Anonymous Asked: How do I deal with jealousy regarding other people’s happiness? It always feels like everyone around me is happier, more alive, and generally *living* better than I do. I know being the bitter Old Man staring between the blinds at the happy kids on the street isn’t good for me or anyone, but I can’t shake these feelings off.
Marshall Rosenberg expressed once, “At the core of all anger is a need that is not being fulfilled.” I don’t recommend Rosenberg for all your life, but he’s got a good handle on a theory of how a lot of toxic masculinity disconnects us from our feelings. And I mean, look at the guy:
With co-op and semi-cop already introduced, it sort of seems a natural flow from that point that there are traitor mechanics. Traitor mechanics are mechanics where one individual player can choose to change their allegiance to the rest of the group. Traitor mechanics are important to separate from semi-co-op, because a traitor needs to have had some reason to be in the cooperative group in the first place.
Usually, traitor mechanics are best deployed when there’s an incentive for players to succeed together, but also an incentive to succeed alone. This can be a challenging puzzle when you deal with it in a larger scale – you want to design things so the traitor is an option without it being a natural endgame. You can also use traitor mechanics as a way to introduce surprise and spice to an existing game structure (and it shows up in some co-op Legacy games, but I won’t mention which ones because that’d spoilery).
Note that a game with a traitor mechanic really isn’t too different from ‘a semi-co-op game.’ These arent pure descriptors of mechanical language as much as they are trying to be useful guides to what someone means when they mention a thing.
I tend to think that traitor mechanics want to be part of larger games – games like Archipelago and Battlestar Galactica, where if one player is a traitor, deducing that they are and routing around them still has enough game to it. That’s not to say they’re totally necessary to make traitor mechanics work – after all, you can view poker as a game based around a traitor mechanic, and so to our small game Pie Crimes.
I think myself, I’d avoid using the term traitor mechanic too broadly. It isn’t just the idea of competing, unsure teams like The Resistance – it’s about giving a player a reason and a choice to prioritise themselves over others. Dead of Winter does this by giving players secret goals – stockpiling medicine, for example – without necessarily making it break the whole group at large. This isn’t Betrayal At The House On The Hill either because it’s not like a player ever has to choose between competing rewards.
I’ve greatly benefitted from listening to Marshall Rosenberg talk about non-violent communication. Not because I adopted the whole system – it’s really not a good fit for me and my life, and it isn’t a good fit for the people around me.
Other day at the store, I heard a parent disciplining their child. I only heard a tiny bit, but it echoed in real life of something that Marshall Rosenberg said. Rosenberg had this metaphor for language types, where he referred to giraffe language and jackal language. The idea behind giraffe language is a bit complex, and not necessary at this juncture. What’s important is jackal language, language Rosenberg argued is language for judging and imposing. The example he used in talks all the time about jackal language was of a parent teaching their child the most basic jackal words:
“Say you’re sorry!”
“You didn’t mean that. Say it like you mean it.”
I overheard this exchange, more or less, in the store. A parent, lecturing a child, and making them apologise. I don’t mean to judge that parent, it’s not my place to and I don’t know their context. It still put me in mind of I thought about it, and I thought about how my friends and I interact.
I hear ‘I’m sorry’ a lot.
I hear it from people who are having some of the worst experiences of their lives. I hear it from people who are struggling with illness and with their minds. I hear it from people who are struggling with being oppressed by governments and abused by family members. I hear it from people who are afraid and I hear it from people who are angry. So often, I have to tell people, no, don’t apologise, because you haven’t done anything wrong. Sorry I’m broken, sorry I’m sad, sorry I keep leaning on you, sorry I’m late, sorry I’m a mess. I so often offer that push back, not because I misunderstand the feeling – but because I feel that if you apologise for something in your mind, it’s easier for you to think of it as a misdeed.
This is a hard habit to break. And I don’t mean to downplay you if you have that habit.
What I was hoping I could do is encourage you to say thank you.
Thank you for waiting for me. Thank you for your time. Thank you for listening. Thank you for treating my feelings with respect. Thank you for the thing you do for me, when you listen to me.
