Games, World-Games Games-in-Worlds, Worlds and Realities, Part 1

by Alphaville Herald on 30/11/03 at 12:43 am

Hi everybody, sorry to break from the gossip and muck-raking but I thought I would post the first part of my latest endeavor. It’s an attempt to codify exactly what it is that we’re doing here, are we playing games? Are we building virtual worlds? Both? Neither?

Any attempt to answer this crucial question involves a set of working terms with which to discuss the greater issue. So here’s the begining of my two-cents. As always feel free to comment and suggest, it obviously could do with a bit of editing for clarity and if you find a thought uncompleted or insufficently explained, or just plain wrong, please: let a brotha know.

Games: Goal oriented systems that players navigate in direct competition with each other or AI opponents. While there is often an element of luck involved in all games we choose to preclude the so-called ?games of chance? that remove all elements of player skill from the equation (i.e. Roulette, Craps Paper/Rock/Scissors (although there is certainly a fair amount of psychology involved) and near all casino games which are more akin to physical manifestations of statistics than games-proper). Also we should endeavor to remove from this definition all games lacking sufficient complexity to eliminate the forgone outcome (i.e. Tic-Tac-Toe, etc., for proof of the futility of these exercises watch Wargames with Matthew Broderick).

Also we should differentiate a Game from other Game-Like structures. For instance, Gymnastics is not a game in the proper sense, nor for that matter is the majority of the Olympics. Gymnastics is not a game, even though you are in a sense competing against other Gymnasts, rather it is an indirectly comparative test of skill. You perform your tumbling routine, receive a score, I perform mine, receive a score and then we compare the two to determine who the victor is. At no time during this exercise is there direct competition from either my opponents or from integral elements of the system we are navigating. While one can make a case that the field of navigation in a gymnastics routine (rings, bars, that horse thingy) present obstacles to the player, that would not be entirely accurate. Rather, the obstacles in a gymnast?s field are integral parts of the system upon which the gymnast performs. Think of it like plastic base upon which colors are placed to create a Rubik?s cube. With out the underlying structure the task of completion is impossible, and while the navigation of this structure (either through the jumping and tumbling of a Gymnasts routine or the twisting of a Rubik?s Cube) presents a certain challenge it does not work to defeat the player. Instead the player either succeeds in navigating these obstacles or they fail to complete their goal. The obstacles in Gymnastics are, in fact, not really obstacles at all; they would more aptly be termed as ?the field of play.? Much like the Astroturf, sidelines and goalposts are elements that define the field of play of a Football game, the horse, rings and parallel bars are elements that define the field of play in a Gymnastics competition. A blinding snow-storm during a football game would be an obstacle and, for the most part, tests-of-skill attempt to reduce the competition to the player and the field so that the comparison between competitors can be free from influence. The navigation of field is the skill being tested, the field is not actively working against your ability, in fact your ability is contingent on the field it self (it would be rather difficult to exercise a Rings routine without the rings) nor is the field an extra-systemic anomaly that alters your ability (like bad weather during a football game).

Take the Rubik?s Cube for example. It is a puzzle first and foremost, and, while one can, and many have, made a competition of speed-completion of the Cube, it cannot be aptly be termed a game. Again, while there may be a psychological effect that one score or time may have on the following or even concurrent (like in race) player the competition at its core is based upon comparison of judged feats rather than upon the influence and opposition which game-proper is based. The Psychological impact that one competitor has upon another is a happy side-effect of humanity rather than an integral element of the competition.

So we can now eliminate all tests of skill and indirect competitions from the definition. Or can we?

There can be games that are based on indirect competition that avoid the trappings of comparative skill tests. Billiards and Chess are both good examples. Players are not in direct competition in these games, instead they take turns testing their skill (maximally in the control and balance of Billiards) and building their completion-strategy (thinking many moves in advance, the focal skill of a Chess master) either through movements that advance them towards the end game or that directly inhibit their opponent from reaching the end game. While both Chess and Billiards differ greatly in system navigation (the Formalism of the chess pieces movements v. the elegant coaxing of geometry, accuracy, and causality that control the cue ball) both still hinge upon oppositional competition and influence. My strategy in Chess is to maneuver in such away as to reach Checkmate, simultaneous to and married with this strategy is my ability to maneuver in such a way as to prevent you from reaching check-mate and prevent you from stopping me from reaching check-mate. Similarly, I use these same axis in Billiards, my shots are not merely to sink the correct balls but also to maneuver the field of play in such a way as to hinder your ability to sink balls or prevent me from sinking balls. This influence is the defining characteristic of all games. Without this influence (as an integral component of the feat-structure) you have tests of skill.

