Praise for Chris Bateman

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    "the most thoughtful respondent in games, barring none"
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A lot of thinking about games is grounded in the idea that games are fundamentally interactive. This idea has very deep roots. The fact that that it's embedded in the names of some of our institutions -- "The Interactive Achievement Awards", for example -- show how thoroughly internalized this aesthetic has become.

The thing is, I think our critical assumptions about interactivity often warp our ability to understand place spaces. A lot of times, the interesting part of a play experience involves long contemplative chains. The interactive bit is limited to a minor bit of business to keep the contemplative play ticking along. When I was designing tactical shooters we'd often create levels with safe observation points, locations where the player could pause and observe and think about what lay ahead and what he was going to do. The play that took place at these moments wasn't interactive, but it was definitely engaging.

When a play space is packed with lots of immediate opportunities to act (or interact) there's no room left for contemplative play. The cognitive load is too great. If you're always worrying about tactics, there's no room to think about strategy, or more importantly, meaning.

That's what I think is so interesting about Dear Esther. By stripping out the tactical challenges entirely, it creates a space where there's room for long loops of contemplative play. There's room to think about what you're doing and why you're doing it and what it means and how it relates to your life.

The trade-offs between thin and thick play that you mention are pure fiction. A thick play can still have everything thin play does. In other words, a thin play is a retrogression; it's an inferior game.

For example, a game such as GTA 3 has a thick play but still allows you all of the time in the world to pay attention to the environments.

Oh, and yes, there is a challenge in Dear Esther. However, it's horribly awful one; not simply because it's easy, but because it's a bad sort of difficulty.

Brian: wonderful commentary here. I am particularly in support of your comments about cognitive load - creating the opportunities for the player to reflect on the play space is a doorway to a completely different style of play.

Mirosurabu: It is true that an open world game like a GTA can support both thin and thick play, but the thick play overjustifies the thin play for many players, and it can also interfere with the opportunities for thin experience because the world has been expressly designed for a different kind of experience.

I appreciate that a player such as yourself finds no value in the thin play of Dear Esther - what you will have to accept is that there are other players for whom that thin experience is deeply liberating.

Thanks for the comments!

It is true that some players are ignoring everything that is not explicitly rewarded by the game, but that's THEIR fault. It's not something they cannot change. It's not something they have absolutely no control over.

Simply because they end up choosing thin play over thick play doesn't mean that thick play ISN'T superior to thin play. It absolutely is.

Besides, this isn't the question of what *I* prefer, it's simply a question of what is the relationship between complex and simple games. For example, there are many complex games I don't like, but that doesn't mean complexity is not better than simplicity.

Mirosurabu: You couch your argument in terms of universals, but you possibly can't ground those claims in anything objective! :) For instance, when you say:

"Simply because they end up choosing thin play over thick play doesn't mean that thick play ISN'T superior to thin play. It absolutely is."

What could possibly ground a claim that thick play is absolutely superior to thin play? Making a claim like this is simultaneously saying that players who enjoy a game with thin play are "playing wrongly".

If I prefer Proteus to Modern Warfare (and I do, by a vast degree), and Proteus has play that is incredibly thinner than MW (and it does), your position has to be that I am *wrong* to enjoy that one game more than the other. I find this kind of position rather odd, and very difficult to defend. How can you hope to be an authority on how *I* enjoy playing, especially when your claims don't match how I actually *do* play?

I think you're misunderstanding what the thin experience delivers for those players looking to go into that kind of space - the very play experiences that the thick games tend to obscure or obliterate. Surely this reflects the way you play more than anything universal?

Best wishes!

As I've said, thick play does not necessarily obfuscate the kind of joy you can get from thin play. Yes, sometimes it is the case, but a lot of the time it isn't. GTA 3 is a good example.

The fact that some people can't appreciate GTA 3 due to "overjustification" is missing the point because to those who can properly appreciate both GTA 3 and Proteus it's pretty clear that GTA 3 is much more pleasurable. In short, those who cannot appreciate GTA 3 due to "overjustification" are handicapping themselves from higher pleasure.