I don’t mean to recommend this like this is brilliant praxis or something. It’s not a unique idea. I’m not going to be mad at you if you don’t do things this way, too. It’s just an idea.
The reason I hope for this, though, is because sorry is about a past misdeed; thank you is about a present deed. If I am surrounded by people apologising to me, that language, that I will start to think in terms of things I can do to help rather than the paralysis of being asked a forgiveness I can’t give.
I’ve talked about Gerard Geanette, a French academic, who published books in the 1990s about a vision of media that we call structuralism. His idea was that you can divide media into different parts that all make up the experience, and the ways it change from person to person is a matter of changing parts of the structure while not necessarily changing parts of the text.
This is a term I heard for the first time today, and I was really lucky I heard it being said by someone I like and respect or I fear there’d have been a row. There’s this ugly impulse to hack- prefix everything, in the same way that Rush Limbaugh once coined ‘slacktivist’ and now a bunch of well-intentioned millenial dorks he was making fun of think that they’re addressing a real thing.
The notion was introduced to me by Olly Thorn, from PhilosophyTube, where he forwards the pretty simple thesis that in response to an increase in UK tuition fees, he’s putting his degree on Youtube, for free. This is a revolutionary feeling, but don’t get it too twisted – a university isn’t just here to tell you things. If that was the case, a library would do the same job, and if that was all a library did, you could get the same thing from a few specific old books. There’s a lot more to university than just the reading material!
Still it put me in mind of the question, what am I doing here? What am I trying to do here?
I don’t think I’m giving you, the reader, a University education. I’m not short-circuiting the very nature of all things educational. But what I do think I’m doing, what I’m trying to do, is provide a connection between academia and the media stuff I care about. Because I like game books and I like board games and I like the little failed CCGs and the board games we all made with paper and pen and didn’t get off the ground. I don’t think those things are beneath consideration, and I also don’t think academia is without value, which is a pair of propositions that sometimes feels a bit weird.
In videogames, there’s this sort of noisome harrumphing about how there isn’t a meaningful discourse about games, and there are some websites doing that, but my experiences writing for websites trying to offer same just pushed me back towards the same ingredients-list game conversation, and the websites doing This Kind Of Thing don’t seem to be answering my (admittedly rare) calls.
What that means is this blog is sort of one part writing praxis – that is to say, me taking my theories about creativity and human interface, and acting on them – and one part making a thing I want to see in the world. The features may rotate in and out – I mean, the Magic: The Gathering articles are getting a bit afield from the original idea of just ‘whatever deck I’m playing this week’ – but the general premise remains.
I want my blog to be a place to you can look to for advice on creating things, but also for my degree, digital media studies, brought to bear on stuff you care about in a way you understand. I want to use my tools to entertain and engage and encourage.
Does that make me a hackademic? I dunno. Maybe. It sounds like a cool title and maybe that’s a bit cooler than I deserve. But I know I’m doing this in an effort to interest and engage you. If I’m not appealing to an audience, I’m not doing what I want.
I normally sit down to write something for this blog after I’ve gotten my day’s PhD work done. Today, that work was almost entirely smothered under work for marking, because marking is important, and when I do try and write without some burning need already in place, I tend to survey three things:
My incoming directory
My twitter feed
My bullet journal
Today, all three of those things are blank, because my day has gone away in a cloud of trying to mark a lot of students’ work in a timely, respectful fashion while still organising all the normal operations of the day like feeding and walking the dog. It’s been a rough one, and that means I haven’t actually done one of the things I’m finding I enjoy, and that’s readings.
One of the books I just finished reading is Jesper Juul’s the Art of Failure, which I’m sure I’ve mentioned elsewhere in the blog by this time. It’s a really neat book, pretty short and breezy and doesn’t require a lot of specialised knowledge. Juul is pretty good at that. You could probably knock it over in an afternoon if you weren’t taking notes on everything.
In it, Juul talks about the paradox of games. He suggests that games are things we fail at, usually, and we don’t seek out failure, but we do seek out games, despite the fact we’ll fail at them. By contrast, the students I’m dealing with are examining the design side of things with the principle of fail early, fail often.
I see the word ‘fail’ a lot.
