November 20, 2004

Keeping it Real

by Andrew Stern · , 9:35 am

He’s kept a low profile for quite some time now, but the Micrys Pages, an ongoing series of critical essays on game design and game studies by a Red Storm developer who goes by Eyejinx, very much deserve your attention. I only just discovered them following a link to his site from one of his recent comments on a blog.

Eyejinx, who also has a background in literary theory, has written an extensive series called the “Pitfalls of the Working Game Designer”, which offer great insight on the true nature of the job, and attempt to debunk the romanticism often associated with it. I found the essay “Pissing in the Sandbox” particularly good, probably the best breakdown I’ve read yet of the sandbox analogy to contemporary game design.

His essays on game studies are more cantankerous. He expresses wariness for a Formal Language of Game Design, concerned that it’s not feasible and will mostly serve to create an elite group of jargon-spouting theorists. His “rough” manifesto, “Game Studies: A Model”, plus a discussion last May on Dennis Jerz’s Literacy Weblog (another somewhat low-profile, excellent site), reminds us to be aware that “the divide between craft and criticism is tremendously important”, and expresses his displeasure when he reads criticism of how game design should be done, by those who do not actually practice game design. He strongly recommends that game studies stick to playing and analyzing games, and avoid claiming expertise and teaching of craft. He’s especially irked by game design criticism that implies that game developers are uninterested in creating more emotionally rich games:

To decry the lack of sophisticated forms of emotional representation in games today is not only arrogant and misinformed, it also undercuts the very notion that games are currently a field that can justify the kind of critical attention people in game studies would like to give it. To claim that developers need to be inspired by critics (or academics in any form) postulates that they are currently lacking in inspiration, have no ability to create that inspiration, and are desperately floundering due to this supposed lack.

I’d like to respond briefly to that comment (found in the Jerz discussion), and the manifesto in general, which contains a not-so-thinly-veiled criticism of forums like GTxA. (Perhaps read his manifesto and comments at Jerz’s blog, before reading this post further.) I don’t mind at all Eyejinx’s opinions, and in fact welcome them; I’ve gladly added the Micrys Pages to our blogroll. I appreciate practitioners who try to keep these discussions grounded, as I try to do. However I want to clarify a few things I think Eyejinx has misunderstood. When decrying the lack of emotion in games, as I and others are wont to do, I’m by no means saying there’s absolutely no emotion in games to date — but do believe the current range is overly narrow, and by and large not mass-appeal. I try to be careful to say it’s not because developers aren’t interested in such directions, it’s just that we haven’t figured out many effective ways to do it yet, in terms of technology, game design and interface. I think one would be hard-pressed to argue against that.

I also take issue with the assertion that some folk, perhaps like us at GTxA, are merely “playing at making games” — games that “appeal only to very small niche communities–things like interactive fiction, or political gaming”. First, I’ll agree that one should have the experience of building successful interactive experiences — experiences that people in the real world actually play and enjoy — to earn the credentials to speak with authority about the craft of designing those experiences (although I’m willing to listen to a good idea from anywhere). And it’s true that many bloggers or critics in this community do not have experience shipping commercial titles. But some do have that experience, such as myself. Yet even without commercial credentials, it’s wrong to think that non-industry practitioners aren’t extremely serious about the experimental games/art they’re building, and in fact some are working outside the industry expressly because it’s the only viable way to do this kind of experimentation. Furthermore, I’d argue that the goals of these “niche” genres are, at heart, mass-appeal. IMO, the categories “interactive fiction” or “interactive story” actually overlap a great deal with a broad range of interactive experiences, including games such as Red Storm’s The Sum of All Fears. And political games, while to date perhaps relatively simple in implementation, are among the most serious games you’ll find out there.

Anyhow, I’ll end this post by returning to my original point — there’s some great essays and useful perspective to be found at the Micrys Pages, that I’m glad to recommend.

24 Responses to “Keeping it Real”


  1. Walter Says:

    Ah, this is some good stuff. Thanks for linking it, Andrew.

    I especially like Eyejinx’s belief that design isn’t merely an idea: it takes into account the resources and technology available. I’d more or less come to the same conclusion when mulling over how to start working on a game. Nevertheless, I’d be careful not to invalidate the uses of thinking about game design relatively free from the particular resources and technology that I specifically have at hand. After all, those things aren’t always predetermined: the resources and technology that you’ll have will sometimes be dependent on the idea you have (the presentation being key, of course…there was some earlier discussion of the subject on Scott’s blog, but I’m having difficult finding it). And while they certainly weren’t suffering from lack of money, an initial design freed from resource considerations seemed to prove useful to Valve. Eventually, of course, they had to come down to something relatively feasible, but I can’t see how it would ever hurt you to spend a good amount of time mapping out unexplored terrain before deciding where to build a house.

    Re: game formalism, I’ve never seen anyone put up a good argument against the pursuit of a formal language, only against its finality. The utility of any word/concept that comes out of a pursuit of a formal language, imo, can only be determined by examination of the word/concept alone, not by an abstract argument against formalism. The only criticism I really take heed of is the potential for the alienating jargonizing of the discourse, some of which I gather is unavoidable, but some of which we should be seeking to avoid.

  2. Eyejinx Says:

    Greetings:
    Thanks for all the kind words, both of you. It’s admirable that you can be so even-handed in response to a body of work that is to some extent dedicated to tweaking the noses of academics who stick them into the game industry.

    Don’t get me wrong; I like game studies. I think it will be an important field of study, some day. But, to get there, it needs to be held rigorously to account. There is too much sloppy work out there; too many generalizations of personal experience or anecdote into global rule; too many idealizations of practical processes; too many misinterpretations of generating principles from published artifacts; too many attempts to totalize through analogy or imported theory.

    In some ways, I have appointed myself as a dedicated critic of game studies precisely to push it forward. Game studies has to this point been able to get away with an awful lot because the people who speak the language of the academy are not familiar with the games, and the people who play the games do not speak the language of the academy. This is shifting, to be sure, and has been for some time. But, as someone with feet in both worlds, so to speak, I am better able to spot the fault lines. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man may be king, but his depth perception still doesn’t compare to that of the two-eyed man.

    If people in game studies find my work offends them, then I am happy, for their complacency has been disturbed. If they learn from what I have to say, so much the better, for learning is an end in itself. If the frameworks shift to better include the realities of the industry, then we may actual start getting somewhere.

    Now, for some specific rebuttals.

    First, the quote that Andrew cites above was written in response to this quote from an Ivory Tower article.

    If academics can help instill inspiration, then the industry will find itself compelled by its undeniable humanity to take risks on unpredictably useful projects. And I’ll bet many of those projects will also become massive commercial successes.

    While not directly connected to the notion of a greater range of emotion in games, or a more artistic experience of emotion in games, or a more central emotional experience as part of games, there is a connection in the underlying logic, and it’s a common fallacy that designers are confronted with on a daily basis.

    It goes something like this: someone plays a game, and during their play experience they have an idea, “if the game did this other thing, then it would be a better game”. From this rather innocuous starting point, the train of thought continues to “since I would enjoy this game more if it did this other thing, and I am a game player, there must be other game players who would enjoy this other thing”. Before long, it becomes “if only game developers would do this, legions of players would enjoy it and it would be a huge commercial success” and of course, “I should tell them about this, because it makes sense and they would want to know how to be more successful.”

    There are a number of problems with this logical chain. The first is the assumption that just because this is what you want, other people would want it too. While that may be true, the question is, how many other people? To make commercial games that are financially successful, you have to appeal to literally hundreds of thousands of game players. An additional 10,000 happy gamers won’t make a bit of difference if you don’t get the initial half a million that you need to reach the break-even point.

