Friday, August 24, 2012

Gaming, Curation, and Memory: What Are We Saving?

Lots of people post game film on YouTube, game forums, and other outlets, all starting years ago as “let’s play” walkthroughs posted by fans. These vary radically in quality and purpose. Some are instructional, some are promotional (Microsoft offers videos via Xbox Live, for instance), some are demonstrations of prowess. As with leaderboards, badges, and unlocked achievements, these records of game play signal presence to other players.

I was fortunate to be able to attend this year’s Mensa Foundation Colloquium, “Social and Video Games and Why We Play Them”:

Warren Spector, the keynote speaker, blew me away with his talk. Although curation was not a stated topic in his address, his ideas point in that direction.

About gaming itself, he discussed the uniqueness of video game play and what the elements of that uniqueness were:

·         It has the power to transport, ie, it’s you doing stuff
·         It provides immersion, ie, it’s believable rather than realistic
·         Your participation is required
·         It offers responsiveness, ie, the artwork responds to player effort

But many games do this. Why curate some experiences? Because some games and/or game sessions are special:

-Players interact with the game in real time
-Players make significant choices
-The game responds
-Choices have real consequences
-Each play session is unique

This is the province of narrative gaming. Not all narrative games do this; many FPSs are highly linear, for instance, and the narrative is forced through the path determined by the designers. And it’s not just FPSs. The game Myst frustrated me when I played it. (Yes, Myst.) I was frustrated by the lack of direction and the minimal interactivity with the world and environment. I understood that more interactivity would’ve meant lavishly more complex code, yet I felt cheated. The designers made a beautiful world that players were forbidden from truly exploring. I had the map, but I couldn’t explore the territory.

Spector offered ways to make games into unique events:

1.       Give players tools to create their own experience to discover and/or create gameplay.
2.       Provide a context for player action.
3.       Bound player experience without determining that experience.

I find that curation across the board, but especially curation of memory during game play, does all these things. A game session worth remembering has given us tools to discover and create as well as a context for our actions, and it guides rather than limits game experience. Immersion, agency, and choice are critical elements of that experience.

Spector concluded with a quote from Orson Scott Card:

“Why aren’t we letting the player decide?
“The power and the beauty of the art of game making is that you and the player collaborate to create the final story.
“Every freedom that you can give to the player is an artistic victory.
“Every needless boundary in your game should feel to you like a failure.”
                --Compute, March 1991

These are still broad ideas, and I’ve got more to think about here. I suspect there’s a good deal more for me to write about once all this settles in.

Happy Friday, everyone, and get to gaming!

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