Juul’s position is interesting, as I sit up late and muse on it, because it presents a very binary view not just of human experience, but of human consciousness. That is, that humans are a single perspective agent, which has singular motivations and good, clean judgment. Some parts of us don’t believe we’ll fail. Some parts of us want to fail, to get falsifiable information. Some parts of us want to fail because we’re curious. Some parts of us are constantly redefining failure as we play.
This isn’t really addressing Juul. It’s more musing on what the book doesn’t do.
And not doing something is not the same thing as failing.
Just like how today, I didn’t read any books for my PhD. That doesn’t mean I failed my PhD today. I hope.
Kōan are a type of Zen story or riddle designed to make a practictioner reconsider their knowledge of Zen, or demonstrate their existing grasp of the study. They range in complexity and length, from some classic phrases like If you see the Buddha, kill him and What is the sound of one hand clapping, but they get positively enormous by comparison, becoming like little stories with multiple parts that all combine together to form their own conflicts.
The thing is, and you could probably see this coming from me, the boy who cried game, but I think that zen koan might be a wonderful example of what I think of as a zero-materialitygame.
My thesis is building around the idea I established in my honours thesis, the idea that you can look at games on three non-related axes; their confrontation, their abstraction and their materiality. Now it’s easy to find games with lots of materiality, like big elaborate escape rooms that need you to pay attention to the entire room, and it’s sometimes easy to point between two similar games as to which introduces more material elements (D&D versus Magic: The Gathering, for example).
One thing I’m interested in is when you take any of these elements to an extreme; what does a game with no abstraction look like? What does a game with as much abstraction as we can conceive of look like? As confrontation models change, you move away from direct confrontation to races to competition for resources to simultaneous play to cooperation and so on, but materiality… materiality has interesting extremes. I used to think that how to host a murder was a good example of low materiality, but even those are designed to be played in a space with other people and the ability to position yourself in relationship to other people, and the room, and so on, all play into how that game plays. Also sometimes there are props. Anyway the point is, as I tried to erode the idea of materiality more and more, I came upon kōan.
A practitioner might not think of kōan as games, but I’m not one to tell them how to Buddhism and they don’t to tell me how to games. The kōan is a sort of almost unsolvable puzzle that is meant to imply by its engagement that it will unlock or enlighten you, or there is a way to view it that will make the rest of it make sense, and as you come to understand kōan – not solve – doing so will make other kōan make more sense, and then you can return to older kōan with newer knowledge and suddenly they’ll make sense in a different way, but you still reached this higher level of understanding after understanding them in a different way like some kind of conceptual-spiritual scaffolding. The whole process is a form of play – and indeed, that the mind keeps returning to the kōan is a sign of how engaging they can be.
The kōan is a puzzle, which requires no material mass, but does require you to engage with it. And in so doing, you are given a way and a place to play, and their interrelationships transform one another.
Also, in amongst these, I wanted to provide a link to Ted’s favourite kōan, the wild fox kōan.
Christopher Hitchens was a journalist and writer and also wealthy middle-class son of working class parents, who was renowned in his early days for bombastic iconoclasm, and in his later years for a sort of later-life renovation in the name of the New Atheism movement. He was renowned for the latter stage of his life, up until his death, for his part as one of the ‘four horsemen,’ a group of prominent intellectuals who openly and aggressively challenged Christian Hegemony in the culture.
Now those horsemen include were four dudes: Dan Dennett, a philosopher who’s done some interesting ad valuable stuff, but also some really racist stuff seemingly without realising it, Richard Dawkins, probably the most scientifically important modern racist grandpa, Sam Harris, who’s spent the intervening years showing what a racist doofus he is – Wow, there’s a lot of racism going free. Don’t worry, Harris is also clueless about philosophy, humanities, art and ethics, a real renaissance doofus.
Anyway, the point is, you had four guys who had varying degrees of intellectual importance and accomplishment, and one of them was Hitchens, a man who has kind of become an idealised icon of That Kind Of Atheist On The Internet.
