What’s Fun about Games?

Great list of characteristics of the gaming experience that contribute to what we call “fun” from The Ludologist. I think it could be applied to a range of creative pursuits, especially online, and I’d hate to lose it so excuse the long quote.

Fun

The holy grail of games, but an ill-defined term for purposes of game analysis. Marc LeBlanc’s GDC speech on complexity warns against the word ‘fun’ being vague. He describes ways in which players often derive pleasure from games. (Subsequently, we’ve added to that list.)

Clearing: Many games allow the player to clean up a scattering of interactive elements. There’s a simple pleasure players seem to get from “Hoovering” their way across a room full of gold coins or revealing the blacked out sections of the maps in RTS games or RPG’s.

Collection: The act of accumulating things. (Could be referred to as Consumerism.) Sometimes tied to the desire to complete a set. Examples: Collecting coins in Mario. Collecting Magic cards. Buying things in The Sims.

Creation: Bringing something into existence. Building something that feels like it belongs to you. Examples: Constructing and growing a city in SimCity. Creating and arranging a fish tank in El-fish.

Discovery: Space to explore and gain mastery over. Sometimes conceptual space, like the rules to a new game. Examples: It’s fun to range over a new (often blackened-out) map in many strategy games like Warcraft or Sacrifice. You can see players go through phases when playing successive games of Onhe Furcht und Adel–they gain enjoyment over discovering the parameters of the game (and the successful strategies therein), then mastering the game.

Diversion: Pleasure derived from performing routine game system activities–the mechanical act of manipulating the game. Examples: Playing an hour of Windows Solitaire.

Expectation: Waiting with exciting for some perceived reward or entertaining moment. Examples: The thrill of gambling; blindly waiting to see if you’ve ‘won’ playing slots. (DX1 featured a similar chest lock picking dynamic–the player spend a lock pick and waited for a few expectant seconds to see what he had won.)

Experience: Allowing the player to engage in a real-world activity that is beyond his practical means. Examples: Killing a person with a pistol. Flying a fighter plane in a flight sim. Driving crash-up derby cars in a mud arena car game. Getting to play against Tiger Woods in a golf match.

Expression: Self discovery/exploration. Identity expression. Examples: Choosing a self-gratifying nickname, character name or call sign in a game like Quake, EverQuest or X-Wing Vs Tie Fighter. Choosing a character race/group in an RPG that is identified with an archetype or demeanor. Deck construction in Magic the Gathering.

Fantasy: Vehicle for imaginative or impossible activity. Examples: Flying on the back of a red dragon. Battling the undead. Piloting a space ship.

Fellowship: Social aspects of gaming. Examples: Working with squad mates in FireTeam to form a plan and attempt to score a goal. Standing around, chatting in the town in Diablo.

Goal-completion: Being given a clear goal and actually recognizing that it has been accomplished. Example: Completing a bridge level in Bridge Builder. Completing a mission in C&C (in which the player is often given very clear goals, like, “Build at least 12 tanks.”).

Investment: Spending time on some game element and thus coming to value it. Examples: Slowly building up a 60th level druid in EverQuest.

Media-migration: Players desire to interact with familiar (and often well-liked) fictional elements from other media. The keys to this are familiarity (with the established fiction) and interaction. For instance, during beta-testing of the Aliens vs. Predator game, players demanded the option of carrying and using Hicks’ shotgun, even though it was an antiquated, inferior weapon. In Star Trek games, players get excited at the option of attempting their own solutions to classic problems/encounters posed by the television series. Using a light saber from Star Wars carries its own appeal.

Narrative: Drama that unfolds over time, creates tension, engages us. Examples: Learning of “Tommy and Rebecca’s” situation in System Shock 2 and finally seeing them run down the hall toward escape. (Embedded narrative.) The dramatic events that occur in a Quake deathmatch as a result of the players’ actions. (Emergent narrative.)

Obstacle: Encountering a challenge and overcoming it. Examples: Making a difficult jump in SSX.

Sensation: Aurally or visually pleasing aesthetics. Examples: The first time the player steps out onto a hill and overlooks the world in Sacrifice, with its amazing art, he is in sheer awe and feels pleasure.

Victory: Putting the beat-down on an opponent. Some people are driven to compete and gain pleasure from winning. Examples: Players love being the top-ranking player in a Quake deathmatch.

Wish him luck with the final weeks of his PhD!

Cultural Value in the Age of “Mass Amateurisation”

Tom Coates’ insightful and focused article “Weblogs and the Mass Amateurization of (Nearly) Everything“, and the followup by Tom of bbCity, have come at just the right time for me. For the last few weeks I have posted several short pieces on the social impacts of cultural profileration and the democratization of creative technologies, mostly concerned with music, but also touching on visual arts. What follows is a work in progress, an attempt to find a centre for some apparently disparate, but deeply related ideas about new and old technologies, the collapsing professional and amateur divide, and notions of cultural value or “quality.”