    The second is the assumption that it would actually make the game better. Lots of people think they can make games better, but very few people can actually do it. For example, a child playing chess might think that having more queens would make the game better, because queens are powerful and cool, but anyone who actually knows the game knows that the balance is what makes it work and having multiple queens would make the game less interesting, not more. There are hundreds of games made every year; if making them better were easy, you’d think we’d have hundreds of games that were as strong and enduring as chess, but the fact is that we don’t.

    The third logical fault is the belief that the people making the games aren’t aware of this idea. As designers, we have to consider every possible area of improvement to the games–we have a much greater investment in making good games than the players do; it is, after all, our livelihood. Designers are, in general, inundated with suggestions–from fans, from other developers, from critics, from our own brain-storming sessions. Simply because you don’t see games being made that represent the types of things you are looking for, it doesn’t mean that those ideas haven’t been considered.

    The fourth problem is the assumption that this particular idea you think is so great would work with the rest of the game. In theory, it may or may not, but for a designer, you have to consider not just the value of the idea, but also how it will actually be implemented–the cost to build it, to test it, to evaluate it, to generate content around it.

    We had one fan of Ghost Recon post on a forum that we should add swimming and knives to the sequel, because then we could have underwater knife fights, and that would be cool. Clearly, they had no idea that this would violate a number of essential rules of the game that are necessary to keep the game world stable and economically feasible to produce–that characters only fight with guns, that you are always walking rather than swimming, that underwater knife fights practically never happen during actual military engagements, etc. While it may be a cool idea, it would take literally months of work to get it to happen, and ultimately it would be something we could only use once without breaking the fundamental relationship of the game fiction to the fantasy experience it represents. On the other hand, we could use those same months to put in laser targeting for airstrikes, which does fit the game in a number of ways and appeals to a great many people. You can see for yourself which direction we chose to go in.

    So, I see a lot of game studies people making this very common mistake, which we see from fans in general. It’s not an intellectually rigorous argument; it doesn’t help better games to get made; it doesn’t further our understanding of the role and function of games; it’s a simple assertion of ego: “I know what is good, and other people should listen to me”.

    As I said in the quote Andrew cited, it is also undercuts the notion of games as meriting serious study. When you go to the MLA, you don’t see people giving talks on how Toni Morrison should write better books, but it is not at all uncommon for game studies folks to give talks on how to make better games. By constantly harping on the shortcomings of games, in opposition to a highly idealized theory of what games could or should be, the very critics who are promoting the value of the medium are also denigrating it.

    And the fact of the matter is that the games industry–the commercial games industry–is quite healthy, thank you very much. If we weren’t making games that appealed to millions of people and overtaking television as an entertainment medium and racking up billions of dollars in revenue, we wouldn’t be getting the attention that we are.

    It is, in fact, precisely that cultural capital that many of the “serious games” and game studies people are using to leverage their own projects. Let’s face it, if Grand Theft Auto 3 hadn’t been such a huge marketplace success, this site wouldn’t be named Grand Text Auto. Yet, most of the discussion that goes on here is about games that will never find an audience much larger than the number of people who post here.

    I have nothing against niche games, experimental games, serious games, independent game development, or any of the variations of people very seriously committing themselves to building games that they think are interesting. More power to them, I say. But, the idea that these projects are going to produce mass-market, mass appeal games is either willfully ignorant or completely naive. The next great watershed game is not going to come from some faculty member who makes games in his spare time. The closest thing you could point to in the modern era would be Chris Taylor with Rollercoaster Tycoon, and even that had to get a ton of marketing muscle behind it before it started selling in appreciable numbers.

    Interactive fiction–at least interactive text fiction–is a zombie genre, kept alive by a very hardcore, very small audience, who feed it their brains on a regular basis. Extrapolating from this genre to the larger marketplace is a fool’s errand. It’s like filming my brother’s wedding as a critique of Titanic. I may find it terribly interesting, but the vast majority of people couldn’t care less.

    To latch onto that mainstream audience because it gives your medium attention and then go in directions that this audience will never find, much less appreciate, strikes me as an act of bad faith. I’m not saying that making mainstream, commercial games is the only valid path, but to consciously avoid that path and then claim to be an expert on it, to derive cultural value from it, is false advertising. If that’s all that game studies is going to do, they need to start calling it “niche game studies” or “political game studies” or “micro-market game studies”, but I don’t see anyone heading in that direction. “Game studies” is sexy, for lack of a better word, because of the mainstream, commercial games. To raise the banner of game studies, then focus on hobbyist activities is a bait-and-switch maneuver that I find personally distasteful.

    As for Walter’s bit on formalism, I do think that there is an argument to be made against formalism for its own sake. I think Godel made that argument very cogently to Bertrand Russell, and I think it was much to Russell’s detriment that he didn’t fully process what was said. Not to say that Russell’s project didn’t produce some interesting materials along the way, but I think that a formal language of game design is as quixotic a quest as an axiomatic system from which all logical truths can be derived. Certainly, the projects that I have seen that attempt to posit a formal language of game design have as a pre-requisite, rather than a product, a nuanced understanding of the field.

    It is precisely that kind of nuance that I am trying to get at in the formal distinction between “design” and “idea”. While it is valuable to “blue-sky” ideas in the concept phase of a project (thus the name), this is not actually design work–at least not as I have defined it. It is true that it is a poor designer who assumes he knows all of the limits of his technology and team beforehand, but it is also a poor design that does not take these into account before production starts. You will notice, for example, in the Valve story, that the group that formulated the HL2 vision was composed not solely of designers, but rather was an ongoing discussion between various members of the team, who collectively could form an estimate of what the team and technology could and could not achieve.

    You should also notice that most of their trials and tribulations came not from coming up with the idea of what the game should be, but from trying to make something approximating that vision with the means they actually had at hand. As I’ve said before, ideas are easy; design is work.

    Well, I’ve gone on for rather too long, and I apologize if I’ve screwed up the html or bored you all. It has apparently been too long since I’ve written a piece of this sort, and clearly I had a few things to say.

    Eyejinx.

  3. andrew Says:

    Eyejinx writes:

    Game studies has to this point been able to get away with an awful lot because the people who speak the language of the academy are not familiar with the games, and the people who play the games do not speak the language of the academy. This is shifting, to be sure, and has been for some time.

    My impression is that most game studies folk these days play a lot of games, not just a few deeply, but broadly. I’m not embedded at a game studies department to fully verify such activity, or how often cheating is employed (which is arguably good or bad), but I have a healthy degree of trust that most academic game studies folk are informed. If I’m wrong about this, somebody let me know. (As a 60+ hrs/week developer/practitioner, I’d guess I’m more guilty than most of not playing all the games we discuss here on GTxA, for example, but it’s from lack of free time, not laziness.)

    If people in game studies find my work offends them, then I am happy, for their complacency has been disturbed.

    Being a critic’s critic sounds like a fine task to take on. But I’d hardly call game scholars complacent.

    the assumption that just because this is what you want, other people would want it too. While that may be true, the question is, how many other people?

    I’ll answer this from my perspective, someone critiquing the current state of today’s games and advocating progress towards interactive drama. I’m going on the simple observation that the subject matter of much of popular art/entertainment — sitcoms, dramatic films, many novels, plays — are often about human relationships. It seems a very reasonable assumption that interactive entertainment that addresses human relationships in a compelling way will be popular as well. (Never mind that the best selling computer game of all time is one of the few games that incorporates human relationships.) So, critiquing the status quo of action-oriented, often gratuitously violent games for lacking these features seems quite sensible.

