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