, since I am particularly interested in creative play and mods.

Peter Molineux started his talk with considerations on next generation games, and compared three different moments of the industry:

1989 - Games presented abstract concepts, took a team of 2-4 people and generated 2-3 billions in sales.

2005 - Games start using mass market concepts, taking 100-200 people to make them. The industry seems to generate, now, around 35 bn.

2006+ - From next year on, games will adopt unique mass market concepts, more than 200 people and generate 60+ bn.

Next Generation games, Molineux added, will feature clear concepts, accessibility, ease-of-use, deep interaction, be adaptable to the player's preferences and agenda and have morphable gameplay. They will also give the player the ability to create something.

Plus, the games (or game worlds) will be always online.

He started, then, talking about his next games, The Movies and Black & White 2,

while his assistant played the games in the projection screen. The Movies, as Molineux demonstrated, is very simple game to play, where the player basically has to drag and drop characters and elements in buildings to run his studio (and the game has a very transparent interface, indeed). You can also play it as a more typical sim/manager game or use it to make your own animated movies, taking advantage of lip-sync technology. Summarizing, The Movies featured almost every desirable next-gen concept presented by Molineux.

He also used the opportunity to show movies made by lionhead testers (several zombie movies and one homoerotic production), and stressed the quality of the movies mad by people with no formal education in the area. Apparently, some movies festivals will accept submissions of short films made with the game.

Black & White 2 had a more discreet presentation, where the emphasis was more on the morphable gameplay that allows the player to change his play style from RTS to god-game.

By the end, there was a round of questions from people in the audience. Someone asked if The Movies could be used in schools, to which Molineux said that "it would be nice". I agree. In act, as in many games, there is an unexpected educational value in The Movies.

During the questions, "The Room", Emily Dickinson's based game presented by Molineux at the last GDC was running in the background. When asked by someone what was that, Molineux said that he wouldn't say much about it, but told people to "not expect the obvious" from games and game design.

Finally, Molineux said that he is a great believer in modding and in the use of game as creative tools. Plus, according to him, the player has to have immediate feedback on his actions.

It was a very interesting session, and I was glad that creative play is being taken this seriously by the most successful game designers around.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Book: Art & Science

Developers are often very keen on the "art and science of making games". To read and understand a little more about the relationship of art and science and how they are overlapping, a good book is Art & Science, by Sian Ede.

Buy it from
Buy it from

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Façade is released!

An interactive drama by Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern, Façade, probably the most anticipated independent game around, is now ready to be downloaded. Instructions here.

Friday, July 01, 2005

A new taxonomy for interactive entertainment

Types of Play, an article by Evan Robinson published at Chris Crawford's Erasmatazz proposes a new classification system for computer entertainment systems.

Among the definitions presented by Robinson, the one that better applies to nongames would be "Unstructured Play"

Unstructured Play: Interaction with a system in which the primary goal of the user(s) is examination of the system's behavior. Also called 'Exploration'.

This definition indicates an interesting characteristic of the genre.

Even taking in consideration that, as put by Robinson, "one user's Toy is another user's Puzzle and yet another user's Game", it is fair to say that this kind of Unstructured Play is often meant to be a sort of toy. Toys offer a kind of freeform play often refered to as "Paidea" (as in Frasca's MA thesis), where there is not a 'win' or 'lose' situation (which would be present in games better defined by the term "ludus".

"Ludus", then, suggests a set of defined rules and game mechanics that don't give the player the impression of being manipulated arbitrarily by the system with no palpable explanation inside the game rules. In "paidea" (and therefore in toys, nongames and unstructured play in general), the absence of the system as a foe might liberate it to surprise the player more often and unexpectedly - something even desireble when exploring the system's behavior.

The "interesting characteristic" is that, since there is no struggle for control of the game state and outcomes between the player and the system, the player might as well abdicate his "mastering" of the system more often during play.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

More DiGRA 2005

More on DiGRA 05:

Jesper Juul's new post

DiGRA featured at Gamasutra

There must be more out there, and I still haven't found the time to read even the previosly posted here before.

Monday, June 27, 2005


Gamasutra has an interview with Blake Lwin on the GameTap, Turner's gaming network. Could this be the alternative distribution channel independent developer have been asking for?

Friday, June 24, 2005

Games as Toys

Complex Games has a post entitled Playing Games are playing Toys.

"Life Sims are often a Sandbox an open play system, where the object or ‘toy ‘is the game. Let’s say Sims is the toy but you create games through playing the ‘toy,’ you create goals through playing the game. There are clear goals in Sims you need to for fill your needs."

