Wednesday, 25 March 2015

In reply to 'Rules of the Game' by Daniel Golding

Note: In 2012 Hyper magazine published an article by Dan Golding titled 'Rules of the Game'. I'm not sure (that is can't remember) what position he was taking in the article but this was my response. Having discovered this in my files yesterday, I thought it was written well enough to be posted here.

I think we can safely say, and agree upon, that video-gaming is not a sport. Sports, in my opinion, require physical activity beyond twiddling your fingers and exercising the synapses in your brain. I believe that a game needs competition, and that competition must be an adversary of some type. This begs the question, is chess a game if you are playing against yourself? Well, I would argue, yes, because you are facing the adversary who just happens to be yourself. Fair game, I guess.
It's easy to view sport orientated videogames such as Wii Sports and Tekken or Street Fighter as games because they inherently take the forms of sport and apply them to the computerised world, thus taking out the 'sport' but retaining the game. So by that definition, game is form, not activity.
Any sports-modelled videogame still requires a competition-based form to involve yourself in the playing of: whether you are playing against your flatmate or the computer, you are still playing against an adversary that you may not win against.
When we enter the world of story-based videogaming, we are not entering a game, as there is no other competition, no one I am competing against; I am simply taking part in an exploration of a story-based entertainment. By picking up a console controller, customising my character and deciding which reply my character will answer with, I am no longer a passive viewer accepting another person's story as it is told to me, but an active part of the story who makes sincere and often involving decisions about how another person's story is going to be told to me – that is interactive entertainment. It is not a game, there are no rules, but there is a specific storyline that must be adhered to to get the full entertainment value out of.
The problem with viewing story-based videogames as a 'game' is knowing that it is a forgone conclusion that you will win, when essentially, all you are doing is concluding the story that you begun by opening your videogame box and inserting the disc – practically no different than picking up a DVD and inserting the disc, or via a different medium, picking up a book and opening the first page.
No matter what setting you play the story-based videogame on – even on the hardest setting – you can win if you put in enough time. The reality of the true game is that another player just might be better than you no matter how much time you put in. In that sense, only the videogame itself is your adversary. Can I really beat Dead Space 2 with only three saves allowed? I certainly can! (The question is, can I be bothered?)

Online is different though. Online we have competition. We have many players playing against each other, racking up high scores and at times competing for prizes. And, although I have never played online, are there not rules that accompany how you play online? Or perhaps, codes of conduct would be a better phrase.
A game of chess, or tennis, dictates how you play simply by the rules that have been created to accommodate the form of the game. Yes, it is possible to cheat, and there in lies the necessity to acquire a judge or adjudicator to impart impartiality.
Videogaming requires no referee, no adjudicator to check if I am cheating or not. That, assuming cheat codes are available, is entirely my choice, and at the end of the day I only answer to myself.
When playing a traditional game in competition with another, you cannot afford to stand around and do nothing, otherwise your adversary will take advantage of your slack and begin scoring points against you. Many videogames I have played, I have allowed my character to stand around doing nothing, or hide in a corner to generate more health.

I believe that developers need to ask themselves whether they are building a 'game', or an 'interactive entertainment'.
If developers really want their products to be viewed as games, they need to stop making every mission and quest so easy to complete by providing instructions, cues, markers and arrows that make the story and puzzles nothing more than a walkthrough.
On the other hand, if developers are only making interactive entertainments, then it is the attitude of gamers themselves that need to change. The reason Prince of Persia (2008) flopped was not because of the game, which was a beautifully rendered semi-cell shaded enjoyable romp through an imaginary fairytale land, but because of the voices that decried its 'easiness' and the resulting criticisms towards the gameplay (and rather thin plot). For once, I had an interactive entertainment that obeyed its own internal logic – if the story requires my character to win-out in the end, then it makes complete and utter sense that he doesn't die during the story. PoP (2008) I believe, is the first true example of an interactive entertainment through the videogame form without relying on the actual 'game' element whereby it is necessary for you to try not to die or be 'beaten' by the computer.

  • 2012, Whangamata

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