My relationship to Hitchens as a historical entity is a bit complicated. Because some of his work was very robust, very competent – his reporting on places like Belfast and Beiruit, for example – and he was good at economising with words, he definitely seemed good. There were issues where Hitchens and I definitely agreed – he was genuinely adamant about the Elgin Marbles, for example. Yet at the same time, he didn’t bring any illumination to any of the issues he examined as a journalist that other journalists couldn’t do. The dude wrote about experiences very well, but the filter of his experiencse was overwhelmingly himself, and you learned of him through that work.
And really, the thing that Hitchens did well, did best, was be mean to someone.
It’s part of why he’s such an affecting performer. He’d turn up at Creationist Debate events, and make the creationist in question look like a stupid dick, and he’d tell fascists to get lost, and he’d do it well, but when you cook down his positions, most of his most intelligent insights were quotes. Most of his best interpretations are of very obvious, basic ideas – England does not own Greece’s history and it was bad to destroy the Bamiyan Buddhas. These aren’t actually challenging paths, these aren’t things that require the work of excelling journalism to put into meaningful context.
What Hitchens did well, and what made him feel so bad to watch when he turned that skill towards people who a moral conscience or broader context could appreciate did not deserve it, was be mean to people.
And that’s why we loved him, in the New Atheist community. We liked him, because he was mean to the people we wanted to be mean to and he was better at it than we were.
It’s sad in hindsight. Because it means Hitchens is hard to appreciate for his excellent ability to wield words, when you realise that often behind that skill there was not an excellent and incisive mind, but an emotionally satisfying cruelty.
A good journalist would consider the value of public debates on articles of faith. Would notice the way that it wasn’t valuable to negotiate with unreasoning conspiracy. Would appreciate what he couldn’t argue people out of when they’d never argued themselves into it.
Okay, remember cooperative games? Well, semi-co-op games work around that space. They have the basic setup of a cooperative game, but there’s something in the game, some player’s behaviour, that keeps it from being purely cooperative. Usually this means there’s a player who is secretly working against the actions of other players, but sometimes it can mean that there’s just the suspicion of such a thing.
There’s a really different affect to a semi-cooperative game. Semi-co-op games aren’t like ‘cooperative games, but,’ because suspicion tends to become a huge part of the game. It’s less about how to complete the cooperative challenge, and much more about how you can use your actions to either obscure your intentions, or to entice other players to take actions that would evoke their identity.
Semi co-op structures are really good at fighting quarterbacking (as described in the cooperative term). They’re also really good for representing a fairly robust, classical narrative – people work together, then there’s a sudden disruption where someone gets revealed to not be a part of the solution. There’s also just the fear of that. Sometimes players will avoid making optimal communication just because they might be dealing with a traitor in a game that might not have one active.
The other type of semi-co-op can be one with one player an open adversary to the other players. This opposition means you can give the game an oppositional force that has to make decisions, like a Dungeonmaster or Game Master role.
Another, third way to do semi-co-op is to have players form cooperative units. Imagine a game where two players work together on their own small project, at a time, then each of those projects compete to see what they can do.
The problems present in cooperative game design tend to be coded out of semi-co-op. With at least one player adding an element of confrontation, it becomes easier for difficulty to adjust to players’ behaviours. When a game’s opposition is primarily a hard-coded system (like a scenario, or cards, or combinations of those cards) it can make opposition feel a bit blunt and thoughtless. If a player is the one opposing you, they add a different feeling to that experience…
… buuuut then you have to basically make two games at once. Semi co-op games have to have design space set out for the oppositional player and this can often get out of hand. It’s part of the design load, where you need to create content for both forms of contribution.
Betrayal at the House on the Hill, Dead of Winter, the non-co-op expansions to Pandemic.
I’m doing scholarly work. Academic work. Well, I’m working on doing that kind of work, I don’t know how good a job I’m doing. One thing I was doing was putting notes from that work here, on my blog. I still believe that it’s important to be able to explain my ideas in my natural voice, and don’t worry – I’m still going to be producing stuff, on this blog, with that same perspective. If it’s a matter of writing about (say) a videogame referring to the Jesper Juul book I read recently, that’ll happen. If it’s my specific notes about that book for my PhD? That goes on, dun dun dun, the other blog.
