Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Follow up to a Previous Post

In the comments to "When is a Medium Not a Medium," A_B basically makes two points (if I'm summarizing correctly):

  1. The designer can't be an "other" in game theory
  2. There is no distinction between the medium and the method
On the first point, he asks a mathematician about the post, and the response is this:

"However, in particular, he stressed that the "others" are the participants in the system and not the creators of the system. The whole point of game theory is to "consider interests that are not your direct interest. It's not the choices of the designers. It's not a choice if they're not players in the game. It's irrelevant."
While I think that's true in most games, as it is in the example given (pool), I don't think it's the case in all videogames. In pool, the designer created a game where two people compete on a level playing field. That, to me, is like the creators of Quake 3, creating the maps, placing the weapons, etc. They're creating the tools for two people to test themselves against each other.

In a single player game (and this is where I should have been clearer), the designers aren't creating a playing field - they're creating the playing field and they're creating the competitors - everyone in the game who isn't you. While scripting AI or various in-game events, the designers are interested parties - they're betting on your expectations, how you'll respond to various inputs and what you level of skill is. Yeah, it's disconnected, and (for the most part) doesn't happen in real-time, but you do make decisions, as a videogame designer, about what you think the player will do, whether they'll sacrifice health for a better gun, whether they've developed an emotional attachment to an NPC or not.

In some sense, yeah, it's like you're administering the Prisoner's Dilemma, but at the same time, you have a vested interest in the other prisoner. But yes, some games you can definitely make the argument that it is like pool and the designer isn't a participant - I was thinking more of single player games, though that's a little narrow-minded of me.

I'm familiar with the McLuhan quote, though I can't say I've really "internalized" it. I think you can say that videogames, as they've traditionally existed, have been a medium - for sure. I think when you get into the realm of "games," though, you're moving out of the "medium" territory, and even out of the "message" territory. You can have games that are almost entirely devoid of message, except those that are conveyed by their mechanics (though I'd guess McLuhan would tell you that's the message that's inherent in the medium...).

I guess the way I'm thinking about the application of "game" (not "videogame," which I think is harder to categorize as a non-medium) is more like a paintbrush than a brushstroke. It is, essentially, a tool for motivation. A structure that creates both a carrot and a stick, and provides the user with feedback at regular intervals. Whether that manifests itself as something on a screen, or a card, or what have you, it's essentially an engineered experience that encourages a particular behavior.

Is that a medium?

Getting back to an earlier point - I wonder what the distinction is between something like Quake, where the designer is entirely uninterested in the specific outcome of the game, and a single-player game where the designer *is* interested in how the player is doing, how they're making decisions, and are actively trying to guide them through an experience. Obviously, they're both "games" - at least as they're currently labeled.

Saying there's a distinction between "game" and "sport" feels sort of right, but that's using such baggage-laden terms that it's impossible to discuss the distinction without getting really confused.

I think where I'm trying to draw a distinction is maybe not with "game" as something non-medium-y, but rather, the concept of applying a very tight cycle of feedback, consistent behavior, and regular rewards as a motivational tool to encourage specific behavior. That *is* a method, and divested from any particular medium. It's not "videogames," or even "games" as they're traditionally known. It's more the idea of taking the part of videogames that makes the good experiences compelling and using that in other applications.

Gack. My brain hurts. Ei-Nyung and I had this problem trying to talk about this post after the fact - calling something a "game" has a lot of other implications, "game theory" has a specific definition, "medium" and "method" are both terms that people have discussed to death, and wandering through the minefields of potential misinterpretation is pretty bonkers.

But yeah - I guess it's the application of the process that concerns me.


Seppo said...

As an afterthought, maybe think of it this way - in many single player games, the designers are essentially functioning as GM's. To me, a GM is an active participant, and someone who is also "in the game." In my experience, the game designer is also "in the game," though it's obviously extemporaneous.


hapacheese said...

Here's a really dumb question - is there a necessity to distinguish between method and medium?

Simply out of ignorance, what defines something as a medium? Say - books. What defines that as a medium? Is it the shape of the object (not the actual shape, but the content - the binding, the papers, etc) or the words contained within? If so, aren't words also a method *and* a medium?

Just trying to get a better idea of the distinction.

aoc gold said...

What Does Little Birdie Say?


What does little birdie say,

In her nest at peep of day?

Let me fly, says little birdie,

Mother, let me fly away,

Birdie, rest a little longer,

Till the little wings are stronger.

So she rests a little longer,

Then she flies away.


What does little baby say,

In her bed at peep of day?

Baby says, like little birdie,

Let me rise and fly away.

Baby, sleep a little longer,

Till the little limbs are stronger.

If she sleeps a little longer,

Baby too shall fly away.

-----by runescape gold