I tend to agree with that. As I posted here before, " maybe the biggest challenge in nongames design is giving the player the opportunity (and incentive) to create their own goals and see the original 'implicit goals' as the means to achieve them".

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Ludology vs. Narratology at Digra05

Apparently, Digra05 was the stage for (another) discussion on ludology and narratology. Some places to read about it:

Grand Text Auto (DiGRA05 in Pictures).

The Ludologist (N&L: I Can’t Take it Anymore!)

Greg Costikyan's blog ("No Justice, No Peace": No Truce in the Narratology/Ludology War).

Janet Murray's keynote (The Future of Electronic Games).

It will be hard to find the time to read all this...

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Book: Using the Director MX

Using Macromedia Director MX is probably the best book on Director ever written. It is one of those reference books that is so complete that makes you think the author was thinking about your own project while writting it. Gary Rosenzweig is one of the most prolific director developers, and this book is probably his best.

Buy it from
Buy it from

Friday, June 17, 2005

Digital arts and non-games

I have already posted on the book Digital Art. It summarizes key works and theoretical aspects of works of digital art (including photography, sculpture, web-art, etc).

There is a section on videogames and gaming (as source of inspiration and material suport). The connection between games and digital art is obvious and really strong. The overall impression is that videogames are not more broadly recognised as an art form exactly for being so successfull as an industry.

Electroplankton, by Japanese artist Toshio Iwai, is probably the best example of a videogame that could be easily placed on an exhibition (along with some Llamasoft works). Most interactive digital art works could be called non-games. coincidentally, my project share similarities to some of the works presented in the book.

Coincidences like that have two sides: in a pessimistic way, that makes me think that the project is not so original and unique as I hoped it to be. But, looking on the bright side, that also shows me that other practitioners trailed similar paths - so there must be at least something interesting about it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Games and Movies

(via Ludology). From the British Film Institute:

"Presented by the NFT and RES, NTI* will place this amazing form at the heart of the creative life of the country. A unique and dynamic weekend of events, talks and activities includes exclusive previews of forthcoming titles, live cinematic-sized gameplay, machinima screenings, discussions with industry leaders, and a 'video arcade' with both 'retro' and contemporary arcade machines and home platforms. NTI* is accessible to anyone interested in seeing where these two forms are going. Think, talk and - most importantly - play."

The event will take place at the British Film Institute, 9-10/07/2005.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Book: Digital Art

From the synopsis:

"Christiane Paul surveys the developments in digital art from its appearance in the early 1990s right up to the present day, and looks ahead to what the future may hold. Drawing a distinction between work that uses digital technology as a tool to produce traditional forms and work that uses it as a medium to create new types of art, she discusses all the key artists and works."

Digital art, relying on the spectator's interaction with the works of art, resemble non-games in several ways (not coincideltly, Toshio Iwai, creator of Elektroplankton, has one of his works cited).

Buy it from
Buy it from

Monday, June 06, 2005

Miyamoto interviewed by IGN

Our goal with Revolution is to appeal to all gamers -- the casual gamer and the hardcore gamer. On top of that, we really want to get non-gamers involved as well. So it's a console that we want people to feel comfortable with and happy that they have in their home.

Read the interview here.

Monday, May 30, 2005

DS Brain Training for Adults

(via water cooler games) Gaming-Age Foruns has a post on DS Brain Training for Adults, the forthcoming non-game for the DS. The screenshots are in japanese, but they give a good general impression of the product.

Maybe because it is "for Adults" (and maybe because it is brain training), it does not have distractive colourful game-like graphics (except for the polygonal doctor head) - a major difference from the PSP's Talkman, which is also more like an application than a game (Nintendo will also release a Japanese-English dictionary, so let's see how they compare).

Brain Training for Adults, as the name suggests, might be Nintendo's move over an older audience. Not only older than the average Mario and Zelda's fan base, but even more. Not young adult, but 'adult-adult'.

Apparently, Nintendo's approach to the market right now is trying to give make games for everyone (and not only games rated as "Everyone" by the ESRB), and the puzzle-magazine style of Brain Training might help.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

More art on the DS

(via Avant Gaming) There is more DS art being posted on the web: the Elektroplankton Composition Database is an archive of music made on Elektroplankton.

A little bit more radical is The Mod go DS (or the mod gods?), a website dedicated to DS homebrew development. From their website you can see that there is some speculation on how open to independent developers will Nintendo become in the near future.

