Like art, games have evolved over various movements. Because of this, a variety of games genres have bloomed. All games share the common traits that there are constraints or rules for which all players have reached a consensus on, a consequence, negative or positive, a goal to reach, obstacles which will obstruct the player in reaching the goal,  and resources for overcoming those obstacles (Pearce, 69).  It is interesting to see how these various games have evolved in the context of the societal changes.

Spacewars was known as one of the first computer games made. It enjoyed a large success among its players due to the classic competitive drive it induces in its players. The general premise of the game lies within the fact players are able to shoot at other players to reduce the opponent’s score. Players are also given various weapons such as torpedos, missiles, and a limited amount of fuel. A theory that may have attributed to its success is that it follows the basic framework of what defines a game closely. The objective of the game is to shoot down the other opponents and avoid the various obstacles in space. Resources are limited to the weapons you may use and a limited supply of fuel that can run out. The game itself presents several obstacles, such as blackholes, which would further stand in the way of having a smooth experience in shooting down the other player. There is also a primitive scoring system where players would gain points in shooting down other players and losing points for being killed off (Brand).  What is interesting is that players are able to gauge their opponents personalities by predicting their movements though the game space. This strategy is similar to chess, as one player can predict future moves of the opponent based on their past moves.

As a reference as to how games have evolved in tandem with the waves of societal change, The New Game movement came into the scene as way to examine the essence of human interaction through gameplay. In a time of tense political atmospheres, Steward Brand created games which required collaboration between team members and interactions with each other. The game “Rock Paper Scissor Tag” exemplifies a game in the New Game movement. Players are divided into two teams. The players in each team consult to decide on which move they should use in the Rock, Paper, Scissors game. Then, the two teams face each other and play a single round of “Rock, Paper, Scissors”. The winners will then chase the losers and tag them before the losers reach their home base. The tagged members will then convert over to the winners team and the game will start over again. In essence, the game can go on forever until one team has converted all of the team members. Because of the interesting fact that players can switch teams, there are no strong allegiance to a team, rather than playing the game for what it is. This particular game manages to take out the aspect that a single player can win. There is no personal goal to win while the main obstacles lie in the chance of fate and how fast one can run. Rather, it is more of a team effort and the main focus is on the fun of playing the game,a combination of the anticipation of the 50/50 win of the game “Rock, Paper, Scissors” and adrenaline rush of chasing after other players . After all, games are meant to be an activity that is enjoyed.

An interesting example of how art ties in with games involves the how the Fluxus movement featured games. The main idea behind this art movement is taking existing media and organizing them differently to create something new. Because the time period of this art movement is trademarked with political climate change, many use existing games as a political statement. A notable example of this is Yoko Ono’s White Chess set, where all of the pieces are painted white. It portrays a strong message of peace in a wartime era, promoting the essence that there are no differences in two opposing teams. Ono’s chess set takes away the main purpose of the game which is to defeat the opponent. With the goal taken away, this is seem more of as a static art piece than a game. The lines between obstacles are blurred as the players have no way of telling an enemy from a fellow piece. Because of this, Ono’s white chess set defeats the purpose of playing the game. It may be that in this context, the act of gameplay is seen as conflict and her main goal was to erase that conflict and the lines that separate the player between the opponent.

References:

Brand, Stewart. “SPACEWAR: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums,” Rolling Stone, December 7, 2001.

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.

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Blogpost #3

Posted by asumsky on Tuesday Feb 28, 2012 Under Alternative Game Movements, Blogpost Assignments

The “New Games” and “Experimental Art” games movements have been a focal point of the class discussions and reading in recent weeks. Although their exact definitions differ slightly, the spirit behind them is the same. These movements focus on a different type of gaming that subverts traditional notions of games, and refocuses on the elements of games that truly matter to the player. These types of games put “at least a part of the creative act in the hands of the player” (Pearce 70). They also “challenge the status quo and explore alternative ways of being in the world” (Fron). Proponents for these movements argue that this type of play is more meaningful than simply interfacing with a structured world where you are told what to do. They encourage exploration and creativity, leading to more meaningful experiences and creations. There have been many massively popular digital games developed in recent years which fall into these specifications, proving that this type of approach in gaming is one that appeals to the actual, popular user base. For the purposes of this assignment, I will be focusing on Little Big Planet, Minecraft and Second Life, each of which are excellent examples of games that follow these specifications.

One of the most prevalent and important concepts of these new gaming movements is that “there is a fluidity, a continuum between play and creation, and in this way, the player of a game … is also a co-creator or performer of the work” (Pearce 82). This subversion of the typical model of developer created games is appealing to users in several ways. Mainly, it works because the player has a larger hand in what happens in the game. The actions the the player makes in the game are more personal, relevant and meaningful to her. This idea is manifested in each of the games that I have chosen to focus on for this assignment. Little Big Planet is a game that has become massively popular do to its integrated level design tools as a focal point of the game. They are quick and easy to use, and the game allows players to easily upload their creations and play with other people inside of them. Minecraft, which became an instant classic within the span of a few weeks, has become so popular do to its large focus on open-source, collaborative, user-generated content. Players collaborate and play in constantly changing creations in real time. This is the same attribute that has made Second Life so popular, in which people can collaborate in real time by “modding” the game with their own art assets and scripting.