    (Likewise, action-oriented movies and tv shows are also very popular, which for me explains why action-oriented games are already so popular. I love them as much as anybody. I believe the reason we have so many action-oriented games and almost no human relationship games is primarily because the latter are more difficult to implement, not because they wouldn’t be as revenue generating.)

    the assumption that it would actually make the game better

    Well, let’s just say it’ll be different, not necessarily better. Personally, I’ll greatly prefer interactive drama to action games, but I’ve tried to stop to saying it’ll be superior to other genres. I will say it might sell even better though.

    Lots of people think they can make games better, but very few people can actually do it.
    and
    the assumption that this particular idea you think is so great would work with the rest of the game

    That’s true. My response is, I and others are strong believers in building-it-to-understand-it / -study-it. When it comes to ideas on how to improve things, the proof is in the pudding. Building an idea is the best way to test and prove the efficacy of it.

    But, even if one isn’t a practitioner, it can be useful to suggest ideas for improving the form, or at least discuss ideas with practitioners, in forums such as this one. Practitioners willing to listen can take what they want from the suggestions.

    But I’ll agree that there’s little more annoying than a lofty, uninformed critic throwing out ridiculous judgments from on high. I don’t see any of them around here though.

    the belief that the people making the games aren’t aware of this idea.

    Well, the critique of games is aimed as much at the executives in the game industry who could certainly greenlight and fund more innovative experiments, as much as aimed at the developers themselves. Also, I think there can be some truth to the cliche that developers make games that they and their installed fan base want to play, which can be overly limited in taste and scope.

    When you go to the MLA, you don’t see people giving talks on how Toni Morrison should write better books, but it is not at all uncommon for game studies folks to give talks on how to make better games.

    Well let’s not forget that games are much newer, less mature of an artform than the written novel, with more room for improvement. Ideas are needed and useful right now.

    But I’ll certainly agree that constructive criticism is what is needed for developers. Some of those who are trying to teach game studies are requiring students to learn programming, animation, etc. as well, to allow for more constructive criticism. Perhaps this is still a ways off.

    And the fact of the matter is that the games industry–the commercial games industry–is quite healthy, thank you very much.

    Good point — it is a successful industry. I’m very impressed by the quality of games these days, for what they set out to accomplish. Critics (including me) probably don’t point that out often enough.

    It is, in fact, precisely that cultural capital that many of the “serious games” and game studies people are using to leverage their own projects.

    I’d put it a little differently: those who are pushing for improvements and new genres use the current success of games as proof of the great potential for interactive entertainment to be a compelling, broadly popular new artform. They see a lot of potential for broadening its expression and appeal.

    Yet, most of the discussion that goes on here is about games that will never find an audience much larger than the number of people who post here.

    Well, that’s just not true. Yes, we have discussions here about art projects and literary experiements that may have a limited audience; also, there are discussions here are about ways to reach large new audiences, particularly those swaths of the population out there who are currently uninterested in today’s games (and there are lots of them!). We and other blogs discuss new ways to express complex ideas in an interactive form, that could appeal to many. We have discussions about broadening existing popular forms of interactive entertainment, including concrete efforts towards constructing them.

    And, I think the various facets of discussion here and in related blogs, whether about hypertext fiction or MMOGs or political games or sticker novels or interactive drama, all inform each other a great deal.

    But, you’re correct to be skeptical. Again, the proof will be in the puddings that the practitioners and theorists and practitioner-theorists are making. Who knows, some may actually appeal to you and others in industry.

    Also, not everyone feels that something has to be popular to be worthy of pursuit. (As for me, I share your preference for work that appeals to more than fewer people.)

    But, the idea that these projects are going to produce mass-market, mass appeal games is either willfully ignorant or completely naive.

    I think it’s not a logistical impossibilty that a low-budget independent project, even one produced in or in collaboration with academia, could become very popular. I think a breakout garage game will happen at some point, even in this day and age of mega-budget blockbuster titles. Think Blair Witch Project. (I’m not claiming that’s going to happen with our project, based on the mixed results of our experiment, but I truly believe such an event is theoretically possible.)

    Interactive fiction–at least interactive text fiction–is a zombie genre, kept alive by a very hardcore, very small audience, who feed it their brains on a regular basis. Extrapolating from this genre to the larger marketplace is a fool’s errand.

    You’re limiting your definition of IF, even text-based IF, to the feature set you see in it today. It has a lot of room to grow. On the flipside, I consider Grand Theft Auto 3 to be a form of interactive fiction, or interactive drama. If that’s not how you are using the term “interactive fiction”, well, let’s expand that term to be more inclusive.

    ideas are easy; design is work

    That’s true, although good ideas aren’t that easy. Again, I’ll suggest that constructive criticism — designs that can implement ideas — will be an important product for game studies to create, and something that’s been reinforced for me in our discussion here. Some of that may come about in collaborative discussions betweeen intelligent, humble non-practitioners and patient practitioners willing to listen.

  4. Michael Says:

    Harumph. So academics aren’t supposed to do any design or technology research, but only to sit safely in their ivory towers, analyzing the products of the game industry (but, always being very careful to not offer any design criticisms). It will be a sad day if game studies becomes, like film and literary studies, almost entirely divorced from craft, producing ever more esoteric texts for the worldwide audience of several hundred (ok, maybe there’s a thousand) game scholars, and of course, teaching generations of college students how to read and think deeply, at least until they graduate, put away childish things, and set about the adult business of working like dogs in the game industry on the next sequel.

    At this stage in the early development of both craft and practice, there’s an opportunity to establish a model of designer/theorist/technologists, people who engage in experimental game research at the intersection of design and technology, who can work across academic/industry boundaries to help develop innovative game designs and technologies (1 2 3). Some of the people who work in this intersection may be faculty members at a university, some may work for a game studio, some might be feisty independents. Why would it, a priori, be impossible for a faculty member to work at this intersection? In computer science there’s been a fruitful model for decades of design and technology transfer between academia and industry. What’s so different about the game industry that such a model wouldn’t work? Why must game studies be relegated to kibitzing on the side (I forgot, we academics aren’t even supposed to kibitz, ok, quietly taking notes on the side)?

    Sure, there’s uneven work in game studies; when there’s a hot new bandwagon in town of course there are people who will hop on it with little prior thought or commitment. But there’s certainly uneven work in game design as well. How many of the titles that ship in a given year will become classics? There’s no reason to loose sleep about this; for both games and game research, the market will take care of the short term evaluation and history will take care of the long term one. So when people say something you feel is uninformed, argue with them; that’s part of the marketplace of ideas. But there’s no reason to generalize specific arguments into an iron curtain separation of theory and practice.

    Specialization is for insects. – Robert Heinlein
    (Sure, he’s a crazy Randian libertarian, but I like the quote)

  5. Michael Says:

    Turns out Andrew and I were writing comments at the same time. Andrew took the reasoned argument route, I took the firebreathing route. But I stand by my firebreathing…

  6. Eyejinx Says:

    Greetings:
    That’s what you consider fire-breathing? Man, you guys ought to go to the gaming forums more often. I assure you, after years of exposure, that didn’t even warm my asbestos undies. ;-)

    I am a little surprised, though, that you’d glibly write off both literary and film studies, since I’d imagine that these are likely to be your best allies in the infighting for academic legitimacy that no doubt lies ahead for game studies. Perhaps I’m too much of an old-school humanist, but I do believe that critical thinking is a skill that reaches far beyond the simple enjoyment of texts; of course, if you think that such things are esoteric and irrelevant, then perhaps you have nothing to “loose” by alienating the very fields whose theories and strategies underpin the language by which you establish this new discourse.