On that subject, there are lots of conflicted information, but I hope Nintendo open the doors for independent developers (the Revolution download system cold help a lot in that sense). That would not only please the homebrew enthusiasts, but maybe renew Nintendo's strenght amongst a great parcel of gamers.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Mafalda on game design and theory - Part 3

- Bang!Bang!Bang!
- Bang! Bang!
- PUM!
- No! No! "Pum" is not used anymore! Who is the outdated one who said "Pum"?

From "Toda mafalda", by Quino - All rights reserved

The 'Magic Circle' was already mentioned in this website, and the comic strip above shows how easily this circle can be breaken. It does not only relate directly to the noise that can affect the communication among players in MMOGs, but it more generaly demonstrates how a single piece can take out the stability of the whole game's world.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Llamasoft now and then

Llamasoft, Jeff Minter's studio, has a new website. There you can find information on their new light synthesiser, Neon, which will come built in the Xbox 360.

"Neon can run purely off audio input or from up to four joypads, each controlling a different display element with incredible ease and precision and generating hypnotic, multi-layered end results that are way ahead of every other piece of audio visualisation software available."

This is not Llamasoft's first non-game: Psychedelia was released in 1984, and according to Minter it was "a new, non-competitive form of entertainment... no enemies, no killing, just light and colour". Check the full story here.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Making art on the DS

From their website: "NDSart is an experimental community that focuses on artistic expression with the Nintendo DS." It includes drawings made on the DS's Picto-chat and has sections for music and animation. Interestingly, it all goes back to games, as it promotes competitions between the posted works.

Things like this reassure my preference for the DS over the PSP(and why I choose it as platform for my MA project).

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

'Let's not get hung up on silly technicalities'

Back in 2003, Scott Miller from 3D Realms wrote some good comments on the implications of calling some games 'games':

"Who cares!!! Seriously, it's not like we need to work out the definition of the word "game" to make 'em! And frankly, I prefer to think of what we do as making "entertainment." Not that it matters, though."

It is a good point. Of course, on the other hand, defining things can help us see how to make it better and different the next time.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Mafalda on game design and theory - Part 2

- My dad told me how chess works: the pawns go in the first row...
- um-hum.
- ... Then, in this row, you place the king and the queen...
- How come? It should be the other way around.
- First the king and the queen, and then the pawns.
- No, dad told me the pawns come first.
- Is your dad socialist? No? He's socialist,ain't he?

From "Toda Mafalda", by Quino - All rights reserved

Unlike Felipe, Mafalda seems much more interested in the symbolic aspects of chess than in its mechanics. It could be said that, if dealing with game studies, she would be a narratologist while he would be a ludologist.

Of course, the 'narrative' is much less important to chess than its mechanics, serving more as an illustration the rules. As Espen Aarseth argues in the book 'First Person : New Media as Story, Performance, and Game', Felipe can see 'beyond the avatars' that represent him in the game.

Mafalda, on the other hand, seems to enjoy another dimension of the game: the environment, the story being told. Also in videogames, those elements could contribute to meaningful play.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Will wi-fi make handheld games 'buggy'?


GameSpy: Is there any chance that full online internet play could be patched into the game via a download?

Nino: No. The game was designed to add extra content, not to patch the game.

Wi-fi gives, however, the possibility of patching handheld games via download. Of course, patches are usually a good thing: they serve to enhance (or fix) the game. But on the other hand, what if handheld players are forced to download several patches for their games (as it happens to PC gamers)? Wouldn't it drive people away from the handhelds - specially the casual / non-gamer audience they intend to seduce?

Saturday, May 14, 2005

PSP non-games

(via gamespot) Two non-games are already in development for the Sony PSP: Talkman and Adventure Player.

Adventure Player, by From Software, will allow the player to build his own adventure games (and also other styles of games, such as puzzles and quiz) on his PC. The games are, then, played on the PSP via Memory Stick. It will be nice to see so many custom-made games, and hopefully some will be very original and attract players with different tastes. It's not very likely that this release will attract many non-gamers, but that could be wrong, who knows? Game-making and modding are usually related to hardcore players, but depending on the tool, that could change.

Talkman, on the other side, is a translation software, but also a piece of entertainment, with several games that test the player's fluency of a language (English or Japanese, apparently).

I really like the idea behind Talkman - it has the functionalities that you expect from a translation software, but places them into a ludic context, with all the treatment you expect from a videogame. It's also nice to see real-worlds applications and videogames merging (something I would like to research more, as I intend to include something like that in my MA project - a nice tip from one of my tutors). Instead of 'breaking the magic circle', it could extend it in a nice way.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Will PC gaming be reborn in the near future?