Another important aspect of these type of games that subvert that traditional notion of video games is that they are created with the “central purpose of creating a satisfying play experience” (Fron). Instead of being preoccupied with rules and goals, they are focused on creating an experience that is actually fun and engaging. There is a “global allegiance to the play of the game itself, rather than to the success of any particular team” (Fron). For one thing, this takes pressure of the player in that she can solely focus on enjoying themselves, rather than trying to accomplish some arbitrary goal. Also, it creates an overall more satisfying experience because the player is doing what she wants to do, not what the developer of a game wants her to do. Little Big Planet definitely falls into this category. In the user created content, the fun emerges from interacting with other people online in the content that they or you yourself created. The same goes for both Minecraft and Second Life. There is no focus on developer created goals or rules in their play experiences. They focus on creating and interesting and meaningful experience by interacting with other players in user generated content. In these games, the world can be whatever the user wants it to be. In the end, “digital gamers yearn to play free, rather than be confined within worlds that they never made” (Fron).

The last important aspect of these games, which up to this point has only been mentioned indirectly, is that they are always played with other people. This is the core reason why they are so fun. They maintain an aspect of “autodidactic communalism” (Pearce 75), or peer-to-peer knowledge exchange rather than teacher-to-learner. These maintains a since of camaraderie and community, which strengthens connections with other players in the game, making the overall play experience more meaningful. The very nature of the three games I have discussed in this blog embody this autodidactic communalism.

Sources
1. Brand, Stewart. “SPACEWAR: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums,” Rolling Stone, December 7, 2001. http://www.wheels.org/spacewar/stone/rolling_stone.html
2. Pearce, Celia. “Games as Art: The Aesthetics of Interactivity.” Visible Language: Special Issue on Fluxus. January 2006. http://lmc.gatech.edu/~cpearce3/PearcePubs/fluxus-pearce.pdf
3. 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. Download here: http://lmc.gatech.edu/~cpearce3/PearcePubs/DACSustainablePlay.pdf

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Alternative Game Movements

Posted by ksnyder on Tuesday Feb 28, 2012 Under Alternative Game Movements, Blogpost Assignments

One of the defining features of alternative game movements is rejecting the idea that a game must have rules, a goal, obstacles, resources, consequences, rewards, and penalties. Alternative games push the boundaries of what we define as a game and explore new ways for us to play.

Today I Die

The first alternative game I want to talk about is “Today I Die”, a game that plays more like an interactive poem than a traditional game. The player is presented with the sentence “dead world full of shades today I die”. Scattered around the screen are the words “dark” and “painful”. The player can swap these words with “dead” to change what the world looks like and discover more words. The player can change the “today I…” phrase to read things like “shine” or “swim”. By changing the phrase at the top the player changes how the world looks and how their character and other creatures and objects act. The player is not presented with any sort of instructions or goals, they are simply given the tools to change the world and it is up to the player to figure out how to turn the depressed starting sentence into the more positive and uplifting “free world full of beauty today I swim”. The player is never told they must create that sentence, it is simply the natural progression through the game. There is now way to die or lose the game there is only the experience of finding your way out of depression into happiness (which interestingly can be accomplished with or without choosing companionship with the boy who appears at the end of the game).

Passage

Another game that falls into the art games movement is the game Passage. The game is about simulating the experience of life. You are given a score but it is not clear what exactly that means and whether you get more points from exploring and finding life’s treasures or from making it as far horizontally as possible. The game subverts the idea that a high score should be your only goal in a game, it is not clear how you score points and whether or not a higher score is something that is desirable. Of course the entire point is that just as in life there is no real right or wrong answer because in the end score means nothing and you die anyways. The point of Passage isn’t to win or get a high score, it is entirely about the experience of playing it. Are you the type of person who would rather live as long as possible by never taking any chances and exploring life? Are you the type of person who would forsake companionship because it restricts you from accessing certain areas of life later on? These are all questions that Passage brings up as you play through it. These weighty questions and making the player take a step back to look at themselves introspectively are the point of Passage, not having fun.

Minecraft

One common characteristic of digital new games is the idea that there is a “longing among players to ‘take back the rules’ and break free of the oppressive constraints of commercial games…Like children in a playground, some digital gamers yearn to play free–rather than be confined within ‘worlds that they never made’”. No game quite embodies this idea as much as Minecraft. Many games such as the Grand Theft Auto and Elder Scrolls series have been described as “sandbox games” but Minecraft takes the sandbox notion to a whole other (and more literal) level. When you start the game you are dropped into a randomly generated world and can do whatever you want in it. Whether you want to explore the world, dig a hole to the bottom of the world, or build a tower out of solid gold that reaches into the clouds, you are free to do it. There are enemies that can kill you, but being killed is often more of an inconvenience than a major obstacle and there are modes in the game where you can turn off enemies. Minecraft also allows people to play together on in one world over the internet. While you might think that the immediate response to an open world game with multiple players would be anarchy, with people constantly tearing down the hard work of others, the vast majority of players use it as a way to collaboratively play and build. There is practically an entire genre of YouTube videos dedicated to time lapse footage of people working together to create mind-blowing structures, anything from a recreation of Hyrule from the Ocarina of Time, to a scale replica of the Starship Enterprise. This level of cooperative play exemplifies one of the central concepts of new games where everyone wins; at the end of the day there are no hard feelings and everyone can take pride in what they have accomplished. The open nature of Minecraft also lends itself to the creation of games within the game, such as game described in class involving dropping blocks of lava onto the players below on a playing field. Because Minecraft has no rules it allows the player the freedom to create their own rather than being at the mercy of the restrictions of the developer.

Kelly Snyder

DeKoven, B. (1978) The Well-Played Game: A Player’s Philosophy. New York: Anchor Books. (1st or 2ndEdition)

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.


