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Something Akin to a Game Design Dictionary

I'm pleased to announce that Jose Zagel dropped by and let me know about a project which is very close to the 'game design dictionary' I discussed in a previous post. Its called the Game Ontology Project, and is a wiki-driven collaborative approach. I'm thrilled that this exists, and want to encourage anyone with the time and skills to contribute.

I want to support this project, but it will be unfeasible for me to do so directly. The sad truth is that I run a company, work as a game designer and co-run the IGDA's Game Writers' SIG - I just don't have the time to contribute directly to such a project. I have to think of ways I can contribute tangentially instead.

I'm going to raise some criticisms here; I hope it is understood that I am in full support of the project and that my goal here is to contribute to refinement, not to undermine the project:

  • Hierarchical: I'm glad that this is not a taxonomic project, but I'm disappointed that it's hierarchical. I often come down hard on taxonomic and hierarchical approaches because I personally don't consider them helpful - it's easy for people to get distracted by the minutae of a scheme and lose the overall value. Perhaps, however, this reflects that my interest in such a project is in its lexicographical role, and this is incompatible with a hierarchical approach. Or, to put it another way, the result of the Game Ontology project may serve to inform a future lexicographical approach but it cannot replace it because hierarchical issues stand in direct tension to lexicographic needs. I welcome a defence of the hierarchical elements though!
  • Goals: having spoken out against the hierarchical issues, watch me now get distracted by one... One can place Goals under Rules in a hierarchical sense as goals are a form of rule. The fact that you haven't is a positive step to my mind (because at a psychological level goals have different implications), but it seems contrary to the hierarchical process.
  • Entity Manipulation: this is just a horrible phrase to my eyes and ears! The other three branches of the ontology have a pleasing neatness; this one screams 'work in progress'. "Entity manipulation consists of altering the attributes or abilities of an entity in the game world" it begins. I do not understand why one would value the alteration of attributes and abilities over the definition of those attributes, abilities and entities! Although much progress-driven play consists of the acquisition of new abilities, the definitions of play originate in the abilities themselves, c.f. Shadow of the Colossus which begins the player with all their abilities and attributes. Putting aside which word you choose for the nouns of the game, would not "Entities" be more than sufficient for the high level of this branch of the ontology? The attributes and abilities extend from the entities, after all.

Incidentally, the use of the term 'ontology' may be borrowed from computer science, but it behooves me to point out that ontology is a branch of philosophy concerned with the metaphysics of being. In fact, often when people use the term 'existential' it would be perhaps be more precise to say 'ontological'.

Linking to the project from my sidebar. Thanks again to Jose for bringing it to my attention!

PS: Any chance of getting updates to the wiki fed to an RSS feed? It would make it much easier for people to follow the project's progress!


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Thanks for the great questions and comments. As far as you're not having time to participate...well, I think you already are simply by posing interesting issues to think about! Participating doesn't mean becoming a "hard-core completely involved and familiar with everything" kind of guy.

Before I get into the "nitty-gritty", I think the RSS feed is a great idea. I'll have to look into how MediaWiki currently supports that or if there are any neat plugins I could use.

The Game Ontology project is an attempt at categorizing elements of gameplay. As with any schema for categorization, it is not the best and only way: categorization schemas are only so good as they help you do what you want. From this perspective, the current schema has proven useful to us in exploring different research questions. We are in means bound by it. In fact, one the objectives for having the entire ontology on a wiki is to subject it to a larger community who may collaboratively help grow it into something that is useful to a greater community.

Why take a hierarchical approach?

Hierarchical approaches afford a natural way of navigating across varying levels of abstraction. When we identify specific concepts we wish to discuss, it makes sense for more concrete instances to be “under” the more abstract and encompassing definition. That way, by picking the appropriate level of abstraction, you can still carry out productive discussions. I guess you could say that the hierchical approach scales well.

Why Goals as separate from Rules?

The primary distinction between goals and rules that led us to have goals as a top-level element was the fact that rules are enforced, while goals are not. In the general sense of the word, you can’t do things that are outside of the rules. They limit and regulate. Goals, on the other hand tend to be “softer”. They are guidelines of player activity and may regulate behavior but not action. Also, in terms of the literature on games, goals are generally considered separate of rules (in particular due to the fact that players tend to defined their own goals). In this sense, goals as separate was a “comfortable” decision.

Entity Manipulation

I agree that the name is rather…hmm...uncomfortable. I’m open to suggestions! We’ve debated using “verbs”…but never reached a consensus (probably because some of the entries don’t refer to verbs per se...).

Why didn’t we go with the “nouns”. That’s an interesting question. We have considered another top-level called “Entities”. (referred to in one of the publications, but not included in the wiki). We haven’t had the time or the need to actually explore it and see what sorts of entries we’d need to define. I am, however, intrigued by the fact that this lack of definition hasn’t impeded the work we’ve done. My gut feeling is that since entities and entity manipulation are so closely related, you can get by with defining only one side of that equation. The other is implicitly understood and referred to.

So, we chose to favour “gameplay” in the sense of the actions that can be performed in a game (by the player or not). From this perspective, if you can perform the same actions with different objects, we can consider both objects essentially the same in terms of gameplay.

Jose: thanks for stopping by to answer my queries. I freely accept everything you say here; very glad (as ever) for the subjectivity of the schema to be noted. :)

Your explanation for treating rules and goals seperately not only makes sense, but also clicks something in my head. I'm not sure what it did, but I have the vague sense that something moved in my internal representations. :)

As for 'Entity Manipulation', I don't suggest you use 'verbs' as your top level category (because that is not the "feel" of this ontology), but you can't escape that everything you have grouped here is currently a verb. Indeed, you prefix them with 'to', thus placing them in the infinitive form, further strengthening this connection! (I've checked your hierarchy, and everything under 'entity manipulation' is currently a verb to my mind).

In the children for 'Entity Manipulation' you have 'Compound Action'. Why not then choose 'Action' instead of 'Entity Manipulation'? 'Action' is not only a respectible synonym for verb, it's already implied by your existing ontology.

Is there a counter argument I have missed?

I personally think 'Action' and 'Entity' are respectible synonyms for 'verb' and 'noun' in games, all in all. I could see that creeping into my own language

All the best!

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