The New Games movement, rising in response to the Vietnam War, eschews traditional concepts of games (as rule-based, goal-oriented play) in favor of more experiential, cooperative play, where "the goal was not to win, but simply to continue playing" (Fron et al., 2005, 2). These games allow for a level of improvisation. They operate within flexible rules — or, at least, rules that are less rigorously enforced (when compared to the programmatically enforced rule-sets of today's digital games). The impromptu alteration of the Prui described in Fron et al.'s Sustainable Play, for example, and the ease with which the game adapted and continued, demonstrate how easily a subversion is assimilated into gameplay, even encouraged. The flexibility of these rules and their relaxed enforcement subvert the traditional use of rules as arbitrary obstacles. Rules are no longer a disqualifying boundary, but objects of play themselves, pieces to be manipulated, a playful subversion within the subversion.
Knots demonstrates New Games' focus on cooperative play and physicality. All players operate under a single win-condition and, like Rock-Paper-Scissors Tag, continue play until a the win-condition is met or "everyone is too exhausted to continue" (Fron et al., 2005, 3). Although an obstacle certainly exists (i.e. entangling the knot), the games doesn't impose any sort of time-limit, foregrounding the challenge of coordination and communication above all else. This challenge is highlighted by physical nature of the knot itself; players are intimately interdependent, a single move from one affecting all.
During our experience with the Knots game, we split into two separate teams–a subversion of our own, which in turn, added a competitive element to a purely cooperative game. However, when one team successfully untangled their knot (and soundly trounced the rival team), the game returned to its cooperative roots as the winning team moved to assist the losing team in untangling the remaining knot. Despite having already won (ostensibly signaling the end of the game for both teams), players chose to accommodate a second win-condition–one in which everybody wins–in an effort to continue playing.
Rock-Paper-Scissors Tag continues New Games focus on physicality, though it forsakes the notion of cooperative play. Although certainly competitive, it continues to subvert common conceptions of competition. The fluidity of each team's make-up decouples players from their teams. Here, teams are entities by their own right, independent of the players who act through them. They are playing pieces of which players share temporary ownership. As as result, players show little allegiance to these teams, choosing instead to ally themselves with the game itself–or, more importantly, to the game's continuation.
As Fron et al. note, Earthball examines a similar phenomenon: "whenever a team neared a goal, it was noted that players from the winning team would defect to help the other side" (2005, 2). This apparent subversion of the game's competitive nature demonstrates a similar shift in allegiance. Even in seemingly competitive New Games, traditional competition is forsaken in exchange for cooperation. Teams teeter back and forth in a zero-sum game, players repeatedly defect, all in an effort to stave off the winning condition.
DeKoven describes the motivation for modding a game: "You play it well but you’re losing interest. Your gaming mind is bored. The general purpose for changing a game, therefore, is to restore equilibrium” (2013, 52). The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim has spawned an impressive modding community. Nearly three years since the game's launch, moders continue to subvert the original developers intentions in an effort to reestablish equilibrium. Many of these modifications focus on creating a more immersive environment. iNeed, perhaps one of the most interesting modifications, requires players to maintain their character's health by adhering to a regular sleep and eating schedule. Others force the game's clock to advance in realistic leaps as player's fast travel across the game's map, while other's remove the map altogether.
Brand, Stewart. “SPACEWAR: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums,” Rolling Stone, December 7, 1972.
DeKoven, B. (2013) The Well-Played Game: A Player’s Philosophy. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
Fron, J., Fullerton, T., Morie, J. & Pearce, C. (aka Ludica) (2005). “Sustainable Play: Towards A New Games Movement for the Digital Age.” Digital Arts & Culture Conference Proceedings, Copenhagen, December 2005.
Pearce, Celia. “Games as Art: The Aesthetics of Interactivity.” Visible Language: Special Issue on Fluxus. January 2006.