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New Forms of Games – Zak Owens

Posted by zowens on Tuesday Feb 28, 2012 Under Alternative Game Movements, Blogpost Assignments

Until relatively recently, study of the why and how of games was generally unknown even to the players of these games. Games are played because of different reasons for different people: Some like to be challenge and hone skills, and others just want to revel in a ‘cheap fun’ that demands no brain power or physical activity to enjoy. Fluxist, Dadaist, and Surrealist artists around the 1920s began to experiment with what it is that defines a game, and how far can those definition can be taken before participants no longer consider it a game. I think the most basic consensus on games is that they offer its players good clean fun. When games cease to be fun, its players are tempted to stop playing.

‘Senses’ Chess

Variations on chess by Fluxist Artist Takako Saito throughout the 1960s demonstrate a game interpretation with a good balance of classic conventions with a new twist. As far as the actual game is concerned, Saito’s sense-based chess mods do nothing to change the fundamental rules of chess: Players alternate turns, pieces retain their movement options, and there is still a winner and a loser. However there is an important play mechanic introduced, specifically players can no longer rely on their sense of sight (the one we happen to rely on the most). Players have to consistently remind themselves of the piece orientation with smell, feeling, or hearing. I suppose then, a new logical process (or a new brushstroke on a Duchamp ‘chess strategy’ painting pre 1912, if you will) would be the player’s assumption about his opponent’s memory. Does he remember that his piece there is a rook? If I smell this particular piece, will he think I’ve lost my focus? The process of ‘reading the player’ is upgraded in sense chess, because each player can tell which piece his/her opponent is focusing on.

New Games Movement & Broken Picture Telephone

It’s easy to understand that anti-Vietnam peaceniks in the 1960s and 70s drove the New Games Movement. New Games promote cooperation rather than competition, and a shared fun experience, rather than one team winning and one losing. Stewart Brand, an integral influence in the development of New Games, seems to have a similar view on these activities as he does on the computer hacking ‘meta-game’. In both mediums, players are cooperating, and competition really only exists in an abstract sense. Both activities can be tied to larger cultural and political ideologies. New Games, anti-war motives are easy to spot, but hacking’s larger ideology is more challenging. A great example of hacking’s community-driven political ideology is the notorious online guerilla group, Anonymous. Collectively, Anonymous seeks to utilize advanced hacking techniques in order to take power away from corporate and government establishments and place it back in the hands of the common man. Anonymous has uncovered and made public incongruencies in large online systems, ambiguous and unlawful government practices, and has removed hundreds of child pornography sights.

A great example of an online game with the ‘New Game spirit’ is Broken Picture Telephone. In this cooperative game, the first player receives a description of a scenario and must attempt to draw it to the best of her ability. The second player analyzes the first player’s picture and is challenged to write a new description. The third player brings the process around full circle and draws what the second person described. Players can only see one description/drawing at a time and can only view the entire sequence after the game has ended (after 15 or so pairs of descriptions/illustrations). Broken Picture Telephone evokes DeKoven’s guidelines for play (Willingness, Trust, and Familiarity, etc.) even though the participants rarely meet or communicate outside the game. Viewing the final picture/description sequence makes the player aware of each individual’s efforts while at the same time creating a totally unique work of art as a whole. Broken Picture Telephone’s reinforces the fundamental goals of New Games: create a community in which each player is having fun together.

Game MODs – Castle Blood Auto

Game Modding is a movement that has seemed to have spawned from the intersection of large game manufacturers and individual game enthusiasts. Game Mods function on a cyclical system that brings enjoyment to both players and game studios. Gamers have to buy the game to play on the game engine-derived mods, so both parties win. While some mods attempt to make artistic statements and remove almost all the original functionality of the game engine ([domestic]), others are designed to closely simulate the parent-game while presenting it in a new context (Counter-Strike).

The first game mod that I played, which also happened to be the first online game I ever played, was a competitive (up to 8 players) mini-game based on the Age of Empires 2 framework called Castle Blood Auto. Each player started with a unique civilization and a walled base. At the beginning of the game, each player can amass only one specific unit that is distinct to its civilization (Japanese – Samurai, English – Longbowman, Persian – War Elephant, etc.). During the course of the game, players would often collaborate without directly communicating, teaming up to take down a particularly strong or weak civilization. I found this game incredibly intriguing as it combined several play mechanics such as strategy, diplomacy, chance (civilizations were assigned randomly), and unequal starting conditions (some unique units of civilizations are stronger than others).

Brand, Stewart. “SPACEWAR: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums,” Rolling Stone, December 7, 2001. http://www.wheels.org/spacewar/stone/rolling_stone.html

DeKoven, B. (1978) The Well-Played Game: A Player’s Philosophy. New York: Anchor Books. (1st or 2nd Edition)

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. Download here: http://lmc.gatech.edu/~cpearce3/PearcePubs/DACSustainablePlay.pdf

Pearce, Celia. “Games as Art: The Aesthetics of Interactivity.” Visible Language: Special Issue on Fluxus. January 2006. http://lmc.gatech.edu/~cpearce3/PearcePubs/fluxus-pearce.pdf

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The concept of a game seems simple to most people, but it is actually a very subjective idea that probably differs from person to person. An good general definition of games would be one offered by Celia Pearce: a game is “parameterized play consisting of rules by which a group of players agree to abide for the duration of the game” (Pearce, 69). This is a very broad definition that allows for limitless formation of games and makes it easy to see. The thing is, she then adds on other criteria, including goals, obstacles, resources, consequences, and information. To many, these additional pieces are also critical to the experience of a game. Some people play just to learn the information in the games, some play simply to collect resources, while others just play to achieve the goal and win.