    I agree that there is no a priori reason why scholars cannot be practitioners and vice versa. It is the liminal spaces that are often most creative, and the crossing of boundaries has been for time untold an essential part of the human journey of discovery. However, there is something to be said for standards, for critical rigor. I hope you will forgive me if I do not bow down before your awe-inspiring intellect and impressive collection of papers and seals but rather hold out for an actual argument that bears more than the weight of speculation.

    The supposed mass-market for interactive fiction–for (let me see if I can get this right) a dramatic interactive experience that through narrative and character provides a deeper emotional connection for the player–is a faery, a will-o-the-wisp. You can chase it all you want, but it’s methane, an all-too-common gas. Do you really imagine that in the early development of the cinema they would have been better served by making movies more theatrical? Do you think that plays in the nineteenth century would have been improved by taking on the scope of novels or the endless internal monologues? Did the novel fail because it did not deliver the elegant balance and counterpoise of metrical verse?

    I’m hoping that you’ve had at least enough education to realize that the rhetorical answer is “no”. So, why do you stand here and proclaim that interactive fiction is somehow the key to unlocking the potential of games? It’s like claiming the reason the Amish don’t buy DVD’s is because there aren’t enough Amish stories made into movies. If you build it, I suppose they may come, but really, do you expect to find copies of Witness hidden in the haystacks?

    Clearly, you all aren’t getting this, so let me say it slowly and simply:
    People like the games they’re playing.

    You’re saying that we need more emotion, deeper emotion, stronger emotion, but don’t you see that people are getting emotional experiences out of these games? Don’t you think there’s something more than just a Pavlovian reward mechanism going on? Do you suppose there might be something beyond a biochemical reaction to stimulus?

    You don’t think games stir emotion, wade into the forums of any MMORPG on patch day. Or hell, bring up HL2 and Sept. 30th in a room full of gamers. Give a buddy the PS2 demo disc that erases memory cards. Oh, wait, but those aren’t the right emotions. Those aren’t sophisticated, they aren’t deep. You don’t have to have a post-graduate degree to appreciate them. As a designer I work with once said, “they’re not having the right kind of fun.”

    Well, we’ve seen what interactive fiction can do. It’s limited by the technology; no AI has passed the Turing test, and yet you want to create interactive narrative agents. Fine, let’s say you do manage to create compelling characters out of machine logic: so what? I can get compelling characters to talk to me just by calling my relatives. If they’re not awake, I can get interesting characters to have profound conversations just by grabbing my remote. If the power’s out, I can light a candle and read a book about tremendously witty people who exchange astonishingly clever remarks.

    Or, on the other hand, I can fire up a game and experience ruling a civilization, or righting concrete and redressable wrongs, or conquering the system against impossible odds, or learning how to operate in another dimension. If you think these aren’t emotional experiences, your definition of emotion is impoverished.

    People don’t play games because they can’t resist bright lights and shiny materials.

    People don’t play games because they are stupid and don’t know better.

    People play games because they give them experiences they don’t get elsewhere (including books and movies and plays).

    In a world of overwhelming complexity, danger, and uncertainty, games provide experiences, control, and mastery that are not otherwise available.

    People like the games they’re playing.

    They’re not pining for interactive fiction. The Sims is not only successful because it portrays people; it’s also got one of the best interface designs that’s ever been done; its manipulation of time is impeccable; the abstractions that it makes focus the player rather than distracting him (or her, yes, I know, we’re all PC around here); it also has no hard failure conditions; it is also an intuitive game system; it is also user-extensible; it is also aesthetically pleasing; it is also flexibly directed.

    Instead of pointing at the Sims and proclaiming that we need more games with human characters, more dollhouses, more closet dramas, you should be breaking these things down and looking at how many of the same things are true of Grand Theft Auto, Tetris, Half-Life, Myst, and the other half a dozen major breakthrough mass-market games that have come out in the last 20 years.

    Now, once you’ve done that, and once you’ve been able to produce a product that is not only well-designed but also well-executed and capable of producing the pleasure of discovery, learning, and–yes–emotion that first made you think that games were a medium capable of great things, then you can talk all you want about how the industry ought to do things.

    Until then, stop trying to pass off your particular hobby horse as the salvation of an industry that doesn’t need saving.

    I’m sorry if I’m a little grumpy, but I spent almost twelve hours today trying to get the gameplay to work right in a game that hundreds of thousands of people are going to play because it gives them thrills, chills, highs, lows, a sense of accomplishment and closure, a feeling of mastery, of triumph over adversity, and a re-affirmation of the fundamental goodness of people in spite of the selfishness and ego of the few.

    And words had nothing to do with it.

    Eyejinx.

  7. Michael Says:

    1. There’s a huge potential market of people who don’t play games. The number of non-gamers vastly exceeds the number of gamers. I’m interested in thinking about what the non-gamers want.

    2. I play a lot of games. I enjoy playing games. I don’t think contemporary games are broken or that they need to be saved. I do think there are new genres to discover, new experiences to invent that look different from contemporary games.

    3. AI characters don’t have to pass the Turing Test to be compelling, they “only” have to be believable. Whether compelling believable agents can be created is an empirical question. Andrew, I and many others are working hard to build them.

    4. Regarding interactive drama as a genre, I agree that the proof is in the pudding. That’s why Andrew and I have spent the last four years creating Facade. We’re working hard to make believable agents and interactive story structure real, not just talk about it. When it’s out (or perhaps you already saw it at GDC last year), we’ll be able to have a more concrete argument.

    5. You seem to have a general beef about people who critique things without building things. I do build things. We can talk about these things, and theoretical arguments around these things. If, however, you’re only willing to have that discussion with someone who’s shipped a commercial game, I haven’t, so there’s no more need for us to talk (you can continue the conversation with Andrew, who passes that test).

  8. Walter Says:

    Oh #^*&!. I just lost a huge point-by-point rebuttal that took me an hour and a half to write. Pending a rewrite, let me boil it down to this:

    Eyejinx, you’ve not only got a huge load of misconceptions about game studies, but huge loads of misconceptions about what other developers and what many, I would even say most, gamers think or want, which seriously undermines your pitting developers against academics, and almost every statement you’ve made about how one legitimately decides what to put in a game. I am dumbfounded by your arguments against interactive fiction, and by the erroneous logic that inhabits most of your arguments (I will try to point each of these out when I am less frustrated over having lost my post). You might also want to think about all the people that are not included in your “people”.

    (Sorry for the invective.)

  9. Walter Says:

    Eek. I already regret the putdown tone of my comment.

    Let me try a different tack: If you can, I highly suggest having a chat with Will Wright, asking him why he seems to find current game studies and its involvement in game design a (I assume, largely) legitimate enterprise. He certainly fits your qualifications, moreso than almost any other game developer in the world.

  10. andrew Says:

    Walter, sorry that you lost your extended comments; that happened once to me, and now I edit my comments in a separate text buffer and then paste them in.

    Eyejinx, I’m guessing the stance we’ve taken on these topics has offended you, I’m not sure how else to explain the rude tone of parts of your latest response. I’ll limit my response to your less invective points. I’m interested in keeping this discussion alive, because I’m learning from it, and I’m guessing it’s a decent example of the feelings of more than a few developers out there towards game studies and critique in general.