The last edition of Develop - the British equivalent to Game Developer - brings some opinions by industry insiders on the future of independent companies. Matt Nagy, from Coyote Developments, says:

"With the rise of the PSP,DS, Gizmondo,PC and the mobile phone games arena (...) there is plenty of work for small developers to continue to make their creative mark on the games industry".

I agree, and that is one of the reasons why I've chosen the Nintendo DS as the target platform for my final project, but what happens when the gap between handhelds and consoles gets even smaller?

The PC, also cited by Nagy, is probably the better platform for putting creativity in games and is the cheapest one to produce for. Could that lead to a renaissance of PC gaming on the future? With the consoles becoming more and more similar to PCs, wouldn't it be the way to go?

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Mafalda on game design and theory - Part 1

This is the first of, hopefully, many small notes on game design with examples taken from Mafalda.

Argentinean cartoonist Quino has drawn his strip Mafalda for years. Its main characters, a group of kids including a little girl called Mafalda, often used their plays and games in order to decode and express their views of the world.

- How can you enjoy playing yo-yo, Manolito?
- I am not playing yo-yo.
- This is not a yo-yo, but the stock market. Look at the shares going up and down.
- The best thing about it is that you can deal with it as you want. I am not playing yo-yo.
- I am playing 'Rockfeller'.

From "Toda Mafalda", by Quino - All rights reserved

The strip above gives a good example of how the player can provide a context to game, filling the blanks with his creativity, something that can make the experience different to each particular player.

As for the 'stock market' analogy, it is a reminder that, as put by Chris Crawford in 'Chris Crawford on Game Design', "Good games do not simulate physical reality; they mirror emotional reality". "Play is metaphorical".

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Nintendo as PDA and Zodiac as game platform

PDA Street and Bargain PDA have stories on the possible future use of the Nintendo DS as a PDA device (something that the company would have planned from the start, as the next gameboy advance would be the 'pure gaming handheld machine').

Since the hardcore audiences are more likely to adopt the next gameboy advance, the innovative titles made for DS will reach, apparently, a more casual / nongamer share of the market.

Interestingly, if successful, Nintendo will sell PDAs that are actually gaming devices. On the other hand, the Zodiac, Tapwave's PDA / gaming handheld hybrid, will lose its unique selling point.

It's a shame how Zodiac is not popular at all as a gaming machine. It has widescreen, 3D graphics, it can play mp3s and videos, it can be used with a stylus... It is more expensive then most competitors (around U$ 350), but with a better game library, it could have been more successfull among gamers and attract a larger audience.

Plus, it could be a great option for small developers too.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Ernest Adams on Creative Play

"I'm going to propose a rudimentary taxonomy of types of creative videogame play, with a few random thoughts about each category. (...) I think they might help to guide our thinking about building creative play into our games."

On, Ernest Adams writes about Creative Play, a common characteristic of the nongame genre and, judging by some games that use it, a very appealing feature to non-gamers.

Proposing the categorization of different kinds of creative play, Adams admits that "the borders of these categories are very fuzzy". In fact, I have some questions on how they are defined.

Adams lists six categories of creative play: Freeform Creative Play, Constrained Creativity (Construction Play), Self-Expressive Play, Community Play, Storytelling Facilities and Game Modifications. However, regarding the three first ones, is hard to tell where one ends and the next begins. Let's take a look at them:

1) Freeform Creative Play: "(...) lets the player use the game as a sandbox, largely without limitations. The player can do pretty much whatever she likes in the context the game offers".

In this case, it might be interesting to see the context of the game as the limitiation itself. Adams uses Pinball Contructions Set as example, and says: "you had to build a pinball table within the general shape required".

That sounds like a reasonable limitation to the play. Considering that the player has to use the game - a limited system - to engage into the play activity, a totally freeform creative play is rather utopic.

2) Constrained Creativity (Construction Play): "(...) creation is not purely freeform, but restricted by rules in some way (...) Even LEGO bricks impose some constraints. You only have a limited number of them (unless you work for LEGO) and they only fit together in certain ways. "

Lego would certainly be a better example of Freeform Creative Play. In fact, Adams himself says "If the game doesn't offer anything but freeform creative play, it's not really a game at all, but a toy or a tool". That is much more the case of Lego.

While I can see the difference between them, Freeform Creative Play and Constrained Creativity don't seem to be different categories, but different degrees of the same one.