I think these characteristics are definitely incorporated within most modern games, but I have always been in the category of gamers that prefer the experience of play over achieving specific goals or winning. I enjoy games most when everyone is playing their best and having fun. Bernie DeKoven says this is called the well-played game, which he describes as “a game that becomes excellent because of the way it’s being played” (DeKoven, 3). This type of game includes a much looser classification for games and looks to subvert the very specific definitions such as the one provided by Pearce. There have been many movements in gaming that have aimed to do the same; they wish to undermine the basic conceptual architecture of games by stressing the individual elements of games or introducing interesting modifications to known games. Prime examples of these games include Rock, Paper, Scissors, Tag, White Chess, and  Pencil Whipped.

The New Games movement is a delightful set of games started by Stewart Brand that set out to explore the “way people interact with each other through the games they play” (Lucida, 1). The movement is an experiment in focusing a game around its very core element of play. The goal is not to win or lose, it is to play the games and experience them with others. My favorite example of a New Game is Rock, Paper, Scissors, Tag. This game starts by setting two distinct against one another. They line up facing each other in the middle of a playing field. Each team has a base set about 15 feet behind them. Before each round, each team decides which move to throw. The losing team has to race back to their base without being tagged by the other team. Anyone tagged is converted to the other team. This game is wonderful because it subverts the common gaming of element of set teams. In team games, it is the goal for everyone on a team to dedicate themselves to the success of their team. This camaraderie is a forced convention that divides the players and creates a distinct division. In RPST, the teams are constantly shifting, which immediately destroys this great divide. Players usually end up switching sides numerous times over the course of a game, which encourages a global goal of merely playing the game and having fun (Lucida, 3). You no longer have a given team to win for, so you have to have fun no matter which team you switch to. While there may be an ending to the game (when everyone is converted to one team), this goal does not matter. It is merely a function for resetting the game so that the players can focus on the fun. Interestingly, some games have been created with the opposite intention in mind: to cut out the fun and make you think about what you are playing.

Yoko Ono’s White Chess Set is one variant in the multitude of modifications to the game of Chess. Game modification is an interesting movement that takes games of all kinds and twists their aesthetics or mechanics to create a new way of playing the games. In the case of White Chess, the modification is simple: make everything in the game white. This includes both sets of pieces, as well as all of the squares on the board. This is a bold change to a well-established game which manages to place White Chess in “the modding category of unplayable games” (Pearce, 81). This mod was an anti-war political statement in reaction to the Vietnam War. It sought to point out that not everything in the world is merely black and white, which makes every decision very difficult and hard to understand. This applied to the idea of the war itself, as well as the themes of combat and enmity implicit in many games (Pearce, 80). This game mod is fascinating because it transforms a previously engaging and fun game into an unplayable brain-twister, in which neither player could have fun. It is possible to play, but the frustration factor overrides any previously established enjoyment offered in normal chess. It destroys the main goal of the game, to the point where it becomes difficult to even play, much less win. This mod deliberately goes against pretty much any standard definition of a game, and is primarily a showcase to make you think about the experience. It is not fun to play, but it does a good job of making the player realize why it is not fun. This is one extreme example of modding that completely changes the intent of the game. Other types of mods serve to change or modify the experience without ruining it.

Video games have supported the idea of modification since its birth. Starting with its earliest games, such as Spacewar, modifications have been a welcome addition to the community. Spacewar was initially created as a side project at MIT, but as it spread around the computer scene, it evolved. It encouraged new programming by the user, and allowed for many unique renditions of the game that suited each particular set of players. This is an integral part of video games. In Stewart Brand’s eyes, “Spacewar serves Earthpeace. So does any funky playing with computers or any computer-pursuit of your own peculiar goals, and especially any use of computers to offset other computers” (Brand). This idea shines through in the many mods that exist for computer games these days. One of my favorite examples of peculiar mods is  Lonnie Flickinger’s Pencil Whipped. A modification of the game Quake, Pencil Whipped managed to subvert the “high-tech experience” of Quake by replacing the aesthetic of the game (Pearce, 82). It reskinned the entire game in hand-drawn, child-like drawings, changed the keyboard mappings, and replaced all of the sounds with goofy human voice effects. It still played like Quake, but the entire experience shifted to imitate a zany children’s nightmare. This kind of mod leaves much of the core experience of the original game intact, but gives the player a completely reimagined interaction with the game world that creates an entirely separate play experience. It focuses on immersing the player in this bizarre child’s brain, placing emphasis on the game’s artwork and quirky changes. It still contains most of the mechanics of Quake, but focuses the player’s attention on other things that may be more interesting.

Games have no clearcut definition. I provided several examples of definitions earlier, but those were only a fraction of the many conceptualized notions of games that exist. Today, much of the focus of a game is on either the single-player experience of watching a story from start to finish or winning multiplayer match after multiplayer match. Many people place emphasis on the many components that go into making a game, breaking it down into a standard formula that can recycled and built upon to form new games. The New Games movement and game mods both serve to break down this formula and create new games with different intentions. With New Games such as Rock, Paper, Scissors, Tag, the idea is that you should just enjoy playing the game. Other pieces of the game are inconsequential and fluctuating, but the fun should always remain. Game mods set out to create something new in order to focus the player’s attention on something new or unusual. Games like White Chess make statements by going against the very ideas of fun and play, while mods like Pencil Whipped enhance the set experience by applying a unique aesthetic to draw the player in through unusual means. All of these games show that the definition of a game is malleable, allowing for play experiences that can be stretched, flipped, and remolded to appeal to the tastes of all kinds of people.

Sources

Brand, Stewart. “SPACEWAR: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums,” Rolling Stone, December 7, 2001. Web. February 27, 2011.

DeKoven, Bernie. The Well-played Game: A Playful Path to Wholeness. San Jose: Writers Club, 2002. Print.

Fron et al (aka Ludica). “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.

