Friday, September 29, 2006

Desktop toy

This could also figure the non-games list I'll try to set up as soon as I have some time:

(From Souptoys website)

The Souptoys are a collection of more than sixty toys that you can play with directly on your computer desktop. Build intricate castles, create fantastic contraptions, decorate your desktop, design your own puzzles or just fling the toys around - they're your toys, play with them how you want to. Once you've built your elaborate playsets save them for later and share them with your friends.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Still on that wiki about Toyplay and Gameplay

I have posted some days ago about Knights, a wiki containing a list of interesting links and articles on freeplay, toyplay and related subjects. Well, the Wiki is no longer restricted to those who can read Danish: Astrid Madsen, Rasmus Harr, Morten Svendsen and Ulrik Limkilde - the four MA students who keep the website - are now updating it in English, so the rest of us can take a look at their ambitious and very interesting project, plus learn a little bit more about the subject.

Thanks for sharing your findings with us, and good luck!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Ace of Mythology

Kindly responding to my call for participation, Corvus Elrod, from Man Bytes Blog, presents his Six Tags: an impressive companion of mythological tricksters.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Rewards - Game Design Conventions

Free, morphable gameplay, opposed to clear, static, mandatory goals are clearly the game design conventions this weblog should be more inclined to discuss. However, since GregT has brilliantly done something similar in his post, I decided to take on a game convention that often puzzles me: Rewarding the player (often described as positive feedback).

Rewarding the Player

Any game design resource will tell you that you need to constantly reward your player for his good deeds and right gameplay decisions. That would reinforce his confidence and keep his interest in the game. True. As a gamer, I can see that. Sound and graphical cues inform me I'm on the right path - which is great, isn't it?

As a designer, I must say I was never concerned with rewarding as I should be. I recognise this as a personal weakness, not as an artistic statement (and maybe that's the real cause of my discontentment). Still, I feel this constant rewarding and punishment should be questioned in the name of experimental game design. The problem, as I see it, is that instant gratifications like those might lead to a conditional behaviour, much like Pavlov's dog, from the player. Maybe we should let the player investigate and decide on his actions` positives and negative effects for himself.

Maybe a more open-ended scheme should hint the player more about his possibilities, and be less judgemental. Yes, rewarding is very helpful at teaching the game basics, but the player shouldn't play all the time just to feel he is doing things right and being appreciated - he should be the one appreciating things, once in a while.

Although I can see its importance to game design (just think of most casual games - they probably wouldn't work so great without this reinforcement), I think this approach is related to the traditional win-lose scheme of games. What we might need (as I suggested here) is more ambiguity, less certainties, so games, as the art form they are, can be more freely interpreted by the players. Sure, this advice is to be taken from a minority of game genres and styles. Still, the current model of reward and punishment is something I feel could be challenged more often.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

6 Tags: Play and Games Symbols

I was invited by André Carita and Pedro Silva to play 6 Tags, a viral game going on the blogosphere. Apparently, all you need to do is post a list of six inter-related elements - the subject of the list could anything you want. Then you have to ask six more people to do the same - which is probably the hardest part.

Here is my participation:

Tags: Play and Games Symbols (in random order)

#1 - Dice: In a general way, they represent Alea, games of chance. Also, they remind me of classic board games and RPGs. They come in many shapes, but I´m using the traditional six-sided one, here.

#2 - The Knight: My favourite chess piece stands for Agon, games of competition and strategy. Why is it my favourite chess piece? because of the way it moves, of course. It makes easier to capture the Queen or threat the King and a Rook simultaneously (I know, you can say from my tactics I´m not a strong player).

#3 - Spades (the suit): Card games - and there are many of them - suggest a balance between chance and strategy. Plus, cards (traditional or not) are a very interesting material to play and work with. I was undecided between Spades of Clubs - but I thougth Spades would have more dramatic appeal.

#4 - Tetris L-shaped Brick: The only video game here, Tetris is one of the most powerful representation of digital games there are. It´s abstract, it´s fast, it´s natural to its medium and fit to represent it. Plus, it´s hugely successful and easy to recognise. Why the L-shaped? Probably because it reminds me of the Knight´s movement.

#5 - Lego Brick: Standing for free and creative play, the Lego Brick is a symbol of Paidia, opposed to (or complementing)the rule-based goal-oriented ludic play previously represented.

#6 - The Go Board: For its simple rules and complex gameplay that lead to an infinity of possible outcomes, the game of Go is considered by some (including Will Wright) as the greatest game ever. The Go board itself is very simple, and seems perfect to illustrate the countless possibilities that can emerge from the rules of a game.

6 invitees - probably the only people I know that I was not too embarrassed to invite:

GameReporter, King Lud IC, Only a Game,Mushroom Corporation, Man Bytes Blog and Casual Game Design.


Friday, September 15, 2006

Article + Wiki + Lists (on free playing)

The Article

It's amazing how I managed to ignore this article for so long.

Playing and Gaming: Reflections and Classifications, by Kampmann Walther, discusses the differences and connections between those two distinct kinds of ludic activity.

Here is a selected passage (the emphasis in bold is mine):

"(...) gameplay should work to assure the circularity of different orders of complexity without doubting its own make-believe. Gaming should not be troubled by playing. Rather, we should be concerned about finding the most sufficient and entertaining way to proceed appropriately."

Interesting. Could we say that, in a way, playing should also not be troubled by gaming?