    If there are other game developers out there who can relate to Eyejinx’s take on all this, or disagree with him, please speak up! It’d be helpful to hear some more voices.

    a dramatic interactive experience that through narrative and character provides a deeper emotional connection for the player–is a faery, a will-o-the-wisp

    Can you offer any good reason why such a thing would not be possible to build? Is it because of technical issues, or something about the idea itself? Granted, there are major technical issues, but we can chip away at them over time, with work.

    Do you really imagine that in the early development of the cinema they would have been better served by making movies more theatrical?

    Dramatic isn’t the same as theatrical. We’re not talking about interactivizing old forms, like stage theater. Work with us here, Eyejinx — imagine a form of interactive entertainment that is character-based, about human relationships, that uses language, that is paced dramatically. The Holodeck is one vision of this; can’t you imagine that existing (on screen, without holograms)?

    People like the games they’re playing.

    Look, we’re not saying games suck. We’re saying we want new kinds of games, because many people aren’t satisfied with the genres that exist. The majority of people don’t play video/computer games, did you know that? Yet the majority of people enjoy dramatic TV shows, movies, books…

    You’re saying that we need more emotion, deeper emotion, stronger emotion, but don’t you see that people are getting emotional experiences out of these games?

    Again, the range of emotions experienced and ideas expressed in today’s games are overly limited. I (and I think many others) want an interactive experience about the kind of conflicts we face in our daily lives, about how people communicate with each other, about lying, about longing, about intimacy, about regret. Can’t get that yet at my local Egghead software store.

    If that’s not what you’re interested in, that’s totally fine.

    Oh, wait, but those aren’t the right emotions. Those aren’t sophisticated , they aren’t deep .

    They’re not “wrong”, they’re just not what I want to be limited to!

    I can get compelling characters to talk to me just by calling my relatives.

    Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. The argument here is, games offer players emotional experiences that people can’t get in real life, such as ruling a civilization or fighting in a war or playing in the NBA. True.

    Real people and real life can be very compelling, of course. So why create interactive experiences based on them?

    Because, duh, art and drama are different than life; they’re life with the boring bits taken out. How long would you have to talk on the phone with your relatives before something truly compelling happened? Probably a long time. People tend to want their real lives to be calm, not dramatic. Yet, people are really interested in understanding what happens when things do get dramatic — perhaps to prepare ourselves for those crisis moments in our lives.

    If they’re not awake, I can get interesting characters to have profound conversations just by grabbing my remote. If the power’s out, I can light a candle and read a book about tremendously witty people who exchange astonishingly clever remarks.

    And I can go to the movies to watch Oliver Stone’s Alexander if I want to experience ruling a civilization, and watch Saving Private Ryan to experience the feeling of war.

    Eyejinx, we both know that interactivity adds a whole other dimension to any experience. It would be no different with an interactive experience about, say, two people falling in love. It’s different when you’re the one doing it, versus watching or reading about it.

    They’re not pining for interactive fiction.

    People weren’t pining for PacMan before it came out…

    The Sims is not only successful because it portrays people;

    True; portraying people is a necessary but not sufficient reason the Sims was such a success. But it was a necessary reason.

    you should be breaking these things down and looking at how many of the same things are true of Grand Theft Auto etc.

    We do, we look at what’s working in those experiences, and try to abstract out some of the core design principles there. For example, any regular reader of this blog knows I and others are constantly screaming for more agency in interactive experiences.

    and once you’ve been able to produce a product that is not only well- designed but also well-executed and capable of producing the pleasure of discovery, learning, and–yes–emotion that first made you think that games were a medium capable of great things, then you can talk all you want about how the industry ought to do things.

    The contributers to these discussions, commenters included, come from a variety of backgrounds, with varying numbers of years of experience playing and studying games, of building projects of varying popularity under their belts, from both academia and industry. No one is claiming to be a know-it-all. We try to stay informed, to put ideas and strong opinions out there, we discuss them, and try not to be too righteous about it. It must have gone too far somewhere for your taste. Welcome to the blogosphere.

  11. Walter Says:

    Walter, sorry that you lost your extended comments; that happened once to me, and now I edit my comments in a separate text buffer and then paste them in.

    That’s a good idea, something I keep forgetting to do. I blame it on the irresistable affordance of these text fields. :)

    At any rate, you made most of the points I lost, and in an admirably calm and reasonable way (Habermas would be proud), saving me the effort of rewriting them.

    I’ll limit myself to making this point about Eyejinx’s prereqs to game design discourse: I notice that a number of developers feel the same way. This was one of the responses that I got to my last Ludonauts article, which was about what I felt was a mistaken logic underlying much game design (incidentally, I’m not quite a game studies academic, and don’t yet apply full academic rigor to my articles, so take that as you will). I readily admit that I don’t have much experience with real life, commercial game development, but there are certain assumptions that the design of many games seem to rely upon, and to my credit, I’ve had a number of developers with commercial experience agree with me on some level or another (the amount of disagreement I’ve seen has actually been quite low, even on the Slashdot thread).

    Now while I admit that outsiders like me are rather limited in our discussions of game design practice, I don’t think the same is true when talking about the form and content of games. There’s nothing about being a commercial developer that’s made hundred thousand selling games that privileges his position in that discourse to the point of closing it off to anyone who hasn’t done likewise. When you talk about why you’d want to put in laser targeting rather than underwater knight fights, is it the fact of being a developer that gives you this insight, or is it the fact that you’re a smart, discerning, and critical gamer? I think it’s pretty clearly the latter: that’s a talent you bring with you to the developer’s role, not something you acquire by means of making a successful game. A successful game lends credence to your claims about game design: they are not the basis of a possibility for making such claims at all. That one is capable of making such claims is true for myriads of developers working on their first game, something that may or may not become a commercial success.

    Furthermore, in response to this comment:

    The third logical fault is the belief that the people making the games aren’t aware of this idea. As designers, we have to consider every possible area of improvement to the games–we have a much greater investment in making good games than the players do; it is, after all, our livelihood. Designers are, in general, inundated with suggestions–from fans, from other developers, from critics, from our own brain-storming sessions. Simply because you don’t see games being made that represent the types of things you are looking for, it doesn’t mean that those ideas haven’t been considered.

    This begs the question of what basis academics should have for silencing themselves, especially if you allow fans, other developers, and critics to participate in the discourse. Why exclude academics, especially when most of them are gamers themselves, and a number of them (quite naturally) critics? The exclusion seems pretty arbitrary.

  12. Eyejinx Says:

    Greetings:
    If I’ve offended you with my comments, well, then I suppose I’ve done my job. Kudos to me.

    I’m trying to make this simple, but you guys insist on missing the trees for the forest.

    Sure, there’s a huge population out there that doesn’t play games, and if, theoretically, you could get them to play games, there would be a huge market there. The problem with the way you’re approaching this is that you’re positing the solution is content, when the problem is cultural.

    Take the whole population. Now, cross off everyone who can’t afford the hardware necessary to play your interactive fiction game. There goes about two-thirds of the world–we’ll just assume for now that if they can afford the hardware, they can afford the software. Next, cross off everyone who doesn’t speak the language it’s in–if you’re using text as an interface mechanic, be sure to cross off the illiterate as well. Now, cross off everyone who has no interest in games–after all, if you can’t get them to try it, you’re not going to be able to convert them by having them play it. If you’re basing your game on the PC, cross off everyone who has out of date hardware that won’t run your software, everyone who doesn’t understand how to install new software, and everyone whose machine is so under-maintained that even the best software won’t run on it. I’m assuming we’re talking about PC as a platform, since you’re already limiting yourself much more severely if you try to launch it on console.

