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This post has really rung with me. I remember that every time I started to play a JRPG and was presented with the option of naming the main character I would always chose not to do so. This is not really a problem about me not being imaginative enough, since I am a game designer myself, but with a personal preference of mine which I always advocated but never related to me not naming my characters, until now. I would always state that a work of fiction was best enjoyed as originally intended by the author and not by me trying to force myself upon the fictional work. This may be contradictory since it would mean that I enjoy playing role playing games for all the wrong reasons, by not role playing as intended. But I have no problems with a statement such as that since I most enjoy these games because of the actual storyline (the work of fiction) as a viewer (whenever there's a cut scene) and as a participant whenever I would have to make use of the battle system, or any other system.

Ed: thanks for sharing your perspective, and letting me know that this resonated with you!

I know what you mean about the naming issue... On the one hand, it seems as if choosing a custom name would be the most imaginative choice, but I think perhaps there is a scale here.

The least imaginative choice is arguably to enter your own name, and it is the capacity to do this which is part of the appeal of this option with a wider audience... it puts you into the story directly by using your own name as a prop.

The most imaginative choice need not be to enter a new name of your choosing - since by going with the given name you are accepting the fiction being offered to you, and letting the creative talent behind the game 'play' with your imagination. It shows an imaginative leaning to choose this option over putting in your own name, I'd suggest. (More on a point relating to this in a few weeks time...)

These days, I get held up for such a ridiculous length of time trying to choose the "right" name (whatever that might mean to me!) that going with the given name is often the sanest choice. :)

Chris, I have a solution to your naming problem:

In every game, just name yourself Oprah!

Works for me.

;)

Seriously, though, this is an interesting post, and the part at the end about white male avatars really resonated with me. Increasingly, I'm getting tired of all the games with an angry white male as the lead. Why not just let me make my own character?

I can tolerate it if the character in question really has some character to him (Solid Snake comes to mind), or has a particular narrative tailored to him (I can think of Tidus in FFX), but otherwise, let me make my own character!

It's for this reason that I love games like Fallout, Rainbow Six: Vegas, and Mass Effect, which allow me to place my own "prop" in the game. Make-believe is so much easier when you're playing with the toy you want to play with. Imagine if as children we were all forced to play with only one type of teddy bear, instead of the G.I. Joes, Transformers, My Little Ponies, and plastic dinosaurs we wanted to play with. In fact, create-a-character in videogames takes it one step cooler: you get to make your very own action figure instead of pulling a pre-made one off the shelf.

It's for this reason why I love modern videogames, and videogames above most other forms of entertainment: because the really good ones let me bring my own toy to the sandbox.

Interesting take on imagination in games, though I wonder how you square the widespread popularity of traditional games like Solitaire or poker--or even the Tic-Tac-To you mention in the article--with the view that less imagination=greater success. None of these games have really anything to grab on to--no props to explain how the game latches on to reality like Monopoly's money and houses do. They just have rules that lead to a fun experience.

And it seems to me that while video games that feature the least amount of imagination are most popular in the hardcore audience of video games, casual games--which have a wider audience--usually find success with more abstract games with things like Bejeweled or Tetris. Does that mean that fans of first-person shooters just happen to be less imaginative as the average population?

Interactive Illuminatus: thanks for your comment!

As the serial goes on to expound, there is a distinction between functional and representational elements of games. Solitaire and Tic-tac-toe are purely functional games. Not *all* of the enjoyment of games comes from imagination and make-believe; representation is just one aspect of games, and in some cases a minor aspect.

In the case of Poker, I would argue that there is a representational level involved in bluffing and representation on behalf of the players. There is a fictional element to a good game of poker that is half of the fun, although if one plays online I rather suspect this element is bleached away.

The case of abstract games and casual audiences can be midleading - Bejewelled and Tetris are more functional than representational... There is no clear story associated with the play of either. There is still a representational layer here, and note that it is still keyed to appeal to a wider audience.

Bejewelled uses gems - a very concrete, accessible symbol. It would not, I would venture, have been as successful if it had simply used arcane symbols of different colours. The fiction that gems fall down is a tangential but non-trivial part of the play, and although the game is abstract is not excessively hindering in this regard because it is non-narrative.

Tetris similarly uses shaped blocks which are fitted together in a manner reminiscent of childhood shape-matching toys. This activity is quite concrete in its fundamentals, even though the game of Tetris is quite abstract. When puzzle block games more further towards abstraction - Baku Baku animal, for instance, with its abstract representation of animals and food, the appeal seems to go down (in part because of the increased need to explain the activity coherently, and the mismatch between reality and the game).

This is another way of saying that even abstract representations can be positioned on a scale from more concrete to more abstract. Piles of gems falling down and shaped blocks fitting together are recognisable real-world activities no matter how distorted those actions may be in the abstract world of the game. Something like Rod Humble's The Marriage or Jeff Minter's Gridrunner is far more abstract and far less accessible to a wider audience.

Thanks for your comment!

So it would seem to me that you're talking less about abstract gameplay mechanics and more about esoteric gameplay mechanics. The idea being that fewer people will enjoy mechanics that are wholly unfamiliar to them less than games that involve more recognizable rules and objects.

I think the relative popularity of FPS games has more to do with the familiarity of their functional components much less than the accuracy of their representational aspects. The most popular war games are not those that represent war the best, but those that present war through familiar game mechanics. This also explains why FPS's are so intimidating to non-gamers, who are not familiar with the mechanics.

Interactive Illuminatus: yes, esoteric gameplay mechanics is a nice way of putting it. But of course, a lot of abstract mechanics tend towards the esoteric, so there is some crossover.

I agree that the popularity of the FPS has a lot to do with familiarity, but when you talk about "accuracy of their representational elements" - what does accuracy mean here? Simulation of reality? Because frankly, I think if the FPS is simulating anything, it's simulating the action movie (and the war FPS the war movie)... Neither is the action movie simulating real gunplay. But it does represent it, if you see what I mean. :)

Anyway, I'm not really here, just dropped in for a quick comment before heading off on my vacation. ;)

I've always spent a while trying to think up good names for WoW characters in which I intend to invest a great deal of time.

It has always struck me as rather lazy of Blizzard not to have created proper lexicons for the various languages - maybe this is why there are so many unrealistic/unimaginative names out there (don't know if it's any better on the RP servers).

Jon: Even if they had created the lexicons, would the players have used them? The perpetual problem that players wishing to role-play in MMO games face is that not everyone wants (or is able) to do so. In this respect, tabletop role-playing games have an advantage - the smaller group makes it much easier to promote "in character" play.

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