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Game Movements

Posted by bblihovde on Tuesday Feb 28, 2012 Under Alternative Game Movements

Traditionally, and even for the most part today, games have been about competition. As a player it is your goal to be the best, to finish ahead of everyone else or be the last man standing. It has been about winning; overcoming the obstacles set before in order to achieve your goal and prove yourself victorious. And many would argue that this is only naturally, that we as humans are naturally competitive and enjoy the thrill of the competition. But along the way, numerous different movements in games have set out to destroy our previous conceptions of what a game is or how we play. From changing the rules and goals of current games to creating all new ones, people have been trying to find new and interesting ways to play for a long time. Two big movements which have often tried to do these things and from which I will choose to discuss games here are the new games movement and modding. Three games that I believe highlight the characteristics of these movements and show some deviance from traditional game characteristics are Knot, Garry’s Mod, and Team Fortress.

Knot is an interesting game that came out of the new games movement. The game is played by grouping all of the players together tightly and having them grab random people’s hands in the group. It is then their goal to attempt to untangled the knot that they are inevitably in at this point. Most commonly the knot is able to be untangled into a single circle. Sometimes, though several circles are found, that may or may not be intertwined. And at one playing of the game, the group I was playing with created a knot that was unable to be untangled, and could be moved along the circle. Ludica describes the cooperation of the new games movement, “Farrington believed that games could encourage players to celebrate their abilities, rather than compete with them” (Fron et al, p. 2). This game exemplifies the new games movement quality of cooperation by forgetting the normally competitive nature of games and making it focus on team effort. The players must work together to reach the goal rather than competing to be the first to attain it. While the game does have a goal and it is satisfying to reach it, the joy is really in the playing of the game. The cooperation and teamwork in finding the solution is what ultimately provides the fun and satisfaction, not the reward, another great example of the new games movement. This game does a great job of creating a completely different experience than a traditional game while still keeping many of the traditional characteristics of games. There are still rules, a goal and obstacles, but the experience is completely changed due to the way those rules make the players interactive cooperatively rather than competitively.

Garry’s Mod is an example of modding, which in games is used to describe the act of changing the game in some way to alter the way the game looks or is played, or create something new altogether. Garry’s Mod was created off of Valve’s Source engine by a guy named, you guessed it, Garry. Garry’s Mod allows the user to spawn any prefabs or other objects from the source engine’s repository and do whatever you want with them. Users of the mod have done everything from placing characters in interesting poses to creating complex Rube Goldberg machines. This is a very interesting mod to me because it provides a completely different play experience than the games for which the engine was built. Games made by Valve off of the source engine are primarily shooters with traditional game rules and specific goals. Garry’s Mod on the other hand, removes many constraints that they have and completely removes any goals, unless you consider playing around the goal. Instead of constraining your progress and giving you a concrete goal you can just do what you want; creating scenes, Rube Goldberg Machines, make machinima, or whatever you please. As Pearce discusses the parameters of games she says, “The craft of making games, whether they are art games or commercial ‘mass media’ games, can be measured in the designer/artist’s ability to create a balance between these parameters” (Pearce, p. 69). This creates an environment where the players’ fun comes from creating things for themselves rather than playing with what has been created for them to use.

Although many people recognize Team Fortress 2 as Valve’s competitive class based shooter, less know where it began. Originally, Team Fortress was created as a mod of id Software’s Quake. Instead of dramatically changing the goals of the game the way that Garry’s Mod did, Team Fortress simply adds variety to the characters that you can play, and forces the players on a team to use teamwork to defeat the enemy rather than running around on their own. So the base gameplay of a shooter and goal for the game remains, but the strategies used to accomplish your goal are changed to be more teamwork oriented. In addition it adds a lot of choice that you really didn’t have in the game before. Originally the soldiers were equal and the player with the best weapon or the fastest trigger finger would win. With Team Fortress, even if another player is a better shot you may win because you healer helps you out.

It is interesting to see in what ways we can change the experience of games. Certainly this can be accomplished by creating new games, but most interesting is how changing even seemingly small things in a game can drastically change the way the game is played. Team Fortress’s addition of classes is a prime example of this. Most importantly though, is that games can come in many different forms, and don’t have to stick to the norms to create an enjoyable experience.

Fron et al (aka Ludica). “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.

~Brent Blihovde

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The “New Games Movement” first emerged in the 1960s, largely due to the influence of American writer Stewart Brand, who sought to create games which would teach cooperation and offer release to a culture preoccupied with the general state of sorrow and “heaviness” brought about by the Vietnam War and the social climate of the time (Fron et al 1). He believed that games should not be seen so much as sets of constraints to be conquered as things to be molded and reinvented for our benefit. He wrote, “You change a game by leaving it, going somewhere else and starting a new game. If it works, it will in time alter or replace the old game” (Flegelman 137). Brand and his companions thus invented numerous physical games which were designed to foster cooperation and cause people to re-think the meaning of their participation in them. One of the first among these was a game called Earthball, in which players were given an option of two possible opposing goals and no guidance as to which team to play on. Players were simply told that one team should try to move a large ball to one end of a field, while the other team should move it the other way. The finding was that the players often switched teams to join the losing side, thus prolonging the excitement and keeping the experience alive (Fron et al 2). Years later in his book The Well Played Game, Game Designer and theorist Bernie DeKoven acknowledged this sort of behavior by describing games as a contract between players. He writes, “Now, it happens that we have found one game in particular which we both seem to be enjoying. It became our objective, once we found the game, to keep it going as long as possible. We want to volley forever” (21). In DeKoven’s view, helping the other side without compromising the quality of the game can be an art in its own right, since it requires finesse in terms of timing and intensity to nudge things toward continuing while maintaining a balanced play environment. He dedicates an entire chapter to the various ways in which games can be prolonged and kept enjoyable, from cheating to giving hints to determining how to keep a game immersive without compromising safety or becoming distracted by the outside world (21-45). Earthball subverts these dangers by encouraging the players to choose their loyalties freely, allowing for self-balancing competition without forcing players into any given roles. In contrast, traditional games usually give players a well-defined side and a single goal, but do not allow players to mold the experience further without invalidating the game’s meaning. For example, if a player in a chess match becomes bored and offers his opponent a hint by making a good move against himself, the opponent is likely to feel insulted, or like his status in the game was unfairly earned. In contrast, “New Games” seek to place the emphasis on the experience rather than solely on strategy, allowing players to enjoy themselves in dynamic ways.