    Okay, so what we have left is an elite group of people who speak the language, have some interest in games, have the hardware to run the program, and have enough technical savvy to get it to work. Right, that’s a pretty big audience, probably 2-3 times the size of the current game-buying public.

    Now, let’s say you do make a game that’s a phenomenal experience. How is that going to reach this market? Well, you’re going to have to publish it, to distribute it–but that’s really not important, right, because that’s just a logistical issue; we know how to get products on shelves. So, how are they going to find out that they should be buying this game? Well, you’re going to market it to them, right? You do have the budget to do that, don’t you?

    Well, let’s say you don’t, and after all, the academic life doesn’t pay that well, so unless you’ve inherited some wealth or brought it into the academy from a previous career, you’re going to have to bootstrap your budget by selling it to a smaller audience first, then using that money to market it more broadly. So, all you have to do is build a groundswell by getting gamers playing it, and they’ll become your evangelists and seed capital, right? They’ll spread the word, and word of mouth is more powerful than advertising campaigns.

    By the way, if you agreed that getting product on shelves is a trivial problem, stop right here and go back to Gaming Industry 101.

    So, what you’re proposing, then, is that gamers will try this phenomenal game you’ve made, and they’ll get their friends to play it, and it will be so good that they’ll get their non-gamer friends hooked on it, and the audience will grow like that crazy “and she told two friends” commercial, and before you know it, you’ve revolutionized the game industry.

    Oh, but wait a minute, aren’t those gamers already playing phenomenal games? Aren’t they already evangelizing them to their friends? Aren’t, in fact, entire networks (MTV, Spike TV, etc.) evangelizing games in hopes of capturing some of that market? It’s not like the non-gamers out there don’t know about gaming. It’s not like they don’t have access to it (except for a very, very small subset of that population who’s similarly not going to know about or have access to your game).

    So, where is this “huge potential market” of which you speak? Yes, there’s a huge population of people who don’t play games. That’s not the same thing as a huge population of people who don’t play games but are ready to buy one as soon as the right one comes along.

    If you read the trends, in 20 years, gaming is going to be at least as popular as TV, movies, and books, if not dominant among them. That’s not because a new genre is going to come along and bring all of the outsiders into the fold; it’s because each successive generation is adopting gaming in greater numbers, and the old folks are dying off. Don’t you think that if they could be converted, the games that have converted literally hundreds of millions of people might already have that angle covered?

    Look, I’m all for innovation and new genres and all, really I am. Trust me, I’ve got a file full of those games. But Pac-Man was more of a technological breakthrough than it was a content breakthrough. The holodeck is (pardon the pun) several quantum leaps past anything we can do today, and you’re not talking about a radical new technology, you’re talking about a radical new use of existing technology. I’m sorry, but you’re looking in the wrong place.

    I (and I think many others) want an interactive experience about the kind of conflicts we face in our daily lives, about how people communicate with each other, about lying, about longing, about intimacy, about regret.

    If you think about it, aren’t interactive experiences precisely about the kind of conflicts we face in our daily lives? We don’t have enough time or money to do all the things we want to do–isn’t that a resource management dynamic? We don’t always get along with the people around us, and sometimes we’d like to beat their heads in–looks like a combat dynamic to me. Communication, lying? Sounds like diplomacy. Intimacy? You have heard of MMORPG weddings, haven’t you? Regret–you can’t tell me that RPG’ers don’t experience regret (oh, I should have taken that other skill, damn it I failed the quest).

    In fact, by abstracting these dynamics out of the messy confusion of our daily lives and allowing us to master them in clear and concrete ways over finite time-spans, I think you could argue that one of the fundamental appeals of games is that they allow us to explore precisely the kinds of conflicts we experience in our daily lives in such a way that it provides us with relief from the stress of these conflicts. Games are, to paraphrase the Bard, such things as dreams are made on.

    If you haven’t read Chris Crawford’s The Art of Computer Game Design, stop reading this right now and go do it.

    Look, there’s nothing about being a working commercial game designer that’s necessary for doing good critical work on the topic of games. It does help to clue you in to what the realities are about production, about the technology, and about the marketplace. It does help you to look at games and see why they work the way they do instead of seeing the absence of some other mechanic. It does help you to understand the costs involved in doing what looks relatively simple to the end-user–which, after all, is the magic of stagecraft.

    You all are convinced that interactive fiction is going to be this fabulous thing, we just haven’t seen it yet. Or, we’ve seen hints of it, and we’ve enjoyed those, so more would be better. This is skewing everything else around the question. You’re committed to finding a way to justify it, because you’re already convinced of the conclusion.

    Let me tell you what I see:
    1) Natural language processing is a huge technological hurdle that may not be overcome in our lifetimes.

    2) Dynamic storytelling is a skill that most people don’t have and is several orders of magnitude more complex than natural language processing.

    3) Playing with people is always more dynamic than playing with the computer.

    The only thing resembling interactive fiction that hasn’t failed miserably is the RPG genre. Adventure games are a smaller niche market than hardcore war simulations. Full-motion-video gaming was a sinkhole. Interactive movies went the way of the do-do. For better and for worse, gaming is a competitive market, and I just don’t see any way that this interactive fiction thing is going to make an impact.

    Who knows, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Facade will be the holy grail. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter because this crusade that you’re on makes you happy, and so, more power to you.

    Just, please, the next time you’re inclined to write about the shortcomings of the current state of the industry, stop, for one moment, and consider that it may not be the materials you’re working with but the questions you are asking of them that are lacking. There’s tremendous amounts of solid critical work just waiting to be done, and it doesn’t require experience building commercial games to see it.

    To quote someone I have tremendous respect for:

    How does Althusser’s theory of ideology function when the player is being interpellated not as a subject in the world but as a character in a game? What does Butler’s theory of performative identity reveal to us about the relationship between virtual selves and their real-world counterparts? What happens to Derrida’s division between speech and text when we’re talking about persistent state worlds, where speech acts happen as text? What can Foucault’s analysis of discourse tells us about the reception of Grand Theft Auto 3? How is the engagement of fantasy in an interactive mechanism different from engagement with a static text?

    I’m not saying that academics should shut up. I’m saying they should grow up and stop behaving like fans and do the real work, the hard work of criticism. Now, that is something that games and game studies would be the better for.

    All apologies,
    Eyejinx.

  13. josh g. Says:

    Sneaking sideways into this heated discussion, I’m confused as to why the issue here is “emotion” at all. Storytelling has been done in games, with a full range of narrative situations and emotions (albeit usually in fantasy or science-fiction settings), most obviously in RPGs.

    I (and I think many others) want an interactive experience about the kind of conflicts we face in our daily lives, about how people communicate with each other, about lying, about longing, about intimacy, about regret.

    Explain to me how current RPGs don’t already offer these emotions in the game experience, because I don’t see it. RPGs aren’t fully dynamic narrative, and give the user very limited agency within the narrative, but that’s not the point you seem to be stating.

    If you want to argue that giving the user a more complete agency within a dynamic narrative will make for a more powerful, personal experience, fine. But then you’re talking about a deeper emotional impact, not a wider range of emotions, at least as far as I would understand the words.

    It seems ironic to me that “interactive fiction” in a non-textual sense brings to mind adventure games to most people, when in fact your average PC RPG gives the user more narrative agency than any of the point and click adventure games I remember playing.

  14. J. Love Says:

    On the subject of interactive fiction: I can only speak for myself. I’m a college student, and my friends identify me as a gamer. I’m watching the progress of things like Facade with great interest, because I’d like them to stop identifying me that way.

