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Game Design

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Great post as usual.

I think you should take a trip and observe some Marines hanging out in garrison some time (if you could somehow keep them from changing their behavior with a civilian present). When the big boredom sets in, you can observe them going through the stages from paidia to ludus.

First, someone tries hanging from a bar. Then it becomes timed to see when the person falls. Then more challenges are added, more restrictions. By the end of the day there might be round robins and alternate goals.

I can't even imagine how many times a game was formed and solidified over two or three days, and then promptly cast off for the next distraction. It really was fascinating, and I'm sorry I didn't document them as they happened.

Johnny Pi brings up a perfect example of adults going through the same paida --> ludus process normally associated with children. Great write-up. We've talked about paidic type of play that always seem to pop up in FPS games--stacking, various forms of jumping/launching... or in many online multiplayer games involving vehicles, simply messing around.

Reading this, I also couldn't help but picture one of the inevitable occurences in virtually every racing game I've ever played: invariably, someone gets behind, and then decides that they're going to drive the course in the wrong direction (game permitting, as some do not) in order to sabotage the winning efforts of the lead car.

I think your appraisal of the paidic and ludic elements of videogames is dead-on; even in some very ludic games, certain spontaneous paidic style play is bound to occur, especially if the substructure or ground rules make for enjoyable play. Certain games' most basic elements (movement, jumping) are so enjoyable as to encourage paidia; though ludic elements are essential to longer term play, some games smartly invest a great deal of work into making the basic substructure work very well.

Take Katamari Damacy for instance--though katamaris don't really exist, the idea of a ball that smaller objects will stick to is easy enough to grasp, and the game's one essential verb, rolling, is intrinsically enjoyable. True, you're trying to roll a specific size, beat an established record, etc. most of the time, but the simple act of rolling is intrinsically gratifying.

Oh, and another good example of the transition of paidia to ludus would be the tremendous growth of the speedrunning subculture, primarily centered, though far from limited to FPS games. What begins as a fairly paidic impulse (I wonder how fast I can get to the end of this level?), has grown into a fascinating and rather formalized competition: the employment of near game-breaking exploits (though not cheating in the traditional sense), declared and implied rules regarding segments (unbroken length of playing during a speedrun) etc. have gotten such that this subculture has created its own highly ludic play around games that do only implicitly support its play.

You cite physics as part of an implied framework that compliments but is polarized away from physics. What happens to this analysis when physics simulation is completetly absent from the game world? Perhaps social dynamics, replacing physics, would fall into the same analysis, being an assumed framework imported from the outside world.

Just a couple of brief comments:

First. Pure games, as you define them, seem to me to ba also games of complete (perfect) information. That implies that they can be reasoned about formally, using game theory for instance, and thus can be played by artificial agents. This in turn means these games are algorithmically computational which, since I ascribe to the non-algorithmic view of human thought, gives (me at least) a clear(er) picture of where to draw the line under ludus. Somewhere around the reflection principle.

Second, is playing chess a matter of skill in state-space searching? I haven't thought through this, but it seems when one becomes skilled (which I'm not), its more about reflex pattern-matching.

Third, another nice post. Have you thought about writing a book?

He's already got one very excellent book under his belt (see sidebar of this site), and if I'm not mistaken, another one in progress :)

Dear all,

Thank you for an interesting collection of comments!

Johnny: the marine example you cite is quite pertinent. I myself can think of similar examples from my own life of spontaneous creation of ludus. It's a behaviour definitely not constrained to children!

Jack: I agree that the 'easy to grasp' notion of a katamari makes this game more accessible, and also that speedrunning et al is another example of creating ludus - although rather than being from paidia to ludus, it is perhaps a case of taking the formal ludus explicit in the game, and then adding a layer of player-mediated ludus on top. It reinforces the idea of a game as a tool for play in my mind. :)

Patrick: I totally agree that it need not be restricted to physics. Anything that our day-to-day minds has a "standard model" for is fair game, including social dynamics. There's much work still to be done in this regard!

ZenBen: Yes, I think in applying the term 'pure game' I was purposefully thinking that these are where game theory et al begin to apply most strongly. Regarding Chess, I dare say you are correct that pattern matching is a key skill - I have not really researched how people play Chess; I wonder if there is material about this already in circultion?

And yes, as Jack says, I already have one book out (21st Century Game Design), and I've just finished editing Game Writing: Narrative Skills for Videogames, which is out later this year.

No doubt, more to come in the future - but right now, I need a break. This last book project was exhausting! :)

Ahh, yes, sorry if the book question sounded literal - I have read 21st Century Game Design, and was only disappointed that it didnt go further (which in part lead me to regularly read this blog, in search of DGD2). It is the curse of typed electronic communication that what sounds sarcastic, ironic, witty, or subtle in one's head as one types, just sounds literal (and therefore often stupid) to the recipient.
Hurts me when I'm on IM!

I get your point about strategy games being very ludic but I think "so far up the ludic scale as to be all but incapable of paidia" is a touch far. True those games have been designed or refined for that end of the scale, but that doesn't mean the environment doesn't allow for paidiaieic subversions. You can always just stick the bishop up your opponent's right nostril, or change the very rules to the game (True example: complicated rules for off-board artillery in Chess).

Even without fundamentally altering the game environment paidia can be found. Players can collectively try to make the pieces spell out rude words on the board, they could play the regular game but change the winning condition to "take both of your opponent's rooks", they could even play normally but as fast as they possibly can (and then even that can be taken by some determined lud-ite a few steps back up towards ludicity -

To refine my point a bit more neatly, I'd say Chess _is_ an example of a highly ludic game, but only if you follow the established rules by the letter and promise your opponent you will do your best to win the game by taking their King. But isn't that the same for Super Mario?

Z. Ben: We lack a device to detect 'tone of typing', alas. :-D

Ben K.: I would tend to agree that all these things are possible, although I've never seen it - maybe they happen behind I'm back when I'm not looking. :) In fact, I haven't played Chess in (...thinks) more than a decade. I last played it in Toulouse, France, as I recall. I lost. :)

I gleefully concede that even highly ludic games can still be turned to paidia by a willing mind. :)

dj i/o here..

Chris, I wanted to link you to another article I thought you would find interesting, called "Beautiful simplicity" on the "Brainy Gamer" blog..

It talks about how complexity does not necessarily equal depth. Something perhaps a lot of game designers are overlooking?

Thanks for this! No time to read it now, but I'll check it when I get a chance.

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