In 1972, a new game called Spacewar reignited Brand’s vision. One of the earliest video games, Brand called it “low-rent but pervasive” due to its popularity among amateur hackers seemingly everywhere a monitor and computer met (Brand). Spacewar was a competitive game in which players sought to destroy each other by piloting ships and firing missiles at each other. The emergent strategies among players along with the many ways in which the experience could be changed simply by tweaking various parameters such as speed made it intriguing to researchers and addictive to participants (Brand).

Another example of a “New Game” is rock-paper-scissors-tag, in which players line up on two teams and collaborate to throw a single choice in unison. The losing players must turn and run away to a safe zone without being tagged and stolen away by the other team. Again, as in Earthball, the twist on convention is that the player’s goal may swap during the game. However, in this case the player cannot change sides arbitrarily. He must always play for the team he is on. The knowledge that players may work hard to benefit a team only to have to face against them later leaves open the possibility of playing to benefit the losing side, either to maintain a beneficial balance, prolong the game, or join up with friends. The goal is less about winning the overall game than winning individual isolated battles, and negotiating with fellow players about what to do next, even though there is only very limited strategy involved.

The impact of the New Games movement is still clearly visible today in the digital medium. One notable example which is a particular favorite of mine is Little Big Planet, created by Media Molecule in 2008. The game, which is a platformer at first glance, centers around solving puzzles and cooperating with other players to reach objectives that one person alone could not achieve. While traditional in the sense that it offers a set of fixed (more or less) challenges for players to face, there are two aspects of the game which make it particularly representative of the New Games genre. First, the experience is very open to creative solutions and emergent game play. Players will often take to playing with the game’s physics elements, racing to get to shared objectives first, customizing their characters in funny ways, decorating levels with collectible objects, or flat-out preventing one another from succeeding. The second aspect that gives the game its unconventional potential is its editor. The game gives the players all the tools the designers used to build their levels, and allows them to play with them in real-time using their in-game avatars. My friends and I have spent hours on end building elaborate contraptions with no end goal aside from testing the limits of the virtual engine and tormenting our poor little avatars. Emergence, described by Celia Pearce as “unpredictable outcomes that occur as a result of the implementation of a rule-set”, takes center-stage in the game, and in this case it is by design (Pearce 85). While some games, like Uru, benefit from a thriving culture of users who seek to find new uses for the world, Little Big Planet is clearly intended as a digital toybox from the get-go, and is driven entirely by the freedom given to its users as opposed to the constraints which traditional games emphasize.

Works Cited

Brand, Stewart. “SPACEWAR: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums,” Rolling Stone, December 7, 2001. http://www.wheels.org/spacewar/stone/rolling_stone.html

DeKoven, B. (1978) The Well-Played Game: A Player’s Philosophy. New York: Anchor Books.

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. http://lmc.gatech.edu/~cpearce3/PearcePubs/DACSustainablePlay.pdf

Pearce, Celia. “Games as Art: The Aesthetics of Interactivity.” Visible Language: Special Issue on Fluxus. January 2006. http://lmc.gatech.edu/~cpearce3/PearcePubs/fluxus-pearce.pdf

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Games have existed from many different cultures and from many different time periods. There are many different genres that range from board games, to sports, to strategy games, to games of chance. However, these traditional games share a lot similar of qualities that define what games in general are. As Pearce explains, a traditional game has rules that players must abide to, goals or objectives or win-states, obstacles in the way of achieving the goals, resources, consequences or penalties, and information (Pearce 69). By establishing a definition of a game, a norm is created that all games should have these characteristics, and it is then possible for new games to challenge that norm by creating exceptions to what makes a traditional game a game. As a result, several movements came about like the New Games Movement and games as an art medium. With digital games emerging, the concepts of new games and game art have been applied to digital games. Now more games have been about the social interaction of game rather than just simply having a goal of winning at the game. As DeKoven says in The Well-Played Game, the game should not measure the players, but it should serve as a medium for social interaction. The three games I will talk about in this blogpost is Rock-Paper-Scissors Tag, League of Legends, Minecraft.

Rock-Paper-Scissors Tag
Before I talk about Rock-Paper-Scissors Tag, let me briefly explain some background information New Games Movement first. The New Games Movement was created in response to the Vietnam War and the civil unrest of the 1960’s and 70’s (Ludica 1). New Games were not competitive and were much friendlier so that anyone can play. A lot of the new games involved a large number of people doing physical outdoor activities. Rock-Paper-Scissors Tag was an example of a new game. The game starts off with two teams on two different sides. Each team will huddle up to decide what strategy to use. After deciding, they will face off each other. Whoever shows the losing sign will have to run to their respective home base which is roughly fifteen feet behind them. The winning team would try to chase the losing team’s players. Any losing team players who were tagged before they could reach to the home base much switch sides. Then the next round begins. The game ends when everyone is on one team or when everyone is too exhausted to play. The game’s goal overall is to just arouse fun build a community. While certain moments of play can be competitive, ultimately, there is no real winner or loser as everyone ends up on the same team (Ludica 3).