The reason why thick play is superior to thin play is simply because it's everything thin play is but more. This is pure math a.k.a. you don't have to conduct rigorous scientific experiments to test this claim.

In essence, you're trying to validate simplicity by giving it fictional exclusivity in terms of quality. The only exclusivity simplicity has is accessibility i.e. it's what beginners prefer. And there is nothing wrong with that. Before one can enjoy complexity one has to enjoy simplicity. In other words, we all love simplicity, it's just that as we get older and more experienced, we ask for more and more complexity to sustain our interest.

That's how real progress is made in any art.

However, that does not mean that we all have to enjoy the same games! After all, there are all sorts of bizarre confounding factors when it comes to individual preferences. But one thing is sure -- we all move towards complexity.

Mirosurabu: thanks for returning to defend your views, although I remain unconvinced. Your claim that "thick play is superior to thin play... because it's everything thin play is but more" suggests to me you haven't really appreciated the experiences that thin play facilitates for the players who want it.

I doubt further discussion will resolve this, but as one final offering I'll suggest that the way your claim reads to me is that adding a chase scene, explosions and a gunfight to and Ingmar Bergman movie would be to improve it because it would be all the movie was before "and more". Aesthetic experience is not additive in this way - you can easily ruin it by adding the wrong things.

All the best!

"you haven't really appreciated the experiences that thin play facilitates for the players who want it."

Easy cover-up. (:

Adding a chase scene to a film would work well only if it's integrated well with the rest of the elements. That's given. That said, it probably won't fit Ingmar's films.

I never said that there is no such thing as good thick play and bad thick play. In fact, this was implied when I said "thick play does not *necessarily* obfuscate the kind of joy you can get from thin play. [..] *sometimes* it is the case".

As Aristotle is often quoted -- the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In other words, beside actual parts of a whole, there is also an assembly of these parts.

If a game is made of excellent elements (and many such elements, for after all, that's the very definition of a thick play, right?) but their assembly is bad, then that would lead to an inferior thick play, obviously.

Your argument is that thin play has something exclusive to it. You have yet to provide a convincing argument! (:

Mirosurabu: It is not so much that I have failed to convince you, it is that neither of us accept the other's position as convincing. :)

My argument here is simply that thick play drowns out the thin play, making it harder, sometimes impossible, to access this more subtle dimension of the fictional worlds of games. The fact that there are people who appreciate Dear Esther's thin play (such as myself) is evidence to support this claim. The fact that you can enjoy thin play even in worlds with thicker play layered on top has no bearing on my argument.

But I have no expectation that our discussion is going to sway you. Whatever you say, I shall continue to seek thinner playing experiences, and be happy that these are finally being made.

Thanks for the chat!

I'm afraid you simply don't want to consider a possibility that people who enjoy thin play are those with a handicap. ;)

Enjoy -- that is to say prefer over thick play.

*grins* If it is a handicap, it is one I have acquired from playing challenge-focused games for thirty years and thus getting sick of them. :p

Thanks for the discussion! I'm sure this topic will reoccur in another context in the not-too-distant future.

Chris, I admire your graceful diplomacy. You accept the other's forceful energy, while staying on your center and maintaining a strong expression of your own energy back to the other person. It is like watching a good martial artist practice Aikido. :)

Also, I share your appreciation for the kinds of play experiences that can be drowned out by more intense elements. Maybe a useful way to explain the difference to those who are unfamiliar could be McLuhan's concepts of "hot" and "cold" media, or in general, of over-stimulated (hyper-sensitive) and under-stimulated personalities.

axcho: thanks for the kind words! I've never been compared to a verbal Aikido practitioner before, and I find the allusion quite flattering! :) From my own perspective, I engage in discussion on the assumption there are multiple valid viewpoints to be squared against each other, never on the assumption that there are right or wrong positions.

Also, many thanks for suggesting McLuhan's "hot" and "cool" media in connection with the 'thin play' concept - I was aware of the terms, but hadn't thought of them in this context, which they are perfect for! Definitely something to reference going forward with this.

Best wishes!

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