3) Self-Expressive Play: "This is a sort of subcategory of the preceding two categories of creative play, in which the creativity is specifically directed at representing one's self in some way."

For some reason, the examples provided only cover the construction and customization of the player's avatars and its accessories (something closer to self-portraits). However, self-expression goes beyond that, and it should be possilbe to the player to express himself through Pinball tables and Lego bricks. Self-expression, actually, might be indivisible from Creative Play. Adams seems to be aware of that when, at the beggining of the article, says: "So, for my purposes, creative play means play that enables you to point at something in the game and say, “Look – I made that.” "

Overall, the article is very helpful identifying and reflecting on several elements of creative play, and it's good to see analysis like this on the subject.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

How explicit are your goals?

From Greg Costikyan's weblog (commenting on the state of the industry): "Electroplankton, on the other hand, I'm very skeptical about; a toy with no evident goals, and no goals means "pointless."

That sentence has actually generated a heated discussion on the comments forum, where Costikan made a good point:"Games have goals.. not necessarily explicit ones. Interaction without an objective is meaningless."

It might be true, but I am not sure that is the case for Elektroplankton, as your goal as player may be get better as a composer / mixer your tunes. Nintendogs - which could also be seen as a non-game - has a much clearer goal (the survival / happiness / success of your puppies).

So maybe the biggest challenge in nongames design is giving the player the opportunity (and incentive) to create their own goals and see the original 'implicit goals' as the means to achieve them.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Short games

Gamasutra features an article entitled Making a Case for Short Games. The overall message is: more games should be designed to favour replayability instead of the "countless hours to complete" experience (hailed by part of press, publishers, developers and gamers, as the best way to give the player the value for his money).

It would be nice if the handheld market, revamped with the release of so many new consoles, proved to be a good platform to test this ideas of short games (and experimental gameplay in general) - a good balance to the highly expensive next-gen blockbuster productions that might be coming this year or next.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Fly Guy and nongamer-friendly design

Made by Trevor Van Meter, Jason Krogh, Vas Kottas and Brian McBrearty, Fly Guy is easily one of the best webgames available. The graphics are stylish, the animation is fluid, the sounds (often overlooked in webgames) are great and the gameplay is easy enough to make it interesting for anyone.

No, it's not 'easy to learn and difficult to master'. Unlike most games appealing to casual players, it's not a puzzle and it's not contained on a single screen. In fact, exploration is key to this game. The pleasure is flying around with the character and interacting with the objects and other characters.

Exploration is usually a turn-off for nongamers, but that is not the case for Fly Guy. The navigation scheme, combined with the graphic's simplicity, gives the player the illusion of an infinite space - which turns out to be actually quite simple. Because of the amusing animations, the player is also compelled to see how the character interacts with every other entity of the environment - and by doing so, the player wil fly higher and higher towards the end of the game.

Of course, the player is not informed of that ending when the game starts, as it could make him feels as the goal should be to reach it as fast as possible. In fact, by the first time you reach the end, you will want to restart it and make sure you've seen it all. Other than that, the only replay value are in the random comments made by a floating guru) and in the pleasure of flying around and watching the interactions again and again. It's enough to make you go back and play it every now and then.

Overall, the fact there's no punishments and pressure to finish the game (or to do anything else than explore it and play around) gives it a nongame, toy-like quality - even if there is a linear path and an ending involved.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Second Life, another (non)game to look at

Second Life is probably the most open-ended MMOG (or MMONG?) around: you can not only personalize your avatar, but also script your own activities or games inside the game - so basically you can do whatever you want. In fact, a player scripted "Tringo", a game that was actually licensed by a real-world company.

There is also a post in Water Coler Games about how Second Life is being used as a form of therapy by several organizations.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Old non-games

Comments on the post entited 'Will nongames really happen?' indicates some of the first commercial nongames, such as Jeff Minter's Psychedelia (1984) and Colourscape (1985) (that could be described as 'light synthesisers').

However, the oldest example so far is I, Robot (1983), which included a non-game mode that allowed the player to draw using polygons (another innovation at the time). (Thanks to all anonymous posters).

Friday, April 29, 2005

Mapping nongames, Part 8 - Play and Games

Another good passage from Rules of Play:

"It turns out that play and games have a surprisingly complex relationship. Play is both larger and smaller term than "game", depending on the way it is framed."

