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I think in the case of both Crawford and Costikyan their definitions are strongly influenced by a desire to carve out a discursive space for games that is separate and distinct from critical methodologies borrowed from other media. Partially I think it's because of an honest recognition that existing lit-crit tools were inadequate to discuss rule-based interactions, but also I think it was part of the 90's digital zeitgeist (which we still haven't fully escaped from) that was heavily invested in portraying new media as radically disruptive and transformative. (Cough ... gamification ... cough.) The future was going to be non-linear, interactive, rhizomatic ... . And so Crawford and Costikyan both put forward definitions that emphasize the apartness of the medium -- the critical rupture that videogames present.

By focusing their definitions on elements that are absent from most narrative forms -- goals, challenges, conflicts, competition -- they do succeed in carving out a distinct critical discourse for games. But at the expense, I think, of constructing a fairly narrow straightjacket on the sorts of play spaces that that critical discourse can address. In Callois' typology, they've drawn their circle tightly around agon -- leaving alea, ilinx, and mimicry largely outside. They're both good enough designers to realize that interesting forms of play lie beyond their definitions, but are too invested in othering traditional media to formally bridge the gap.

Excellent comment - I have nothing to add but my agreement.

I've been recently pondering whether it is the right thing to call games a medium. Maybe we are better off seeing them as sign systems or discourses about a fictional world. Because it looks like the same game can be presented through a wide range of media (thereby becoming subject to the options and limitations of the preferred medium).

On the other hand I do not really agree with the thought that narratives have no goals, challenges, conflict or competition. They may not have these in "interactive" forms, but still it is very hard to not notice the variety of goals, challenges, conflicts and competitions that story persons are subject to. Maybe calling these "intra-active" could be a way to express that these are present, but not open to manipulation.

The narratologist Bremond tried to figure what prevents a story from a premature ending. To get an idea, he analzyed many narratives and discovered that story persons are always choosing what's good for story progress when they arrive at decision-nodes. They could have opted to do what is not good for the story, that is, what would bring them to a premature ending. That's why he calls decision nodes the "areas of risk". However, that's where the author jumps in: he sees the author's role as one of creating the forces of necessity: An author creates the conditions that make the story persons chose what's good for story progression. This also makes their choices look logical, and not as something that simply looks like the author wanted it to happen like that. He calls this the illusion of fate, one of the most important skills that an author must possess in order to erase his traces.

In narratives the areas of risk are potential risks, because the author makes sure that the story persons choose what's good for story progress. But in video games they are real risks, because no matter how hard a designer pushes for necessity, a player may always try out something different. Maybe that's the biggest difference between intra and inter-active.

My 2 cents.

While the characters in a story present the illusion of working toward goals, I think it's important to distinguish the content of a work from the experience of engaging with it.

That said, I would agree that readers do have goals -- albeit not the same sort of goals that players have in a game. In playing a game, the player is directed to work toward a specific position of the game's state space -- the victory condition. In reading a story, the reader's interpretive decisions are governed by a desire to work toward positions in the text's interpretive space that maximize or minimize anticipation -- i.e. toward interpretations that deny or embrace closure. The result is a play experience in which certain interpretive "moves" are better than others without there being a single predetermined victory condition that the reader is struggling to achieve.

"It is a hypothesis I am currently investigating as to whether the psychological implications of higher testosterone levels in terms of persistence, tolerance to frustration and consequent enjoyment of conflict will serve as an explanation for why certain game designers wish to single out victory and conflict as key to games [...]."

I'd be really interested in hearing more about this, particularly since I find you have a track record of clear and thoughtful takes on these issues (I had certainly noticed that the kind of behavior pointed to as true gameplay in such cases frequently coincides strongly with male-coded behavior).

I've long been surprised by the fierceness with which definitions of "games" are put forward and hierarchies are built up between goal-oriented challenges and other forms of interactivity. It would be interesting to peek behind the curtains of the debate.

Even if you don't go into more detail, I look forward to your future posts in this series, and I'd like to thank you for giving the topic some thought!

Altugi: "I've been recently pondering whether it is the right thing to call games a medium... Because it looks like the same game can be presented through a wide range of media"

If I can abuse Marshall MacLuhan for a moment, "the medium is the message" and so for games "the interface is the design". So I'm not sure it's correct to claim that the *same game* can be presented through a wide range of media. This use of 'same game' is equivalent to the use of 'same story' that is used to suggest (say) Seven Samurai "is the same story" as Battle Beyond the Stars. This claim is false except from an extremely abstract concept of 'game'.

If we take an example of the boardgame Carcassonne and a videogame adaptation of Carcassone, is it really reasonable to say this is "the same game"? The aesthetic experience, for a start, is completely different - and as a matter of fact, in the case of how I play boardgames a videogame adaptation of Carcassonne *cannot* be the same game that I play, because my group perpetually tweaks rule-sets for its tastes. The fact that we can do this easily is an aspect of the boardgame Carcassonne that is absend in the videogame adaptation - as such, I'm inclined to say it's a different game.

Incidentally, the media in this case were boardgames and videogames. So I suppose I *agree* that we shouldn't think of 'game' as a medium. But boardgame and videogames are mediums to me.