League of Legends
One of the most recent digital games that have some elements of the New Games Movement is League of Legends or LoL. LoL is a free game made that goes into the genre of MOBA or Multiplayer Online Battle Arena. In normal play, each player will be queued into a team of five players and each player will choose one character to play out of about seventy characters to choose from. When all players from both teams have selected their characters, then they will all spawn onto a map. On each side of the map, there are each team’s respective nexuses, which a team loses if their respective nexus is destroyed before the enemy team’s nexus is destroyed. Each nexus spawns minions to three different lanes, where each lane is protected by three towers, which are needed to be destroyed before invading the nexus. In between each lane is called the jungle, where there are neutral minions that either team can kill and take for experience and gold. Each team will utilize the map and can implement various strategies to gain advantage against the opponent to try to win the game. Players can communicate with each other through chat boxes and has the option to talk with the enemy players. There are a lot of technicalities and unique strategies involved as well as a degree of individual skill and teamwork. As a result, players can form teams to play competitively through regular tournaments. League of Legends has many qualities of a competitive game, but I have found League of Legends to be a medium of social interaction. Even though most players play the game traditionally with the goal of winning the game, there is also a good amount of players who only focus on the fun experience of the game, where winning the game doesn’t necessarily equate to fun. Some have focused on a certain mechanic of the game to achieve their own means of fun, while others play the game to socialize with friends. In this the video [LoL] Huy asks Precious to prom, a player was in a custom game with friends and decided to use the warding mechanic as a way to spell the word “PROM” and ask one of his friends out to prom. Another trend in LoL is trolling, where players take fun in fooling around rather than trying to strategically win a game. However, trolling can be frowned upon by players whose goal is to win games.

Minecraft
Game as art is another way of challenging the properties of games. In game art, the “artist is making a choice to invite the viewer in as a co-creator of the work” (Pearce 70). While this does apply for pretty much all art, game art is more literal in that sense. One game that portrays the concept of game art is the game called Minecraft. Minecraft is a community-based game where each player controls a single avatar that is able to walk around in a world made entirely of cubes. Players can create new blocks, collect resources, destroy blocks, etc. In Creative mode, everyone’s given unlimited resources and players have godlike invincible stats. This is the mode where anyone can spend hours trying to create large sculptures of art. In public servers, players from the community can collaborate with one another as well. One player constructed a meteor in Minecraft: Meteor In Minecraft!?. Other players are able to use their avatars to interact with the piece. Unlike in traditional games, in Creative mode there is no win objective, consequences or penalties, or any sort of competing. Instead, players are free to express their works and show them off to the community.

These games all challenge the traditional definition of gaming, and thus redefines games. Gaming no longer necessarily revolves around competition and instead revolves more around fun and social interactions. As newer ideas and definitions of games emerge, digital games will provide newer and more interesting experiences and will change the way we think about the game as well as how we create the game.

- James Zhang

References:

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.

DeKoven, Bernie. The Well-played Game: A Playful Path to Wholeness. San Jose: Writers Club, 2002. Print.

Pearce, Celia. “Games as Art: The Aesthetics of Interactivity.” Visible Language: Special Issue on Fluxus. January 2006.

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Alternative Game Movements

Posted by cbritt on Tuesday Feb 28, 2012 Under Alternative Game Movements, Blogpost Assignments

As with any medium there are always conventions that works tend to follow. Patterns arise out of what sells or what people like, however there is also often a rejection of these types of works, this is certainly true within the game industry with movements such as the new games movement or art games. These games often rejected the format of previous games or used games in a different way such as sending a message or emphasizing playing the game itself rather than being motivated by winning the game.

Rock Paper Scissors tag:

In this game two teams face off and perform a game a rock paper scissors the winning team will than chase the loosing team and try to “tag” members of that tem in order to convert them to this side. When playing this game I noticed there were a lot of interesting behaviors that do not exist in typical two sided game such as competitive sports. First of all the it was almost impossible to get everyone onto one team given the random nature of the game, and the team with more people had a more difficult time reaching the safe zone because of the fact that there were too many people to run fast enough. This leads to a game where they is almost never a win state, In the well player game by Bernie Dekoven he points out that we are not accustomed to just quitting without reaching some resolution in the game. Secondly the team dynamics and interesting became very interesting the longer the game went on, as people began to switch sides loyalties became diluted, was someone trying to disrupt the other team like a double agent, was the sign chosen really the best option, it because a game of how long you could stay on one team rather than which team had more people. This game that came out of the new games movement while it motivates players by competitiveness it emphasizes play rather than winning.

Parachute :

Much like the rock paper scissors game the parachute game or games is a new game the interesting this about parachute games is that no one person can operate the parachute by themselves the game only arise out of a large number of people working in tandem.  The parachute game focus on what you can do with a parachute rather that some form of competition and therefore also usually lack a win state. All of these games take some form of very simple mechanic and build a team game off of that.

Passage:

Jason Rohrner’s game passage depicts the life of a person played out in 5 minutes, this is a game that fits into the art game movement. It  abandons the idea that the purpose of a game sound be fun and rather uses the game as a metaphor for life. The player can see their future condensed in from of them that stretches out as the game progresses, this is a game which differs from many of the traditional game  ideas such as a win state which is very loosely defined or the fact that the only decision that the player makes is whether or not to marry or to live a single life. Despite the lack of interaction or minimal art style to which Rohrner said  ”I think it leaves more up to the imagination than when you’re looking at a 10,000-polygon character on an Xbox 360,” many people have found a connection to the game

References:

DeKoven, Bernie. The Well-played Game: A Playful Path to Wholeness. San Jose: Writers Club, 2002. Print.