    To put it another way, I asked my sister to try Katamari Damacy last week, and she refused. Her reason: “I don’t play videogames.”

    That’s a curious reason. Her refusal was based not on the subject matter of this game, not on questions of narrative or mechanics or design or celebrity developers or sales figures–her refusal was simply because she doesn’t like videogames.

    When’s the last time you heard of someone who just doesn’t like movies? Or television? Or magazines? These media have been around long enough to gain acceptance. You don’t hear about moviegoers and nonmoviegoers. When games have been around long enough, sure, you’ll stop hearing about gamers and nongamers.

    Yeah, maybe my sister’ll play this game 20 years from now. But I’m not going to care as much in 20 years; I want her to play it today. I can’t disagree with people who want to accelerate this process.

  15. Espen Says:

    I think it is wonderful and extremely valuable that Eyejinx makes the effort to offend game researchers, especially when it is done in such an entertaining AND well-argued manner, but either way would be great. (Of course, since his (her?) criticism of “interactive fiction” parallels my own, I remain pleasantly unoffended on that account, but I, too, hold strong beliefs about game design that probably qualify as “fan” feedback from time to time) Ironically, perhaps(?), in Eyejinx’ collective logic the fan is ultimately right, since they patronise and cultivate the games they want, be it The Sims or Serious Sam.

    Eyejinx calls for game studies to go beyond fan criticism, and that is a valuable comment that should rally us, after the initial slight has drifted away. There is a huge difference between a harsh but perceptive critique of current practice and a wholesale dismissal of same. As far as I can tell, Eyejinx is not against game studies at all, he just seems to want a better version. Don’t we all?

    Also, I read his call to to be that we should look harder at the games that give people pleasure, and not base our arguments on ephemeral visions that have yet to prove any worth.

    And judging from the history of criticism Eyejinx is right — criticism and theory need to be rooted in the real; and more specifically, critics and theorists (whether Aristotle or Genette) need the brilliant example to be successful themselves. If we can’t see or understand the brilliance of today’s best games, we probably have little (and nothing of value) to say to those who make them. (Unless we turn practitioner and make brilliant games ourselves to prove that it can be done – e.g. Godard, Pet Shop Boys.)

    For some weird reason, literary studies sooner or later always gets dragged into these discussions as an example of dysfunctionality. Stop it, please, this is pure misinformation! The relationship between fiction authors and literary studies is something we should strive for; it is an enormously successful example of a mutually beneficial, if not always rosy, relationship between a branch of academia and the corresponding industry. Theatre studies likewise; but film studies, at least from the outside, *seems* to be the exception. So let us not lump them; instead let us learn from success and failure both.

    Literary criticism arose when literature (Greek drama and poetry) was already well established. Aristotle was extremely influential even though he never praticed his theories; something similar might happen in our field. Unlikely within the next couple of dev cycles, perhaps, but hardly unthinkable. We’re not jinxed yet.

  16. josh g. Says:

    When’s the last time you heard of someone who just doesn’t like movies? Or television? Or magazines?

    When’s the last time you heard of someone not liking books? Probably quite often. I don’t particularly like television, in fact I don’t own one right now simply because it’s too low-priority on my budget.

    Ok, too anecdotal. But it seems easy enough to show that the media forms you’ve listed involve a much smaller commitment than games.

    Television is an easy comparison. To watch TV, I can use the TV set I bought 15 years ago. To play games, I need a TV plus a game console that I bought in the last 2-3 years, or a more expensive computer. If I want to play all the games I hear people raving about, I’ll have to buy multiple consoles.

    Then I need to spend $50 on each game I want to play, making sure that I’m buying a game for the right console. Or I could buy a few movies for that price. A DVD has a much better chance of not being obsolete in ten years. (There are 10+ year old computer games that I can’t even run on my new PC without significant hassle.)

    TV offers closure within the hour. Games don’t. A decent game should offer about 40-60 hours of gameplay, which means if you want any sense of closure, you need to invest more time than it takes to read the average novel. (And how many people make the time to read books?)

    Most games have a steeper learning curve than other forms of media. Playing your first video game is more comparable to learning to ski than watching TV – you’re likely to fail a lot on your first try, and if anyone’s watching you it’s a bit embarassing. It’s not passive, it’s a skill, and skills take time and effort.

    All of this is not just to nitpick (although I love to nitpick), but to point out that maybe there are reasons why gaming isn’t as commonplace as television, and maybe those reasons aren’t content-related.

  17. J. Love Says:

    Josh:

    Oh, I don’t disagree, certainly. It’s obvious that most of gaming’s barriers are implicit in the medium. I’m simply puzzled by the cases where, when most of those barriers have at least been mitigated–when, to use my earlier example, I’ve provided the game console and the game itself–people still refuse to play.

    It’d be easy to throw up my hands and say it’s all a matter of taste, but I’m interested in seeing gaming appeal to more people–I’m willing to put in the time to learn to ski, because it looks like fun. I just want gaming to look like fun for more people outside my demographic, and it seems that while the interactive fiction crowd isn’t necessarily on the right track, at least they’re making overt strides in the direction I’m interest in.

  18. Eyejinx Says:

    Greetings:
    Sorry it’s taken me a while to get back to this, but I’ve been busy. Since Espen more or less outed me as the troll that I am (and he should know, since I’ve trolled him a few times), let me drop the mask for a moment–with the caveat that behind one mask is always another.

    The real point of my rantings here has been to draw a few object lessons. That I wasn’t successful is perhaps only a marker of my only lack of skill as a storyteller. As they say, if you have to explain the joke, it wasn’t funny to begin with.

    Lesson #1: Outsiders lambasting your work, especially when you’re passionate about it, and especially when they’re not as well informed about it as you are, is uncomfortable.

    I have nothing against interactive fiction. Really. I think it’s great that people are pursuing this path, and history is rife with examples of dedicated avant-gardes pushing forward the art of a medium. I have some skepticism towards specific approaches that are being taken, but the level of rhetoric was intentionally over the top.

    When you work hard at what you do, and you care about the results, it can really piss you off when people appoint themselves as experts and make sweeping statements about how you’re doing things wrong. I think that some of the responses I got here demonstrate that people understand that, at least when it’s directed at them.

    Lesson #2: There are developers who can make significant contributions to the game studies conversations.

    Some of us actually do speak the language, know the theory, and have additional perspectives to add besides. My own research on game studies started from a news item in an alumni mag that there had been a conference on the topic at my alma mater. I got in contact with the organizers to see if they had included any developers in the conversation and to offer my own expertise for future endeavors. That led me to discover this whole “blogosphere” of game studies conversations.

    Unfortunately, what I found was a lot of people talking about game development but not talking with game developers. That’s a shame, because there are a lot of articulate, insightful developers out there willing to be a part of the conversation. Scott Miller and Jamie Fristrom both blog and are articulate and experienced developers. People like Chris Beatrice and Phil Steinmeyer have done a lot of interesting work on creating “humanistic” games and could offer a lot of insight, if they were asked. If you’re looking at interactive games and storytelling but you’re not knocking on the door of people like Drew Karpyshyn, you really should be.

    There are great resources out there, but you have to look for them. People like Will Wright, Sid Meier, and Warren Spector get lots of press, so they’re easy to identify; with a little research, though, you should be able to turn up a lot more people with useful insights. They’re not necessarily going to come to you. You may need to do some leg-work; you may need to do some translation; but if you put in the work, you’ll probably be surprised by what you get in return.