That other blog, by the way, is one I’m deliberately obscuring access to. That’s partly out of general information security and student safety. That blog has references to my government name on it, a name I really don’t like. I want that blog to be useful as a resource for students following me, I want it to be useful show to my supervisors of the kind of work I’m doing regularly. It is, essentially, a workplace resource.
I don’t think that this should lead to the diminishment of workload here. But it might mean that some articles you went to find here have been moved – just to make sure that searching for their text will take you to the right spot. In those places I might put, I dunno, a picture of a cute dog.
There’s another pragmatic issue here. Those posts of my notes were usually a pretty good way for me to make my day’s PhD work and my blog goal (a post or more every day) line up. But they’re not good content for this blog, they’re not the kind of things that interest readers, and I think you’d rather see me apply the things I’ve read to things, rather than just demonstrate that I’ve read things.
A cooperative game is a game where multiple players are all working together to achieve the common end of the game. This isn’t the same thing as a game where players can cooperate (like many trading games or war games), but games where the entire point of the game is for two or more players to work together to win it.
Cooperative game designs are great for making games for players who aren’t interested in direct conflict.
They’re also good for making somewhat basic problems much more complicated and engaging. It’s one thing to just lift a box, but if one player has to lift the box, and another player push it forwards, you’re going to make something that wasn’t quite a challenge into a problem of communication.
Honestly, though, cooperative games are excellent for people who just don’t want their games to be about butting heads and would rather work together.
One of the big problems that cooperative games tend to get is commonly called quarterbacking. The idea is that as long as all players are collaborating on the project of the game means that it’s possible that one player can take control of the play – that there is, in any situation an optimal play, and then it falls to one player to make that play as best they can.
This can mean that in any given play situation, one player might not be making many choices, and one player might be making more. There are ways around this, but quarterbacking is the biggest problem with pure cooperative games.
Pandemic, and most of its connected works. Mysterium. Hanabi. Spirit Island.
Back before the internet, if your computer didn’t work, you didn’t have the same options we do today. If you wanted to work out why a game wasn’t loading or why it was slow, you’d often be left with no recourse but to ask someone, someone who was either a technician or, more often than you’d think, you’d mail into a magazine, like, mail in with an actual letter and hope they’d understand your question, try to answer it, and print it in their column.
These things existed, they were like agony aunt columns but the solution was almost always something to do with including -RAM or -NOEMS in your config.sys file.
In Doc Destructo’s Gamewrecks episode on Tattoo Assassin, he mentioned the differences between pinball machines and arcade cabinets, and it reminded me of the story from my youth from one of these tech support columns.
See, one bloke had written in about his attempts to install a new graphics card, he found that it didn’t fit the place he thought it should in his computer. No problem, he said, as he was experienced with computer hardware from his job managing pinball machines in an arcade. He said he’d found the part that connected to the main board, and, using some of his work tools, made sure the pins fit.
Anyone who has worked on the insides of a PC is, I hope, cringing as hard as I did.
The tech support column was surprisingly nice to the guy, explaining to him that maybe he didn’t quite understand how fragile a PC was compared to the more ‘sturdy’ arcade machines he was used to working with. I think it’s from there that the word ‘sturdy’ got emblazoned in my mind as the defining trait of a piece of hardware that was meant to survive being dropped downstairs once in its life.
They told him to buy a new one and maybe get a tech professional to install it for him.
I’m seeing this one needing some explanation, and I’m also seeing some goofy people talking nonsense about it so let’s give you a nice, easy place to check on this one without TERFs getting all up and angry about it.
The complaints about cis are that it’s a slur, that it’s a made-up word, and that it’s unnecessary.
First things first, slur. Cis is not and cannot be a slur. Slurs are words designed to direct structural power against individuals and other people with the same group characteristics. It’s a threat. Non-cis people do not have systemic power, and the closest they can get is being mean. You’re not going to lose a job or be refused housing because you’re cis. You’re not going to have crimes against you ignored because you’re cis – crimes, not ‘people were mean to me’.
Cis is not a new word. Cis a term from chemistry, where it’s the opposite term to Trans. It’s been used for a century like this, because back in the day, chemists all used Latin terms to refer to technical objects, because that way everyone could use the same language and grammar to talk about them. And since we use the word trans in discussions of gender, cis is a handy opposite.