"On the other hand I do not really agree with the thought that narratives have no goals, challenges, conflict or competition."

I quite agree. But then I see narrative as a type of game, so... :)

(I love your Bremond anecdote, by the way - this is a phenomena I have often pondered myself!)


Brian: I broadly agree with everything you say except your use of the term "victory condition" - when the goal state is, for instance, the death of the player character, it could be misrepresentative to call this 'victory'. :)

Guerric: Thanks for expressing an interest! I don't have much I can say right now but I have research funding in process for investigating this so I will have much more to say in the future! What I can say at this point is that the literature on testosterone identifies what is called "lack of frustration tolerance" with high testosterone levels, as well as persistance. My suspicion is that what is called 'lack of frustration tolerance' is an overt display of frustration and *not* (as is assumed) a lack of tolerance for frustration - the persistance angle, it seems to me just from my play studies, trumps the frustration such that individuals that (I am imputing) have high testosterone levels actually tolerate a great deal of frustration - they just don't keep it to themselves. :)

I hope to have a great deal more to say on this once the funding is in place and so forth.

Best wishes!

I've spent a lot of time thinking what separates decision-making from problem-solving. Obviously, given my theory that all decision-making is problem-solving, there were anamolies such as avatar creators, where, it was pretty clear it's fun to make decisions, but not quite obvious what's "problematic" about it. There were also other anomalies such as necessary decision-making that isn't really fun on its own, such as, main menu decisions.

In the end, I made two very important observations that provided answers:

1. when you solve a problem it ceases to be a problem and it becomes a tool

2. in situations where there is no clear explicit goal set and thus no meaning behind decisions, one can, and this is especially true for kids, imagine the problem for themselves and this way give meaning to otherwise meaningless decisions

So, regarding the first observation, consider that we walk every day. That's not a problem, even though there is decision-making involved. It was a problem back when we were young, but now, it's a tool. It's something we use to solve other problems.

In video games, main menu decisions are purely functional ones and there is supposed to be zero problem-solving involved. Similar goes for interface. We want these decisions to be made as easy as possible.

Now regarding the second observation, it explains why we sometimes take otherwise meaningless decisions so seriously. Avatar creators are fun despite lacking any sort of explicit goal simply because there is enough room to make up goals on our own terms. So, avatar creators become fun because we can set goals such as following:

1. make an avatar that looks like a celebrity
2. make an avatar that will be sexually appealing to you
3. make the ugliest avatar ever
4. make an avatar that fits this or that personality

These all lead to problem-solving, but a kind of problem-solving where you use your own instincts as a judgement rather than some other external object, such as game.

And so, it was pretty obvious to me that all interesting decision-making is problem-solving.

That said, there is no need for separation between "victory", "conflict" and "problem" aesthetic because they are pretty much the same thing, the problem-solving aesthetic. When you have a problem, you have a conflict, and when you solve a problem you have a victory.

Mirosurabu: this is an interesting approach to these issues that you present here! Thanks for 'showing your workings'. However, I think you underestimate the emotional distinctions between problems and decisions.

In the case of an aesthetic exercise such as avatar-doll creation your attempt to problematize this doesn't change the fact that the individual is free to change their terms at will; failure is impossible unless the person in question holds themselves to excessive account. This is very different to strict problem-solving in which it is possible to fail by not coming up with a solution. A problem gives players issues with confusion and boredom - an instance of aesthetic choice may involve decisions and artificial problems to solve, but it rarely presents confusion or boredom issues.

Finally, I don't agree that there is no need to separate victory, conflict and problem aesthetics - although I accept they are close. As we will get to in the final part, I contend different mechanisms for victory(-conflict) to problem aesthetics that would make these distinct. That some players - including, I presume, yourself, pursue victory via problem-solving doesn't change the fact there are those who pursue victory without it being expressly a problem to be solved. There are, I am claiming, strong biological reasons for these distinctions - and in that regard, watch this space. :)

Best wishes!

But my point is that these play activities (i.e. avatar creators) are enjoyed exactly because of problem-solving, even though it's a different kind of problem-solving. Don't you agree with this?

Regarding victory:

How can we experience victory unless we are certain that we've solved some kind of problem? Sure, there's room for superstition, but that's it.

Mirosurabu: it comes down to what you want to flag as problem-solving - you seem to want to be able to subsume many disparate activities under this flag, but I'm resistant to doing this.

In the case of victory, when one football team overcomes another I find thinking of this as a problem that has been solved quite a misleading way of expressing the situation! I recognise that you *can* reduce events in this way, but I don't think it's necessarily helpful to do so.

As for avatar-doll creators, I'm not comfortable viewing this as a form of problem-solving for the reasons I outlined earlier but I recognise that you could reduce them in this way.

It's not that I can't see how you could use problem-solving as a catch all category, it's than my interest is in nuance and diversity of play and this particular goal isn't served by grouping things under single headings. Solving my particular problem isn't helped by viewing all things as problem-solving, if you see what I mean. :)

Again, see the final part of Implicit Game Aesthetics which will run on May 30th for a clear statement of my position, and why I think it's useful to make these kinds of distinction.

All the best!

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