Video-games present some interesting iterations of the form of a game. Take Tetris for example, on it?s own Tetris is a puzzle, when I pit my score indirectly against yours it is a test-of-skills, when we play multi-player Tetris (in which the completion of lines on my side of the screen dumps ?junk? blocks onto your side) it becomes a game-proper.

Additionally one may choose to argue that the AI opposition in a video game is little different from the Horse, rings and parallel bars of Gymnastics. That they make up the field of play rather than serving as obstacles or opponents. While it is compelling to reduce AI to that there is the nagging notion that however inhuman the AI may be they are, in a sense, actively working against you, in that they are adjusting their behavior based on your performance (i.e. your actions influence them and alter their pattern). One could retort that an AI such as Deep Blue is merely an incredibly complex obstacle, one that, like water, flows through it?s computations in order to obscure Kasparov?s way to his end-game. To which I must retort that Deep Blue was doing more than standing in Kasparov?s path, that it?s hindrance of Kasparov?s executions was married to it?s own pursuit of an end-game. Unlike a tricky ski slope or puzzle box, Deep Blue was competing and trying to win. On a lesser level it could be said that the enemies in a VG are doing the same they are trying to win the game; although their end-game is different than the primary player?s.

8 Responses to “Games, World-Games Games-in-Worlds, Worlds and Realities, Part 1”

  1. Candace

    Nov 30th, 2003

    Your analysis of games is quite interesting. I’m not sure that I would carve it up the same way; how we choose to define games seems rather arbitrary to me, personally. I’m on board with you that games probably must have some goal (as with most actions). I would also add that they should present fun and/or challenge to the player as an inducement to engage in them and so traditionally be thought a game-form. Other than that, though, I tend not to think that we shouldn’t properly call single-player events games. For example, I think that when people are comparing skills (the gymnastics idea here) on a high-level, there is so much pressure from other players in psychological terms that it becomes more than a mere objective display of skill. This psychological factor can certainly affect one’s performance and it’s hard to tell how much unless you know the person. It’s really hard to draw a line. I used to live with someone (r.i.p.) whom would take my rubic’s cube (it was more like one of those pyramid things) when I was gone and uniformly change like the green and gold stickers so that when I tried to put it back together (having been used to trying to position the gold stickers on another side and vice versa), I was all distraught. This provided a great deal of amusement for this person; watching me and seeing how I would react to the change in environment. For sentimental reasons perhaps, I tend to see the minds behind the creation of great VR games like that; changing one’s environment to see how they can cope. I don’t know that I’ve said anything substantial here. I just think that there is an important psychological factor that can’t be eliminated from most games.

  2. Squirrel

    Nov 30th, 2003

    Firstly, I am purposly trying to extradite the concepts of fun and challange from my definition of game because those are powerfully subjective terms. I’m trying to break it down to what, at the fundament, constitutes “game-ness.” Which attributes need an endeavor posses inorder to be aptly termed a game. To wit, I can only conclude that the neccessary factors are competition, mutual influence (both of these can be either direct or indirect), and (although I failed to touch on this above) victory conditions by which the outcome of the game can be judged. I feel that these paramaters allow for ample lee-way in what can be considered to have “game-ness” with out the muddying influence of comparative skill tests.

    Re: Psychology. Certainly one canot deny the pervasie Psychological element of any contest but I don’t think that it has a place in the definition of a game because it seems to be more of an affect of our selves rather than the game structure. I can’t really think of a game that even rests it’s structure upon psychological influence althogh one can obviously see that psychological influence plays a big role in almost any game (from the trash talking of Counterstrike, to the looming presence of Gary Kasparov, to the boasting of Muhammed Ali). Still, psychological determinates are only slightly less subjective than terms like fun and challange, and as such I gotta let them go.

    Re: that pyramid thing. I had the same puzzle and my sister used to do the same thing to me. I’m tempted to say that my sister and your roomate were participating in a grand meta-game of their amusement v. our patience. But all they have really done is layer another puzzle upon a puzzle. They have not made a game out of it, nor is it a formalized competition of skill.