And cis is totally a necessary word. When you’re talking about relationship to gender, transgender or cisgender if you say ‘transgender’ and ‘normal’ then you’re explicitly calling ‘transgender’ ‘not normal.’ Notice the people who are mad about being called ‘cisgender’ are often people who feel like it’s calling them ‘not normal,’ so imagine how it feels to the trans folk being told they’re not normal.
Cis is not a hard concept to explain. It’s like on and off. Something is cis or it’s not. Open or not-open.
If, at birth, you were assigned a gender, and you decided that gender works for you, you’re cis. If you’re not cis, you’re – linguistically – trans.
Now that’s not to say everyone who isn’t cis wants to be called trans. There are plenty of nonbinary or agender people who don’t call themselves trans, and in that case, saying THE TECHNICAL MEANING IS- isn’t helpful.
Hey, let’s start with an extremely difficult thing to define and unpack it a little.
Autoethnography is a method for qualitative research that focuses on academically exploring the personal experiences and autobiographical records of the researcher.
Okay, now to unpack that a little more. Qualitative research is research that focuses on examining things that cannot be easily or readily reduced into hard values — that’s quantitative research. So qualitative research is about, well, qualities. Qualitative research is very much about asking people questions, divining their experiences, taking them seriously and observing connections and patterns.
You might be familiar with surveys that ask you to rank things in order; that’s quantitative. Surveys that ask you your opinions or feelings, those are qualitative. Qualitative research is generally harder and slower and tends to need a human interpreter, rather than responding to mathematical tools.
Second academically exploring things is to look at things not as an expression but rather as a piece of text that can be related to with other academic tools. It’s bringing to bear analysis tools reserved for examining texts to bear on the the account of the experience.
Personal experience, I hope is pretty self explanatory. Autobiographical records are the things you, yourself, record about what you experience. This is normally seen as pretty shifty in academic research – after all, if you can get an objective measure of something, best to do that, rather than write down what happened to you.
With that breakdown in mind, what’s a way to explain autoethnography simply?
The first way is: There is no clear answer right now. It’s a complicated thing and it means a lot of things.
The second way, the pragmatic way, is that autoethnography is the process of experiencing something; writing about your experience; then interrogating what you wrote –not what you experienced – as an academic text.
Or shorter: You write, then you examine what you write.
Why do we use it? A couple of reasons. One it’s really hard to write about some things with quantitative research. Psychology, psychotherapy, art participation, sociological experiments, and on-the-spot historical accounts are all pretty hard to account. It’s useful for some situations where other forms of research would need larger examinations or complicated data gathering, and you don’t have a lot of time, like the immediate aftermath of an event. It’s also really useful for recognising processes that don’t standardise well, like following an artist or a composer’s work.
It’s not a perfect method at all – it’s got a lot of boundary problems, and if your autoethographic work moves near things that you can quantitatively research, and then don’t, you run the risk of leaving something untethered from more readily provable facts. It’s but one tool in the toolbox.
It’s also a handy practice to know of. If you’re prone to writing about your experience, you can go back and re-examine that writing as if it were academic text. I guess that always comes back to my personal position of take the things people do seriously.
What is the optimally “unfair” possible U.S. election? Assuming you can just set the vote ratios in each state to whatever unrealistic value you want. How much can you lose popular vote by and win the Presidency?
This isn’t a comprehensive view of this idea, but a rough summary. Still, it’s an interesting question and let’s explore it. Note that these results involve literally no breaking rules. These are just the ways the system functions based on changes in circumstances. Consider these urine samples from an extremely unwell system.
At the tail end of April, first day of May, depending on where you stand around the international date line, I put out some Twitter polls that asked how smoochable people thought the various races of Dungeons and Dragons were.
If you haven’t worked it out, since I read every day, and I don’t want this blog to just be a nonstop festival of Hey, Here’s Today’s Academic Boring Stuff, I’m doing some of these out of order.
More reading from Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop. In this case, this is super useful because it gives me an academic source for just a very simple list, a starting place, for my thesis argument of the idea of confrontation.
With this talk of Virtual Reality going on, ever sit to wonder what virtual means?