Fron et al (aka Ludica). “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.

http://hcsoftware.sourceforge.net/passage/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passage_(video_game)

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Art games of Molleindustria

Posted by cspross on Tuesday Feb 28, 2012 Under Alternative Game Movements, Blogpost Assignments

Among the art game community there are few groups more prolific than Molleindustria. They take games from their context of entertainment and put them to another use. Their site explicitly states that they want to free games from their corporate masters and use them to address pressing social issues. Their recent works include Unmanned – a game about a day in the life of an unmanned drone pilot, Phone Story – a game about the darker side of smart-phone manufacturing, Leaky World – a “playable theory” about the importance of information leaking, and Every Day the Same Dream – a game about the weary, workaday world. This blog will focus specifically on their latest game, Unmanned.

In Unmanned you start off in the main character’s nightmare where he is being chased by angry, Middle Easter people. You transform into an unmanned drone and fly away before they can catch you. After you awake you begin preparing for another work day. In the bathroom you shave while you reflect on your dream. The game simulates all the tedium of normal shaving. You then drive to work through a desolate desert and have more time with just you and your thoughts. While driving, you try and sing the words to the song One Vision by Queen. You arrive at work, a simple white trailer in a desolate, desert location. Your coworker, Jane, is the only company. An anonymous voice over the radio gives your first assignment, to monitor the activity of a person of interest. You follow the target with your eye-in-the-sky but do not engage in any combat before your task is passed off to another anonymous, remotely-located team. Once this is finished you take a smoking break outside while talking on the phone to your wife. After your break you return to work and track a new target with your unmanned drone. This time the target conduct some “suspicious activity” that may be installing an IED, you are not sure because you only see the target’s thermal silhouette. You are cleared to fire a missile and take them out. It is in question whether they were actually a terrorist or not. After your day of work the story skips to the next day where you are playing video games with your son. You play modern warfare-esque games and discuss what your son has been up to. The game then concludes in the same place it started, with you in bed again, counting sheep in order to get back to sleep.

The narrative is fairly simple and, while the stance of the game is against unmanned drones, it is never too heavy-handed. It leaves the question of whether the killing was justified up to you. Your actions are never directly called into doubt during the day. It is only at night that you nightmares allude to your guilt conscious. In spite of the controversial topic, most of the game focuses on the dull and distracted day-to-day reality of being a pilot of one of these drones.

The game gives you dialog choices throughout that effect the way each scene plays out. At first it might seem as if the choices you make lead to different narrative branches but on further playthroughs you find that the order of scenes is fixed. But your choices are not entirely meaningless in the game’s world. The way you handle each situation will determine if you receive one of the games many, often-arbitrary medals. The medals the game awards could be seen as a critique or satire of the achievements in many modern games. Medals reward you for seemingly meaningless tasks: not waking from your nightmare, shaving well, singing all the lyrics to a song, successfully flirting with you co-worker, ext. These achievements seem strange when juxtaposed with some of the more militant achievements like “death from above” for killing a suspected terrorist with your unmanned drone. You will not get all 12 medals the first time you play; in fact it would take several playthroughs to get them all. However, if you want to get all of them in one playthrough then your character would have to act in a highly irrational fashion; being a good husband on the phone to your wife, while successfully flirting with Jane and setting up a date, then being a good father to your son. Your character would seem, at the very least, to be a sleaze bag. But these medals are entirely optional and have no impact. If you don’t play “to win” so to speak, if getting medals is not your goal, then there are various choices in each scene that can allow you to play a specific role. You can be the meat-head solider, the dutiful dad, the deep thinker with and uneasy conscious or the hedonistic Lothario. The game leaves room for the player to either project themselves onto the character or to make him fill whatever role they want him to play.

The world of Unmanned is presented through two square frames placed side by side. There is a thick black margin in between the two. At times they look at the same location from different angles. At other times they show two opposite sides of the world. Sometimes one screen displays your character’s internal monologue while the other displays the event at hand. Whatever the spatial difference, both frames occupy the same moment in time. Each frame is rather small and most things in the game are presented in a close up fashion. You never see the whole picture. It is like looking through the lenses of two different cameras simultaneously. This proves to be the game’s most effective gambit. Beyond simply creating an interesting visual composition this setup is critical to the way the player interacts with the game. Which frame you are supposed to be focusing on at any time shifts. Sometimes you need to steer a vehicle in one frame and select a dialog choice in the other.Clicking in one frame will have an entirely different effect than clicking in the other. You have to balance the action on both frames and sometimes the event will suddenly switch frames. You attention is always divided and there is never enough time to do your best at both tasks. This divided attention is central to the metaphor of the game. You may be targeting a potential terrorist in one frame while trying to flirt with your co-worker Jane on the other. A mistake on one could mean a terrorist gets away, a mistake on the other leads to an awkward situation. Both have equal weight in the game’s world as successful completion of either one result in a medal.

Another tool that Unmanned uses is Tedium. This is created by jumping between a series of everyday situations that most games would overlook, then making you play through them in real time. This is contrary to the action packed design of most commercial games. This tedium serves as a counterpoint to the blaring propaganda of military recruitment commercials. It endeavors to show that the life of a soldier, and more specifically an unmanned drone pilot, can be just as boring as other jobs. However, this career comes with the added benefit of a guilty conscience.

Divided attention and tedium are all tools that Molleindustria employs to subvert the player’s expectation of a game. Instead of focusing on fun the game instead focuses on a social message. Unlike some games with heavy handed messages, Unmanned invites the player to play a single role in the larger machine that enables drone warfare and asks them to think about the consequences.

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