Neuromythology for Game Design

Over on ihobo today, I expand my thoughts on the mythology of science into game design:

For quite a while now I've taken an interest in what neuroscientists can teach game designers. In the full knowledge that some of the things I convey will soon be invalidated, I have proceeded to dabble. But I am not a neurobiologist (or not yet, anyway) and many have advised me to leave it to those within the field. For me, this is the wrong way to relate to the sciences: experimental findings do not propagate by accurate description but by metaphors, what I have called (after Mary Midgley) 'myths'  – and neurobiologists are no more trained in practical mythology than game designers are in neuroscience.

Regular players of Only a Game are probably better equipped for this piece than most, and I thought about running it here, but it is ultimately about games so I put it on instead. You can read the entirety of Neuromythology for Game Design over there – check it out!

Four Questions

Over the past four weeks on ihobo, I’ve been asking some questions that push against contentious issues in games. These were all written with a dash of bluster to try and provoke discussion – in at least one case, I may have overcooked it. Here are the questions:

  • Is Gordon Freeman a Character? (25th September): this concerns what we mean by a game character, and what we want out of characters in games. The contested camps are arranged around narrative vs. agency.
  • Is a Jigsaw Puzzle a Game? (2nd October): this one concerns our understanding of both games and puzzles, and the relationship between the two. The disputes concern different conceptions of ‘game’.
  • Is Fiction Just a Wrapper for Games? (9th October): a new rant on an old chestnut, it’s akin to the classic narratology vs. ludology battle (or fiction vs. function) and also player-centric vs. object-centric game studies (or player vs. system). Great reply by Danc on this one!
  • Is the Interface the Game? (16th October): this concerns the importance of the interface in games, something Graeme Kirkpatrick has championed. But do we really appreciate how wide reaching the effects of game interfaces are?

Hope you’ve enjoyed these rant-flavoured ponderings. I’ll be taking my usual break from blogging in November but there’ll be more nonsense at ihobo from December.

Cross-posted from

Is Fiction Just a Wrapper for Games?

Over on ihobo today, I ask whether we can seriously understand games by treating the fiction as a mere wrapper to be thrown away:

A popular view of the role of fiction in games is that it is just wrapping paper, enticing the player to start playing before later being discarded as the 'real' game supersedes the mere trapping. This utterly misrepresents the experience of a great deal – perhaps even the vast majority – of players.

You can read all of Is Fiction Just a Wrapper for Games? over on

Is Gordon Freeman a Character?

Over on ihobo today, I take a crowbar to the popularity of Gordon Freeman as a ‘character’. Here’s an extract:

Every poll asking gamers to rate the best videogame character is topped by Half-Life's Gordon Freeman. But is Gordon even a character, let alone the best that games have produced? This question hinges upon what we mean by 'character', of course. The argument that Gordon qualifies – despite his lack of a clearly recognisable personality or identity – rests on the assumption that a player-character should be an empty shell for the player to inject themselves into… Trouble is, player-as-Gordon has precious little choice because his world consists solely of puzzles to solve, things to crowbar, or things to kill. So if this is the relevant criterion, it doesn't seem like Gordon has the substance to back up his claim to supremacy with any kind of legitimacy beyond popular mandate.

You can read all of Is Gordon Freeman a Character? over at

The Interactivity of Non-Interactive Media

Over on ihobo today, I bitch about the claim that there is such a thing as ‘non-interactive’ media:

It has long been a commonplace that we can draw a clear line between games as ‘interactive’ media on the one hand, and narrative media such as books, television, and movies on the other. Indeed, this distinction is supposedly the reason that ‘videogame’ works as a category. I have long found this segregation misleading because it underestimates the interactivity of supposedly ‘static’ media and it overestimates the agency in most digital games.

You can read and comment upon The Interactivity of Non-Interactive Media over at

Just a Game?

Over on ihobo today, I complain about those gamers who lazily “defend” games by asserting that such-and-such is ‘just a game’. Here’s an extract:

What is actually at task here is the meaning of the fictional content of videogames, the interpretation of fiction within game worlds. Yet to assert that this does not matter because its just a game is to claim – implausibly – that fiction in games doesn't matter because the fact of it being a game allows the significance of the fictional world to be ignored. And this is precisely an argument that games don't matter, they are artistically unimportant, and that they are second rate to novels and films.

You can read the entirety of Just a Game? over on

Fiction Denial

Over on ihobo today, a short rant about fiction denial in game studies. Here's an extract:

Games studies has thus far been ideologically united by commitment to what can be called fiction denial. Fiction (setting, world, representations etc.) is guaged of lesser importance to rules, or of no importance whatsoever. The premise of this is expressed in multiple equivalent ways: that the setting and representations of a game are interchangeable and that only the mechanics are 'eternal' (something akin to what Raph Koster or Dan Cook occasionally suggest); that players initially engage with a game via the fiction but later this becomes unimportant (as Graeme Kirkpatrick and Jesper Juul assert); that the representation has no effect on how the player behaves (as Espen Aarseth claims). Espen gives the paradigmatic example of fiction denial when he says he wouldn't play Tomb Raider any differently if Lara Croft had a different character model. I believe him. But isn't this a fact about Espen Aarseth and not a fact about either Tomb Raider or its players?

You can read the entirety of Fiction Denial over on