The Wiki

I found about this article on this Wiki, which kindly links to and my MA project at Gamasutra, amongst other articles on toyplay, creative play and related subjects. The wiki is called Knights and seems to be a Scandinavian educational resource website. If anyone knows more about it (I can only guess the obvious words, such as Kalender and Artikler) please let me know.

The Lists

Well, that wiki is a great resource for play and non-games research, so I thought I should place a similar list on this website, which is now located on its right side. It lists books and articles on the subject (some links were borrowed from Knights, and I hope they borrow some from me as well).

I am also thinking of adding a list of non-games - I have posted on many during this months, so it shouldn't be hard to start it.

I will welcome any suggestions from you, both for the resources list and the games list.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

On the Montreal tragedy and defending games

First, let me start explaining that my two last posts were published before I realized it could have a bad resonance due to the tragedy in Montreal.

I've just read this post by Bogost on Water Cooler Games, in which he makes an excellent analysis of the fact that the press is emphasising that Kimveer Gill, Montreal's tragedy Gunman, used to play lots of games, including Super Columbine Massacre RPG.

As Bogost brilliantly explains, it's obvious that the game can not be held responsible in any way for that man's actions.

If I've previously expressed my concerns about the way we, gamers, often defend our media based on loose evidences, that's because I prefer takes such as Dugan's view on the aforementioned game, or Bogost's latest piece itself.

They provide a more solid defense, but I am not sure they are enough to fight back anti-games press sensationalism. So maybe I was wrong in my last post, and Jesper was right in his comment: It's needed to stress that video games are not to blame. Specially in moments like this.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

As much as I agree with you, this does not prove much

Ok, so I'm still playing devil's advocate here.

I do not believe games significantly stimulate violent behaviour. I don't think a teenager (or even a child for that matter) will start killing his peers just because she/he has played too much GTA. That's just my personal opinion, which is based on my personal experiences. As any other game enthusiast, I am not pleased to read about suggestions of links between video games and violence.

Still, I would never defend violent games based on the graph below:

Taken from The Economist, it first caught my attention on a Ludologist post entitled The Diagram that Says it All. I immensely respect Juul's views on video games, but there is no way to convince me that this diagram says anything more than two disconnected pieces of data. It does not serve as pro- or anti-games evidence. If so, it would prove that games stop violence from happening. It actually encourages game detractors from making cynical comments like:

- Hey, maybe if the US government spend $4,000,000.00 in games during the next 9 years, then the criminal rate would drop to zero.

If games cause any violent act, the numbers would be so low that it would not show in this kind of diagram. It's not so much a quantitative matter.

- If so, what would have caused the violence raise from 2002 to 2003? Duke Nuken Forever being delayed again?

Monday, September 11, 2006

WoW controversy

... pointed out by Koster.

The article, from Newsweek, seems to be aimed at nongamer audiences, but it is still an interesting read for the way it portrays the game and its reflexes and consequences in 'real' life.

Comments at Koster's website have been mostly, so far, filled with a certain sense of outrage about the way the game is negatively depicted by the journalist. A passage from the text:

"Are you getting the idea that "Warcrack" (as some call it) eats up a lot of time? "Of all the games that my [addictive] clients are involved with, World of Warcraft is the most popular," says clinical psychologist Kimberly Young. Mostly, trouble comes in the form of kids who fall asleep in class, and furious spouses."

Do videogames need safety nets?

Could the article be accused of having sensationalist tones? Maybe. Could it be exaggerating its focus on the dark side of the spectrum? Yes, maybe it could. From the game's 7 million players, how many have pathological behaviours over it? I have no idea, but I guess it's a minimal percentage.

However, when players are willing to confine themselves to addiction clinics and some others are falling dead after long game sessions, you can not escape a justified dose of suspicion and criticism over the whole MMOG business.

Gamers have long learned to defend their medium from (unfair) accusations of stimulating violent behaviour. The problem is that, now, almost any accusation of anti-social behaviour caused/stimulated by games can be instantly dismissed as "unfair" and "prejudicial" by a mass of gaming advocates. Normally, I would be among them, but I guess all this unanimity around "games are good for you - no matter what" is not helping us understand some real issues surrounding games, and how the industry could improve their products.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

LEGO digital designer

I have posted about BlockCAD here before, so here comes another related tip: If you want to play with LEGO but don't have any room left (on your house, not your HD), you can download their software counterpart: Lego Digital Designer.

Plus, you can upload your creations to their website. LDD takes up to 100 megabytes of Hard Disk space - which is big, but probably less than your living room. How long will it takes till someone integrates it with Google Earth?

Monday, September 04, 2006

For a non-excluding theory of game design

"So then what videogame designers really do is create digital worlds that invite play.

What does this theory buy game designers, or anyone else in the community for that matter? For starters, it allows us to see many of the things that folks from Callois to Crawford, Koster to Costikyan, and Bogost to Juul have variously considered essential features of videogames—things like uncertainty, conflict, fun, competition, and goals—as part of a palette of strategies for luring gamers into playing in their worlds rather than simply manipulating them."

Aaron Ruby

The quotation above is from the article A Theory of Games For Just About Everyone. It challenges the opposition between free-play and gameplay, also regarding play as a mental state, rather than an activity.

My personal, perhaps unrelated thoughts on the subject:

  • Games and non-games are two sides of the same coin: products should encourage seamless transition between the two states (a la GTA). Of course, this is just a personal opinion and a matter of taste.

  • Non-game is not a genre, but a state of play. A state of a state of mind.

    (via Raph Koster)
  • Copyright, Chico Queiroz