    Lesson #3: If you invite a troll to your campfire, expect things to get heated.

    ‘Nuff said.

    I think that places like Grand Text Auto provide a wonderful service. I think it’s great that so much of this research is being published in open forums rather than academic journals. For those of us who don’t have the luxury of traveling to all these conferences or spending the time in the library tracking down relevant information, these blogs are a tremendous resource. There is a reason why I started coming here, and why I linked to it on my site. To everyone who takes the time to publish their talks on the web, to write up and post their notes on talks, and to link to interesting articles and discussions: thank you!

    Eyejinx is an inveterate troll, but I wouldn’t put so much time and effort into making him appear if it didn’t serve a higher purpose. Game studies is going to be a very important part of the academy, just as games are going to be a very important part of the culture. It’s in everyone’s best interests that we push the sophistication of what we do as much as we can, and sometimes that means taking on roles that aren’t the easiest or most natural for us.

    I hope that some of that spirit shows through in the end.

    Best,
    Michael.

  19. andrew Says:

    Michael/Eyejinx, I’ll go ahead and further out you and plug your upcoming GDC lecture, Pitfalls of the Working Lead Designer, presumably based on the essays at your Micrys Pages site.

    Thanks for the suggestions of more developers that we should be aware of and try to talk to.

    Also, I recently came across an older article on Matthew Sakey’s IGDA column Culture Clash, called First Comes Love, then Comes Marriage: Developers must embrace their academia, which I think serves as a nice digéstif for this discussion.

  20. ErikC Says:

    “Before becoming a game designer, I spent a number of years learning and teaching 20th century literature and literary theory.”
    my my my, does Eyejinx troll himself? maybe Kierkegaard has been reincarnated.

  21. ErikC Says:

    Walter said
    >I especially like Eyejinx’s belief that design isn’t merely an idea: it takes into account the resources and technology available.

    I totally agree, but tragically, due to the nature of new media and cinematic expectations of the mainstream audience, being able to judge game design in light of the platform and engine and genre limitations is only fully possible if one is an insider.

  22. nzagalo Says:

    Matthew Sakey’s, is being very bad to all those amazing filmmakers that build cinema history, not really related in any way to academy – from Méliès to Orson Welles, from Chaplin to Hitchcock. Film academics didn’t spurred any film directors in creating emotional impact in the entire first half of the XX century.

    The landmark of the beginning of film narrative dates from 1915. “Birth of a Nation” by D.W.Griffith. The first and only, academic study really important, in many years before and after is “The Photoplay; A Psychological Study” by Munsterberg from 1916. An his work, that is being only discovered now, had no real impact in filmmakers neither in academic studies. The academic studies only really started in the 60′s, so we got most than half life of cinema build without really getting attention from academy.

    The real and fruitful contribution by the academics to Film media is the reconnaissance of Cinema as an Art, taking cinema away from the misreading of varieties and entertainment fair spectacles.

    Most of what film narrative is today is not because of the great academic work, principally Hollywood cinema. Classical Hollywood methodologies came from the trial and error experiences done by Hollywood producers, which would be fired if their films wouldn’t be successful. And so the “natural selection” would make the hard work of choosing the good and the bad techniques to use in the next films. This developed one of the most, if not the best, efficient emotional machine that we know today.

    But this is all about money, and as Hollywood, commercial videogames are not different for sure. The fusion we’re already seeing between Hollywood and videogames are in no way naïf. Videogame producers will not change their methodologies, only because we academics say so. They will change it because the market will ask for them. We can help the market in being more demanding, showing the problems that these artefacts have. But also showing what could be done, hypothesising, observing, experiencing and proving our thesis.

    In order to help that we need to criticize the real works done, for sure we can’t only hypothesising what as to come. But if we don’t hypothesize what as to come, what are we really doing? We don’t need state-of-the-arts reports every six months done by thousands of academics.

    Eyejinx. Says: “To quote someone I have tremendous respect for:” … Althusser, Derrida, Foucault…..”

    Please, don’t come with the cultural analysis and critical theory as we have seen in the seventies and eighties in Cinema studies with Linguistics, Psychoanalysis, Politics, Philosophy on top of that analysis. They can be interesting and for sure have their own space in the humanities departments. But academia is bigger than one department. Investigation and science must observe Cartesian scientific methodologies and for that we invest in making better tools for a better future.

    Criticism can be very attractive, with all these buzzwords, with all these theoretical “Popes”, transformed already in pop stars, but in the end you’ll find yourself turning around the same cycle with no end. That’s what happen to film studies, and that’s why most of the film writings in that vein have zero impact in filmmaking and serve only to feed academics egos.

    Following Descartes science legacy, we for sure will have to be formalists. We need to analyse the forms and transform them if we can. We can use communication theories, psychology theories, physiology methodologies, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, audiology, mathematics, computer science, art, design, etc.

    Videogames ideology is important, but is it really important for the core of videogame study, or is it belonging to the philosophy business?!!!

    Eyejinx. Says: “Well, you’re going to market it to them, right? You do have the budget to do that, don’t you?” …. “So, what you’re proposing, then, is that gamers will try this phenomenal game you’ve made, and they’ll get their friends to play it, and it will be so good that they’ll get their non-gamer friends hooked on it, and the audience will grow like that crazy “and she told two friends” commercial, and before you know it, you’ve revolutionized the game industry.”

    Academia, must develop proofs for their concepts, we don’t need to develop market products. You use everyday lots of mathematical rendering algorithms, that didn’t reach the marketing in any game to show their properties, they were only publicized in scientific papers at first. These proofs can be in various forms, like psychological tests done to an amount of people.

    Eyejinx. Says: “You have heard of MMORPG”

    Talking about emotional experiences in an MMORPG as nothing to do with talking about normal computer games that establish a relation between man and machine. In an MMORPG you don’t play a videogame in the classical sense, you’re playing with someone, videogame there is only a communication medium between two or more persons, two or mores stories, two or more worlds that completely re-elaborate any MMORPG any time they enter them.

    Eyejinx. Says: “It does help you to look at games and see why they work the way they do instead of seeing the absence of some other mechanic”

    Science can worry about what has been done in a preliminary and state-of-the-art reporting, the rest of the time must be dedicated to what you can’t still do yet.

    Eyejinx. Says: “It does help to clue you in to what the realities are about production, about the technology, and about the marketplace.”
    The realities can be very interesting, but investigation can’t be done taking into account what is good to put in the marketplace next Christmas or what are the implications of the production or market financing timelines. Investigation is above all, a way to build knowledge, to build society, to build future and so innovation. You just need to remember that of the total investment made in investigation in a first world class University as Stanford the financial return is only about 1% of all that invested money.

    josh g. says: “Explain to me how current RPGs don’t already offer these emotions in the game experience, because I don’t see it.”

    Just let us know, about any situation of a computer game, where you really cared or cried for the fate of your characters?
    We’re talking about really caring for the characters, take as an example what you feel for the little kid in a movie like “The Champ”; or even when Nemo is imprisoned in an aquarium (Finding Nemo); or the death of Simba father (lion King) or even in the very dramatic end of “Pay it Forward” (2000) with the death of Trevor. We can’t only think here about the message, text or content, film forms are really helping the building of drama in these moments.

  23. andrew Says:

    The debate over the usefulness of academic game study continues at Intelligent Artifice.

  24. Grand Text Auto » String of Pearls in the Sandbox Says:

    [...] the player and system collaborate to make sandcastles. Also worth linking back to is my debate with Eyejinx over his essay “Pissing in the Sandbox”.

    [...]

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