  3. Candace

    Nov 30th, 2003

    Hey— thanks for the reply. I think it’s a worthy project here and I can respect trying to ditch the psych element because it’s too fuzzy yet I do think it’s crucial and is difficult to fully excise from the definition of a game. What’s a game without the player? I mean, it takes the realization of what one needs to do to reach the goal of the game in order to define the game and this seems at least partly inherently psychological to me. While that goal might be described objectively, there is a subjective aspect (however fuzzy) that’s crucial to how I want to define a game in full.

    That’s hysterical to me that your sis used to do the same thing to you w/ the old rubic’s cube. I literally asked him one time (we were a bit older than kids, at this point, at least chronologically), “why the hell do you do this to me?” He smiled wryly, which revealed that he did enjoy playing this particular “mind game” (there’s a term for the particularly mental games, no?) with me. He also said something that was rather illuminating. He said that he liked to see me struggle (with a changing environment) to keep me thinking non-linear (like *I* need assistance there?). I think by systematically changing my environment to see if I could deal with it without having a nervous breakdown, he was trying to bring out something better in me. (In his evil little way). I think a good VR game is created in much the same way….”we’ll throw this twist in here, and see if you can still handle it.”
    Anyhow, thinking about how VR games are best defined; what they do for us—- I find this all interesting. Nice job, squirrel.

  4. Squirrel

    Nov 30th, 2003

    After reading Greg Costik’s blog I need to readdress a point I made in my previous comment. Specifically I would like to clarify my position on the neccessity of victory conditions for the apt application of “game-ness.”

    It would be more accurate to say that a “game” has, in it’s structure, a goal orientation. These goal can either be know (score more points and win) or obfuscated as in the objectives of a D&D session). These goals need not always be end-games and may be the achievement of objectives like level advancement, plot advancement, accumulation etc. etc., Additionally one should not that particularly robust Simulations (more on these later) present a complex enough structure within which a player creates their own goals (Sim City is a good example, for instance” I wanna make a city that has a low pollution ratings” or “I wanna make a city so that I can summon Godzilla to destroy it” “ROAR” “YAY! I WIN!”).

    Again we come back to the neccessity of robust structure that enable “game-ness” Tic-Tac-Toe is not robost enough to stand with out an opponent. You cannot, meaningfully, make up a single player version of Tic-Tac-Toe where in you are fulfilling the competitive, influential and goal orientation aspects of gameness. Tic-Tac-Toe requires an opponent to provide these aspects for you.

  5. Peter Ludlow

    Dec 1st, 2003

    I guess I don’t see the point, much less the urgency of this exercise. Wittgenstein told us a long time ago that there are no necessary and sufficient conditions for games. There are just some family resemblences between kinds of games. Even if there were interesting criteria of individuation would it matter? I say: taxonomy is about as illuminating as taxidermy.

  6. Squirrel

    Dec 1st, 2003

    Ludlow: Firstly, I don’t find Wittgenstein’s summarization of games to be applicable any longer. Although it is a solid concept, I feel that games have grown in scope and depth to such an extent that we require a solid taxonimy inorder to differentiate the subtlties within them.

    2ndly, While again, I would agree with Wittgenstein, re: family resemblences between knids of games, what I’m aiming for is to segregate all kinds og games, being structures and sytems that posses the attribute of “game-ness” from all types on non-games. This is not to suggest that non-games cannot share some attribute of games, nor is it to suppose that some games will share other defining attributes with non-gmes. Rather it is to demarcate a territory in our world of systems establishing “games and game-ness” as sufficiently different from other systems in-order to impart, in the minimal, a heightened meaning to all systems involved in light of their differential/alternative/oppositional definitions. It is only with this meaning and the differential value imparted by such meaning embedding guidlines by which we can have clear concise communication of the system whole.

    Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

  7. Peter Ludlow

    Dec 3rd, 2003

    squirrel, you’re not making sense. You say…

    >we require a solid taxonimy inorder to >differentiate the subtlties within them

    but that’s like saying we need a taxonomy to have a taxonomy. Well, I suppose, but the question was “what the hell is the point of the taxonomy.” And while I am no fan of Wittgenstein, his point is surely not undermined by the fact that we have may more kinds of games than we used to. Having more games and kinds of games surely only strenghtens his point: that there are no necessary and sufficient conditions for gamehood.

    But, even if there *were* necessary and sufficient conditions for gamehooe or game-ness I don’t see that it would make a bit of difference or that we would be well served to pay attention to such boundaries. Maybe the best tools for studying games wouldn’t recognize the boundaries at all.

  8. Lady Luky

    Jan 26th, 2004

    Fascinating. For a spin on online communities, check out GemStone IV:

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