That is why is hard to define if nongames are a subset of videogames or, for its playfullness, another kind of interactive entertainment. I would take the first option.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Mapping nongames, Part 7 - Magic Circles

Reading Rules of Play, I've found a passage that might help to explain nongames. One of the chapters is about the game as 'the magic circle' (a notion orignally formulated by Huizinga). Quote:

"In effect, a new reality is created, defined by the rules of the game and inhabited by its players"

So, (still) answering an anonymous comment - "I was just wondering if applications such as Paintshop and 3Ds Max could be considered as kinds of non-games." - I would say that no, unless you see yourself inside that new reality that nongames, as a videogame genre, create.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Will nongames really happen?

"The new breed of non-game games isn't just about attracting women, of course, though there's no doubt that it's the most serious attempt so far at capturing a market game publishers have drooled wistfully over for years"

CTW Magazine has a story about the upcoming non-games boom... and it's from 1998!

Monday, April 25, 2005

Game-related gender issues are more than 90 years old

HG Wells, legendary sci-fi writer, also had some experience designing games. I came across one of his creations, the manual for a game called 'Little Wars'. One of the most interesting things on the book was its subtitle:

A Game for Boys from twelve years of age to one hundred and fifty and for that more intelligent sort of girl who likes boys’ games and books

How does that fit into the recent gender-inclusive discourse on videogames?

As I posted here before, I am very interested in non-gamers, and women are great part of them. While the reading of Sheri Graner-Ray's 'Gender Inclusive Game Design: Expanding the Market' is fruitful - and the book is valid and important for many reasons - there are some points I don't quite agree with.

First, there is the idea that women are driven away from some videogames because of their over-the-top difficult control systems. That might be true - and I avoid certain games for the same reason. But what HG Wells's apparent chauvinism suggests - way back in 1913 - is that girls are not particularly interested in some sorts of games that don't require that kind of 'mechanical afinity' with the computer at all.

So maybe we should not assume, as the book suggests, that technological barriers keep girls away from, say, Rome: Total War. Chess boards are very easy to opperate, and they probably receive much more attention from males. That takes me to my second disagreement with the book.

In an attempt to 'expand the market' (and the book's subtitle reduces an important discussion to sales figures), the author present some tips to make existing games and genres more palatable to the female market. The most important seems to be 'adding emotional content'. But I not quite sure that by, say, placing a photograph of the black bishop's nephews would actually make chess a more desirable game for women (and it's nice to remember that the most powerfull piece on the chess board it's a 'non-hyperssexualized female avatar').

Plus, there are loads of men that don't like to play games supposedly designed for them. Emotional content would probably provide better entrtainment for them too. In fact, Graner-Ray writes that in her book, but she also gives the reader the impression that all male players are fond of hiperssexualized female characters, rude jokes and fights over 'the best computer in the room' (or maybe except for a more intelligent sort of boy who likes girls’ games and books).

I am sure there are differences between male and female perceptions and sensiblities, but I think that lots of people - regardless of gender - feel excluded from games by issues that are often thought of female-only.

Complex Games

From their website:

Complex games are computer simulated strategy games that model and mimic selected elements of complex systems. (Complex systems are self-organizing, adaptive systems) Complex games can be from any computer simulation genre. They allow the player to play with and experience complicated and often complex social phenomena.

Mantained by Nicholas Glean, Complex Games is a website that worth reading.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Sense of progression

Without convencional 'goals', nongames should find other ways of rewarding the player and giving him a sense of progression within the game. Unlocking features would be a reasonable answer, but based on what? Since most gaming devices are equiped with clocks and calendars, time and weather could be a solution.

I will start playing Animal Crossing, which utilizes these very resources to create a persistent world. I am struggling with similar issues regarding my MA project, and I expect to find ideas on that game.

Friday, April 22, 2005

RSS Feed

People asked for a RSS Feeder, so here is the link (on the right column). Enjoy!

Thursday, April 21, 2005 101

If you just arrived (via and have no idea what this website is about...

1) The first post is a good place to start.

2) The second one tries to explain 'nongames' better.

3) The 'Mapping nongames' series of posts (parts 1, 2 and 3) might also be useful.

I hope it helps.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


“In the cultural sphere, the hybrids are more robusts than pure breeds.”
Steven Johnson
In: Interface Culture : How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate.

Game genres fade away at the same speed they come into the mainstream. As put by Daniel Cook, the saturation of the market with a particular genre will often kill it. Will that happens to nongames? Maybe.