What do you mean when you say something is virtually done?
It’s a weird word, isn’t it? It has some connection to the word virtuous, perhaps, and we use it so freely to describe digital spaces that it has a sort of connotation of the internet, or videogames, or something like that, but that’s not really what it means. When we describe reality, we mean pretty much reality. What makes that really interesting is that for a lot of intangible things in our virtual spaces, they are already virtual reality.
Brendan Keogh wrote about this, in that thesis I’m grinding my way through.In that, he outlines the question of virtuality as it pertains to things that are secretly trying to obscure their connection to the real world, that they are virtually real, and we are prone to pretending they are not. There’s no reason in particular we do this. We don’t file Warcraft goals as more important than Solitaire goals and yet less important than local sports team goals, even though one of those three is much more complex and within our control to influence.
When we say a task is virtually done, we mean that it might as well be done. When we say a thing is virtually real, we mean the same thing. It is real, or might as well be.
This comes back to my idea, the idea I can’t stop circling. We need to take games seriously, because they matter to people.
Is it weird to call a PhD thesis’ language erotically charged?
In A Play of Bodies: A Phenomenology Of Videogames, Brendan Keogh, author of Killing is Harmless: A Critical Reading of Spec Ops: The Line, Australian games academic and probably someone I’m going to have to call ‘sir’ at some point going forwards, writes about the challenges of videogame texts. In the thesis, he forwards that videogames are a unique medium where there’s a challenge in divining a text, and that we have to re-examine what a text means and –
There’s good stuff there.
But, during this writing, he says (quoting Aarsith, describing Ergodicity), the semiotic threesome. The model of semiotics we normally use is one of encoding and decoding; the creator makes the text (encoding), the consumer experiences it (decoding). But that term, that turn of phrase, the idea of the semiotic threesome, where we consider an encoder, and their experience, the decoder and their experience, and the text itself as a trio of entities.
It’s romantic, in a way. It’s something I quite like to imagine – the encoder glimpsing the edges of the decoder, through the text. The text, curling and sinuous between all, entwining them, a thread that transforms and mutates and becomes its own thing. And it in a strange way, means that there is a time, a moment, when the art, the artist, and the audience are all together, in the moment when the audience enjoys the work, and considers what it might mean to mean.
I don’t know if anyone else is using this term to talk about this, so here we go, my best effort to try and coin this term so I can talk about it easily.
The Procedurality of a game is the degree to which game pieces imply the existence of one another. That is, when you’re confronted with a game pieces, you can probably extrapolate what the other pieces mean. As a player this determines how you learn and study the strategy, while as a designer, procedurality shows you the extent of a design space.
Here are some examples:In this pretty ordinary poker hand, you can look at the cards and glean some information. First, there are cards that number up to ten, and cards that number down to four. There are numbers on most cards, and there are some different symbols – a heart, a diamond, a club and so on.
Based on just this information, if you’d never seen the deck before, you could probably extrapolate what forty of the cards are, maybe forty-four based on the Jack probably not being totally unique. The design of a deck of cards works with this – there are two jokers, but aside from that, the whole design is contained pretty tightly within the two variables of each card: Value and Suit.
These are cards from a packet of Dark Signs. One of them is very much unlike the others, the area pieces that you’ll play to win. But two of the cards kind of imply the values of other cards, while the third shows that there’s at least some cards in the deck that don’t fit that pattern. The basic runes in Dark Signs represent the lowest sort of procedurality – they show some value that the players will have to deal with, but they aren’t the whole of the game. The procedural cards in Dark Signs show a sort of design space, but they aren’t super obvious. Also, and it’s a small thing, in Dark Signs, the basic runes all have prime number values, which makes them just a little bit trickier to make score ties.
Finally we have the most procedural game I’ve ever made:
There are 26 cards in You Can’t Win and 24 of them are immediately obvious the second you look at any given card. The other two are Wild cards. Each card shows a value, and a rule that relates to cards with that value.
Procedural games are a good place to get started. It helps you get your mind in the space of working out how many cards you need, and if you do it right it can help you explore spaces, defining boundaries by how many different permutations you need of an effect.