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Redefining Interactivity pt 2: Get Your Gameplay Face On

May 11, 2011

Okay, chatting with friends since my last post, I’ve come to the stunning realisation that perhaps it has been longer than I thought it was since the last time I explained my take on just what gameplay is, what it’s for, and how it both helps and hurts storytelling.


tl;dr Version: I don’t know. You tell me.

‘Splain, Lucy Version: No, really, gameplay is whatever the rules of the game say it is. It’s a contract between the person who creates the game and the person who agrees to play it, stating that this is what you have to do to successfully play the game to its logical conclusion.

Sounds like something out of a dictionary, doesn’t it?

In plainspeak, it’s the bit where you run and jump and duck and swim and shoot and punch and kick your way to whatever the objective is. It can be absolutely anything, as long as it’s you doing the work.

What that means, in practical video game terms is, it’s whatever you can do that the computer can interpret as a command and implement into game activity. There has to be an interface between you and the computer, and instructions or indicators that tell you when and which controls to use on said interface, and rules that dictate how you proceed towards fulfilling the stated goal of the game, whether it be Save The Princess, Save The Earth, or Shoot All The Things!

The Boring Version: Are they gone yet? Okay, let’s talk about this. Games are ancient. Don’t ask me the history; I’m better with comics. What I can tell you is, rocks and sticks have been around longer than man, and I’m betting man came up with some pretty wild things to do with rocks and sticks… when he wasn’t throwing them at things he wanted to eat.

That’s a thing, too. Man is the only creature on this planet to devise and build games. Maybe dolphins and whales and lab mice have their own kinds of games. And there’s that dog who pushes the rock with his head. And cats with string. What’s that about, anyway?

But humans don’t merely find things to play with. They make up rules governing what play is appropriate, and what is inappropriate. People who play the game right win. People who play the game wrong lose.

Well, that’s the theory, anyway. Sometimes the game we think we’re playing has been superceded by a different, more nefarious game, where cheating and throwing the match become more important than playing the game properly. But for this discussion, lets assume for a few minutes that nobody starts learning to play a game with the intent of learning to cheat.

We first start playing games because they are fun. Well, that’s what they kept telling me in gym class. Frankly, I always thought games were just an organized way for the bigger kids to beat up on me without getting into trouble. But that’s sports, and thankfully, we’re not discussing MMOs today, so we can safely pretend that sports isn’t our problem. Yet.

The thing with games is, unlike story, which was invented by man to figure out what just happened, games were invented to figure out the best way to do a simple task. We get bored of just doing a thing over and over, so we make a game out of it, challenging ourselves to do it so much faster, or so much quieter, or so much easier, which often means a combination of the first two.

And the thing about challenging ourselves is, most of us aren’t very good at setting goals for ourselves. We need validation. We need an audience. And that means, we need competitors. I know, it sounds like a leap, but think about it; if you’re so bored doing that thing over and over that you can’t bear to do it alone, think about how much more boring it is for the shmoe you sucker into watching you? But add another participant, and the enjoyment factor for spectators goes right up. Humans are pretty competitive, as it turns out.

Well, most of them. Not me. I rarely feel comfortable competing, whether I’m winning or losing. I often play games with other people just to help them win, because it makes them happy, and that makes me happy.Unless me losing too easily makes them unhappy, in which case I start to make it look good. Sometimes I even make an effort to win, just so I don’t lose my credibility completely. But if it’s a team thing, I always take the support roles, like Tank or Healer, stuff like that. I rarely get the killing blow. Don’t look for me on the damage meters, unless you want a laugh.

So, what does that say about gameplay? Well, what it says is, some people just can’t abide by the frelling rules, which we all know means they (meaning me) are Losers. You don’t want that.

What does that have to do with video games, and about this whole Interactive Storytelling crap I keep spouting off about on gamer forums like it matters?

Well, as far as video games, competition is what most people play video games for. That is, unless they’re Adventure Gamers. AGers aren’t very comfortable with competition either. Probably how I became one, actually. Sort of made for each other, really. Except not, because I’m a very specific type of Adventure Gamer; I’m a Story Gamer. Which means, basically, that I’m doing it wrong, again.

You see, as has been pointed out to me on numerous occasions, Adventure Games are actually All About The PUZZLES. I had to have it explained to me that Adventure Games is sort of a time-honoured misnomer; you see, within the AG community, there are still those who remember that these games are (often unkindly) referred to as Puzzle Games. It’s meant as a kind of slur, but Puzzle Gamers tend to wear it like a badge. Not always happily, but proudly, as if it distinguishes them from the unwashed masses. Puzzle games, at least to Puzzle Gamers, are Proper Adventure Games, the ones that haven’t lost the real point of the genre, which is to challenge the player to a battle of wits.

Have you ever played Chess? It’s a turn-based battlefield strategy simulator that doesn’t use electricity. Or geography.

Ever played Risk? Same thing, only with fewer moves and more men, on a much less monochromatic board.

Have you ever played Tetris? It’s like a 2D digital version of Jenga.

Ever played Jenga? It’s like Architectural Engineering for Amateurs. Think Sims 3, without the bath mat recolours or the WooHoo.

None of them are very flashy, but the thing is, a lot of people really, REALLY enjoy these games.

Not me. I played all the Tetris I’m ever going to play, back when I was killing time during dinner breaks on the graveyard shift at Toys R Us the year before I went to college (which, yes, was a lifetime ago. Yes, there were dinosaurs. Shut up). Stultifying pointless game.

I liked chess, though, for the record.

Still doesn’t say word one about Interactive Storytelling, does it? Well, that’s probably because most folks grew up with the unspoken understanding that games and stories are two completely different things. They both can be fun, but they often have completely different objectives.

However, it does get me back on point, so I think I’ll put it out there for now. It’s a bit rough for a finalized chapter, but this is still first draft country, so what the heck. Have at it!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. default permalink
    May 12, 2011 8:43 am

    “I’m a Story Gamer. Which means, basically, that I’m doing it wrong, again.”

    Oh do I so know this feeling 🙂

    Lee, good start here. Some nice takes on the subject. This happens to be an area that gets discussed a lot between myself and my some of my more “commentary” type friends.

  2. May 12, 2011 4:41 pm

    Thank you, Default. Very cool.

  3. May 19, 2011 8:10 am

    I think reducing all games except story-driven ones to “about competition” is unfair. Simulation games are often about building things up rather than competing against others. And if you try to twist that into competition, by saying that you’re competing against yourself, then you’ll have to include story-driven games as well because you’re competing against yourself to get to the end. There are actually a lot of different reasons that people play games, and each kind of game has a different kind of appeal to it.

    • May 19, 2011 10:50 am

      Mory, I didn’t say that all games are competitive.

      Just the ones involving competitors. 😉

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