Elektroplankton deserved its own Nintendo DS limited edition, Nintendogs and Animal Crossing DS apparently are going to sell well... I would say there is a 'nongaming boom' approaching. From a developer point of view, I would rather explore the nongames market than try to develop for the upcoming next-gen of consoles (less cost and possibly more creativity). So we might see the market flooded with nongames - and the death of the genre - quite soon. But maybe not.

Maybe 'nongames' are something closer to a subgenre, a feature. Maybe it should be always mixed with, or inside, other genres. And that is where Steven Johnson's 'hybrid' theory fits: This characteristic could give nongames a flexibility that would extend its life as a genre. If that is what it is.

Experimental Gameplay

From their website:

"The Experimental Gameplay Project: create 50 to 100 games in 1 semester. New games every week.

The Rules:

each game must be made in less than 7 days
each game must be made by one person, including all art, sound, and programming
each game must be based around a certain "toy" ie. "gravity", "vegetation", "swarm behavior", etc.

What?: Some games are below, some good, some crappy, all experimental. Have fun!

Some are 'nongames' (possibly because of the "toy" rule), and some are really good ('On a Rainy Day', 'Gravity Head' and 'The Crowd' are my favourites).

Monday, April 18, 2005

Touching is good

Still on Gender Inclusive Game Design - Expanding the Market: according to Sheri Graner Ray, females are much more responsive to tactile stimulation than pure visual stimulation.

That might not only indicate that the Nintendo DS could have some success amongst female players, but also explain why, again according to the book, women are "70% of casual online gamers". By coincidence, one of my MA tutors advised me to pay attention to 'the tactile nature of casual games and board games'.

Challenges in nongame design

When describing my MA project (or most products that I would qualify as a 'nongame'), the general reaction is to ask if I am designing a product for the female market.

It makes sense: after all, a large portion of nongamers is constituted by female players. So I decided to read Gender Inclusive Game Design - Expanding the Market, and see if there any ideas or concepts that I could apply or should be aware of.

In the first chapter of the book, Sheri Graner Ray tells the reader that female players don't like to see "the computer as a 'foe'" - in the sense that they don't want, opposed to male players, to have to master several complicated control schemes in order to enjoy the game. Later, she also says that games for that audience shouldn't be so challenging / difficult. Overall, is the notion of 'beating the game' that would have to change or disappear.

The biggest challenge, I guess, is to design an interface that is even 'easier' than the game. Of course, that is true (and one of the most estabilished rules) to general game design. However, the challenge inside the game is usually enough to make the player master the interface or cope with it. In nongames, that might not happen. In fact, I came across a similar problem while playing Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 (which I will describe better later, when the review is done).

Friday, April 15, 2005

Mapping nongames, Parts 4, 5 and 6

(4) Player effort

This is a common feature to most forms of 'interactive entertainment', or whatever you call them. The fact that we have so many words to describe it (interactivty, agency, participation, etc.) is a good indication of that. It shouldn't be different with nongames.

(5) Attachment of the player to the outcome

With feature #3 (valorization of the outcome) out of the way, I would say that the player's attachment to the outcome is probably the most crucial factor to a nongame or open-ended simulation to work. Just remember of Tamagochi, Nintendogs, The Sims, etc.

(6) Negotiable consequences

In 'Homo Ludens', Johan Huizinga defines game as 'a free activity standing quite consciously outside ”ordinary” life'. Negotiable consequences means that the outcome (specially if undesireble) of the game should be kept away from ordinary life, if so the player wishes.
Videogames in general should follow this rule. It allows critics to label them as 'escapism', but at least avoids real-life fights over events that took place in Everquest sessions.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Mapping nongames, Parts 2 and 3 - Outcomes

(2) Variable and quantifiable outcome

Jesper Juul writes: 'For something to work as a game, the rules of the game must provide different possible outcomes'. I rekon that 'outcome' can be more than win-lose, but how much can we stretch this term? Using photoshop again, a blurry image is the 'outcome' of the blur image tool.

About the 'quantifiable' part, Juul says that it 'means that the outcome of a game is designed to be beyond discussion, meaning that the goal of Pac Man is to get many points, rather than to "move in a pretty way".'. I am not sure, but it sounds to me like it's overlapping the following feature:

(3) Valorization of the outcome

'This simply means that some of the possible outcomes of the game are better than others', states Juul. This is also the feature that open-ended simulations (according to his graphics) don't share with most games - I agree withthatand think that would be the case of many nongames. But why are those outcomes 'quatifiable'? Within the open-endness of The Sims, who decides if it's better to make a character progress or not?

Unless 'quantifiable' means that there is the notion of 'progress', independent of how ou deal and play with that.