The democratization of technologies means that non-specialist practitioners (I won’t use “amateurs” because it does sound pejorative, but unlike some others, I am not accusing Tom of “kicking us in the guts” for using it) can create, edit and distribute digital images, music, text, and video cheaply and without enormous technical expertise (but, as Coates points out, this expertise can be gained more easily today than in the past through the use of online information networks). As we can guess from the behaviour of the wilfully obtuse and cranky print journalists’ move to stereotype blogging as a poor imitation of “real” journalism (see Kuboid for examples), the “mass amateurisation of everything” appears to threaten the monopoly on production previously enjoyed by specialists. I don’t see this so much as a literally economic threat however, but rather as a threat to social and cultural capital: a threat to the scarcity of expertise and authority. Thinking along similar lines, Matt Welch, in the time-honoured “fair and balanced” tradition, prefers to see bloggers as “alternative” journalists who may challenge and ultimately enrich the profession. In any case, it is clear that a view of bloggers as merely amateur journalists aspiring to professional status is an impoverished one. Bloggers and bedroom DJs may well stay “amateur”, as Clay Shirky writes, but there is something more interesting going on as well.

I would argue that the specialist art worlds move (again, consciously or not) to contain this threat by making distinctions between their own mastery of the technologies and discourses of production and the ‘mere’ consumption or unthinking use of them by consumers: you can see evidence of this even in some of the comments following Tom’s article. By insisting on their active mastery of technologies, the specialist producers disavow the their own status as consumers, while continuing to lay claim to the all-important characteristic of innovation (which, more often than not, entails the consumption of new technologies).

Some of these “strategies”, or less accusingly, patterns might include:

1. Insisting on the irreconcilable quality differences between consumer and high-end professional hardware and software tools; consumer products (cameras, synths, editing software, soundcards) characterised as simple, easy to use, cheap, but limiting, pedestrian, low quality results.

2. Lofi is King: minimalist aesthetics (e.g. constructing a project studio around one piece of software or hardware, and exploiting its “full potential”, hand-coding webpages, insisting on simple (un)design); the reversal of obsolescence (e.g. analogue hardware synths, pinhole or polaroid cameras, super 8 film)

3. Demonstrated command of the science/technological expertise/professional practices of sound, text, or image production, and insistence on its necessity for quality output.

4. Specialist artists abandon stylistic features that have been taken up by “consumer-producers”; familiar avant-garde moves towards the obscure, cryptic, unreadable, and intellectualisation of work

5. Insistence on uniqueness (e.g. never use a preprogrammed synth patch, a Blogger template or a Photoshop plugin without tweaking, hacking, or transforming it first)

6. Invention of new genres as critiques of source genres e.g. experimental drum’n’bass, refusal of 4/4 metre to prevent danceability (cf. Bebop vs. swing).

7. Playing the early adopter card, displaying historical, as opposed to (barely, in my case!) working, knowledges; emulating the techniques of retro classics (I not only like their early stuff, I can make sonic/visual references to it that insiders will get).

In the blogging context, web developer/journalist Adrian Holovaty’s comments about the “one-big-siteness” of weblogs (found via plasticbag.org) contain at least a couple of these:

I believe in my heart that people should come up with their own publishing methods. Frankly, it’s boring to surf the blogosphere and see so many sites using the same, tired weblogging tools. The same basic templates, the same “post a comment” form, the same URL schemes… It’s almost as if they’re all small parts of one huge site.

There’s also the Crutch Factor. I dislike cliche blog publishing systems for the same reason I favour hand-coding over using Dreamweaver […snip…]
Of course, I have a deep appreciation for how these tools have enabled hundreds of thousands of non-Web-developers to broadcast their ramblings on the Internet with minimal effort. But I have a much, much deeper appreciation for people who have taken the time to write a system for themselves. And as far as I’m concerned, people who do Web development for a living yet don’t use a custom-built weblogging system shouldn’t be trusted.

Emerging Art Worlds: Beyond the Professional/Amateur Divide

Viewed in their own terms, and not disparagingly from within the fortified worlds of established artworlds, what are the forms and functions of the new art worlds growing around non-professional practice (blogging communities, bedroom DJs, amateur photographers)? What are their systems of cultural and aesthetic value, i.e. what makes a good personal blog in its own terms?

Questions of Value

With so much stuff “out there”, the question remains for the most democratic of us: how are we going to sort through it all to find our regular reads or favourite listens? Now that the broadcast model of the internet is dead, now that the producer/consumer and professional/amateur divide is history, we need to find better and better ways to create our own cultural “nodes”, to build and maintain quality social networks based on shared interests and values (or mutually interesting values–hooray for diversity), without letting them proliferate beyond the point of all usefulness (see Tom’s Guardian article). There are interesting times ahead.

Follow-ups: Creative Networks: Smaller, Better, Smarter