Little Blog Adventure

A gaming "sketchblog"

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Beyond the game

Ah, the final blog exercise for the semester! Looking back, I can say I've quite enjoyed the blog exercises for this module, as well as the module as a whole. :-)

The first question for this last exercise is whether meaningful play can emerge from an Alternative Reality Game such as the The Beast.

Well, I followed the progress of that game quite avidly while it was running and I will say that for me and the good folk who comprised the group called Cloudmakers, it was highly meaningful indeed. As a matter of fact, I've never seen another game bring out the kind of large-scale community interaction and near-obsessive dedication on the part of players that the Beast did. While the game was running, it truly felt like the Cloudmakers group was a kind of cyber-sleuth, drawing on the power of many, many minds in order to solve a deeply puzzling mystery. While I do consider the members of the group who thought that 9/11 could be "solved" to be somewhat deluded, I can understand how they could have come to think that way after having been deeply involved in The Beast. The game is far from traditional and by some definitions of the term may not even be a game, but it was extremely exciting for those who "played" it.

What made the game feel meaningful to the players? Well, if we define meaningful play as occurring when the relationships between actions and outcomes in a game are both discernable and integrated into the larger context of the game, then indeed the Cloudmakers did experience meaningful play- ironic considering how The Beast was never revealed to be a game. Every action players took within the game- gathering clues, solving puzzles online, meeting up in real-life to take part in a game-related event- took the community one step closer towards solving the mystery of the game. As of today, the "mystery" genre seems to be the predominant form of ARG- it will be interesting to see if and how designers can make ARGs that work differently.

As for the second question- yes, I do think that ARGs challenge existing notions of what a game is. An ARG is very interesting in terms of design- designers are no longer dealing with one player or multiple players who are competing with each other- instead, they have a community of players who are all collaborating to achieve the same objective. This is perhaps similar to Massively-Multiplayer Online games, but even those do not involve the same level of collaborative play as ARGs. ARGs also break down the magic boundary between the game space and the "real world." A world where games like that posited in the Michael Douglas movie "The Game" are played by people indeed might not be inconceivable in the near future- except instead of rich individuals, entire communities might be taken along for the ride! At which point, I wonder if we could still call such activities games, or would they be something else entirely?

Game systems

1. Creating mods (modifications) to existing games is a common practice, not just for computer games, but for any form of games. Does this imply that any game can be considered a game system? Why/why not?

Any game consists of elements which can possibly be re-contextualized into a new game. This is obvious with digital games, but perhaps slightly less obvious for non-digital ones. To illustrate with an example, let us look at football. Considering the game's components to be it's rules, pieces (the football, goal posts) and the playing field, we can see that these elements can be combined in different ways to produce new games. Popular variations like indoor football and beach football are recognisably similar to the original, but it's not impossible to consider a new game using the components of football that's quite different from the original.

However, the real question is: how open a game system does a game make? A game like Snakes and Ladders is possibly too specific to be a system capable of supporting a wide variety of games. Chess, on the other hand, is open enough of a game system to support a wide variety of variants.

So yes, all games can be considered game systems, but not all are open game systems.

2. Consider a game which you feel could be successfully modified. How could this game be generalized into a game system? How much of the unique character/flavour of the game can be retained? How generic can you make the game system? How easy will it be to create new, unique games from the game system?

Half-Life 2 is a good example of a highly modifiable game. The game ships with a full set of editing tools that streamlines and simplifies the process of modifying the game. Because of this, a large community of modders has sprung up around the game.

The tools allow a modder to modify aspects of the game- from levels to characters to weapons and even right down to the core game mechanics. What it provides is Half-Life 2's game engine- consisting of it's graphics, sound, physics engines, scripting capabilities and networking code. Using these as a base, modders are free to create as simple or as complex a game as they wish.

Many mods retain the unique character of Half-Life 2 by re-using the games graphics and sound as well as it's weapons. This makes the mod aesthetically identifiable as a creation built around Half-Life 2. On the other hand, an ambitious modder can drop every single part of Half-Life 2's gameplay and create entirely new art and sound effects to make a game as different from Half-Life 2 as possible. For example, one modding team is developing a Wing Commander-style space combat simulation called Eternal Silence using the Half-Life 2 engine.

Describe one new game designed on top of the game system you proposed in question 2.

A puzzle game in the style of The Incredible Machine, where players put together sets of parts to create an intricate machine to fulfill various objectives. This would leverage Half-Life 2's robust physics engine to showcase a form of gameplay that was only partially explored in the original game.