A better example: Gonzalo Frasca's pipe simulator. It has different variable outcomes: the smoke can be darker or lighter, etc. But are they 'quantifiable'? If not, I suppose that nongames - who can work the same way - don't necessarely have the features number (2) and (3). In fact, you could face Frasca's simulation as a nongame too.

Mapping nongames, Part 1 - Rules.

Jesper Juul's Game Diagram could be a good way to start a better definition of nongames. If you know his, you probably are familiar with the six features proposed by him to define games: (1) Rules, (2) Variable and quantifiable outcome, (3) Valorization of outcomes, (4) Player effort, (5) Player attached to outcome and (6) Negotiable consequences.

According to Jesper, in order to qualify as a 'game', an activity must cover all six features. If not, it's either a borderline case (and some of them we still call games, like gambling nad games of pure chance) or not a game at all (which is not equal to nongames, in our case). So how would nongames qualify?

(1) Rules
Nongames, yes, have fixed rules. In fact, as a general rule, computer games have fixed rules (even if this rule allows the system to change them, combine them diferently and/or make new ones).

My only problem with that feature is that all computer-based systems have rules. Photoshop is (arguably) not a game, but it has rules (for instance, I can't use more than 256 colours if the image is in 'indexed mode'). Because of that elasticity, I am sure that nongames have rules, I am just not sure if they have it in the sense that we expect from a game.

Elektroplancton, for instance, uses conventions from musical software. The important thing to notice is that those conventions are now translated into a videogame environment.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Interactive/Minimalistic approach to Videogame genres

But not a very good one: 'Nongames', for instance, is not included

New old article

If 'Spore' turns out to be what everybody expect, this old article of mine will be more obsolete yet accurate than ever.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005 is back

Good news:, one of the first websites with in-depth coverage of videogames, is back. They were kind enough to publish my first two articles on the subject years ago (Cultural aspects of Game Development outside the mainstream and Placing Cultural Elements in Gameplay).

Since they didn't keep their old database, I will re-post those articles here).

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Nongames and non-gamers

Both Sony and Nintendo are trying to captivate non-gamers (those who don't play - or at least don't buy - games). The PSP is capable of displaying photos, playing mp3s and movies. The DS tries to reach new audiences through more easy-to-use hardware and software.

but how do traditional gamers perceive this move from Nintendo? A good notion is at (don't forget to read the comments)

DS announcements and definitions

(via There are reports on the development of several non-gaming softwares for Nintendo DS. That brings me to the need of a better definition of nongames (at least for the purposes of this website).

When I use nongames to define a videogame genre, I do not mean something like an electronic dictionary (unless, of course, there is some new kind play involved). Quoting Eric Zimmerman, games are about ‘the creation of delightful experience, rather then the fulfilment of utilitarian needs'*. Nongames have a similar goal. Of course, Dictionaries can have delightful interfaces, but their uses are sill more functional.

We could use 'software toy', I suppose. I believe this term has once been used by Will Wright to define SimCity. My problem with this definition is that in 'toys', as put by Gilles Brougère, the simbolic dimension is usually more important than the functional one - which can not be the case for some 'nongames'. And that's why I prefer this term rather than the other.

* (This quote is from Zimmerman's article 'Play as Research', in Brenda Laurel's Design Research – Methods and Perspectives, published by The MIT Press. A little more about this book here).

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Welcome to

Dealing with Game Design in general, the main focus of this website will be the quickly-growing videogame genre known as 'Nongame'. The main characteristic of this genre is the aparent lack of traditional 'goals' and 'objectives' or, sometimes, 'challenges'.

Nongames are more likely to work as a sandbox for the player, allowing moments of relaxation and self-expression. Several traditional games have this quality - The Sims being probably the most famous example. In fact, most games by Will Wright allow you to play around in this open ended fashion, from Sim City to his next title, Spore (which seems to take the 'self-expression' bit to the limit).

Nintendo's president Satoru Iwata's description of the forthcoming DS game 'Elektroplankton' also happens to describe the nongaming exerience: "This is designed to produce harmony, not adrenaline." Gonzalo Frasca's impressions on the Warioware DS's Toy Room are also very informative on the nongame nature: "These are the closest thing to videogame poetry that I have ever seen".

The purpose of this website is to discuss nongames (but also videogames in general), and to mantain a record of my own research and practice in the area. I am stil not sure how the website will evolve and how often it will be updated, but everyone is certainly welcome to keep coming back.

chico queiroz
Copyright, Chico Queiroz