Chapter 1, Games & Video Games

(I wrote the following in 2015 as I was thrashing in the death throes of a career as an independent video game developer. –Ed)

As a designer I am a generalist. It is important to foster a deep understanding of all the aspects of game design, development, and production. I want to have a thorough knowledge base of all the elements of game production so that I can be most effective in the role of coordinator and producer, as well as having the skills to contribute to all the minute tasks required to ship a game.

I agree with this definition of a game: “A game is a type of play activity, conducted in the context of a pretended reality, in which the participant(s) try to achieve at least one arbitrary, nontrivial goal by acting in accordance with the rules”. There are many more layers to this definition, but none that improve on the core concepts contained within the foundation. I also like this definition for its cleanness and simplicity.

I agree with leaving out the elements of game world and story when presenting a definition of gameplay, as I have always felt that in a video game the narrative is secondary to play, and if narrative exists a player must uncover it through play. I go further by insisting that the dissemination of narrative should happen as seamlessly with play as possible, and that it is a key duty of a game developer to avoid explicit non-interactive exposition.

In sports, it is unfair for athletes to take performance-enhancing drugs because that is breaking the rules. Fairness comes from the players all playing by the agreed-upon rules, and when a player steps outside of those rules, it creates a negative experience for the others. Unintentional rule-breaking is forgivable depending on the social climate of the group. In the case of video games this is typically non-arbitrable and causes massive disruption (see cheating in online multiplayer games, gold-farming in MMOs, taking advantage of latency in action games).

One of the major advantages of a computer video game is that it is infinitely reproducible, and its only physical overhead is the size of the computer it runs on. Shelf space for boardgames becomes an issue for collectors, while a video game collector might have thousands of games on a single hard disk. The ability to create save files is also a key advantage of computer video games, as players can pause and return at any time. Furthermore, if produced in a modular and expandable fashion there is no limit to how many times a developer can upgrade and introduce new elements to a core game.

Some players are entertained by finding ways to break video game systems. Others find joy in deconstructing or modifying the source game. These forms of destructive play are valid, and developers must find ways to accommodate these kinds of players, particularly in multiplayer settings. Another way video games entertain is by establishing familiar systems of play and iterating on them over time, breathing life into fictional worlds with long lineages (Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, Ultima, the Warcraft universe, etc.).

2015.01.23 – 2023.08.20

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