Over on ihobo today, my reply to two missives from Jed Pressgrove and Chris Billows examining the role of the tutorial in videogames in terms of different motivating ideals of politeness. Here’s an extract:
The challenge in creating an adequate tutorial is the complete absence of knowledge we possess of the actual people who will be learning to play our game. Pitch the level of detail too low, and there will be players confused by what is expected of them. Provide too much detail and those players who are skilled in figuring things out will be irritated... What is particularly bemusing about creating tutorials is that if you watch a player learn to play a game from over their shoulder, you might not need to say more than a sentence or two in order to put them on the right track. But this is because we have the intelligence to interpret the problems a player encounters and provide appropriate guidance: there is no adequate way to transfer this skill to a computer!
Treachery has long been an important aspect of competitive boardgames, but in videogames there seems to be far less betrayal between players. When treacherous play occurs in digital games, it is more likely to occur between the game designer – who presumably enjoys imagining the schadenfreude they would experience if they could watch their future player! – and the eventual ‘victim’. Except, as the two of you stress in your wonderful paper Now It’s Personal: On Abusive Game Design, certain players will actively enjoy and seek out the challenge this represents. There seems to be something of a paradox here, since not every way of increasing challenge will be welcomed even by those players who happily endure betrayal of this kind. Is it solely the pursuit of victory that makes treacherous play entertaining, or is there a strange pleasure to be taken from the act of being betrayed? My sense is that this goes beyond the desire to pursue conventional challenges and into the social dimensions of play.
In an interview, the legendary film director John Ford made this remark:
It is wrong to liken a director to an author. He is more like an architect, if he is creative. An architect conceives his plans from given premises - the purpose of the building, its size, the terrain. If he is clever, he can do something creative within these limitations.
Even though it is a dangerous mistake to think of games designers as architects given the necessarily iterative aspects to software development, this idea applies equally well to commercial videogames. What we still seem to lack, alas, are visionaries like Ford or Kurasawa who can marry the challenges of the technologically-yoked commercial games industry with Ford's creativity-within-limitations.
Over on ihobo today, some further remarks on the role of curiosity in games - and specifically in the context of exploration play. Here's an extract:
The motive for playing space explorers stems from curiosity, specifically the drive towards discovery. There is a related aesthetic motive in terms of sensory pleasures - to witness the beauty of stars, planets, nebulae, and comets in an imaginary world. The motivation behind playing Proteus moves in a similar direction, although here the faux-simulation is of the joys of hiking (which I also enjoy). Proteus, unlike the space explorers, however, is a box of delights filled with designed-surprises (albeit procedurally populated) such as its frogs and bees, whereas the space explorers play upon the mystical draw of 'outer space' that science fiction (orthodox or otherwise!) has cultivated. It is epitomized in Star Trek's opening soliloquy: "where no-one has gone before"...
Over on ihobo today, my thoughts on the game design of The Lords of Midnight, and its new iOS port. Essential reading for fans of the original, but some interesting points for anyone interested in the history of videogames.
The loyalty cards work on a system identical to B.F. Skinner's fixed interval schedule of reinforcement… the schedules pay out roughly 1 in 6, with the best offering a free coffee every 5 and the worst (Costa) effectively offering just a 1 in 20 (5%) return. But all these loyalty schemes are superior in dividends to Microsoft's Gamerscore scheme (or G), which until last year offered no tangible rewards at all. And yet, G is far more effective than the coffee shop loyalty cards at promoting loyalty, and it is interesting to see why that might be.
Over on ihobo today, an exploration of War and Peace in digital games. Here’s the introductory paragraph:
Although videogames are strongly associated with themes of war and violence, the cutting edge of the artistic exploration of imaginary worlds is happening under peaceful regimes. In this piece, I examine four different regimes of play (War, Challenge, Puzzle and Peaceful), their brief history, and their essential nature.