Sunday, October 30, 2011

Games Detrimental?

So I'm at on this high, seeing games all around me, either being played, whether the participants would call it a game or not, or potentially played. I go to the coolest game store I've ever seen, End Game of Oakland, where they not only survive in an urban core, but thrive, going vertical and offering a strong venue for game players. Then I watch this TED talk by Barry Schwartz where he decries incentives as the proverbial "carrot" in a "carrot/stick" dichotomy tempting leaders and others in fiduciary roles away from the just, right, and good choices.

What does this have to do with games? Well, games can change the world, as Jane McGonigal has thoroughly argued in her book, Reality is Broken, and others cited on this blog have argued similarly. Games do this in primarily two ways, either they provide a simulation of the non-game world, where a problem to be solved resides, which can then be played to find solutions, or non-game life becomes game life to steer us toward better behavior, such as the Prius automobile and the gas mileage display on the windshield encouraging better driving to reduce petroleum based fuel consumption. The latter comes about with incentives. You aren't consuming less petroleum based fuel because doing so is the equivalent of spending money to put carbon dioxide in the air and heavy metals in the water, but because it is exciting to get that short-term confirmation that something you did had an impact on something tangible, in this case the digital display.

Are games detrimental? Is there certain places, and certain ways, games shouldn't be?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Value of Randomness

The scenario: the tension has built during the course of the game and you've developed a strategy that is clever and potentially a game changing or finishing one, the moment of execution comes and the result is left to the toss of dice or drawing of completely random cards. The result can be very disappointing and not at all rewarding to those who come up with exciting moves. Do we want to leave such things to complete chance, holding great ideas to the same level as mediocre and even bad ones? 

Randomness can be a good challenge in a game, for example, when determining your resources, such as who will go first in turn based games, or which tiles will you draw in Settlers of Cataan. It can also be a fun way of determining  your obstacles, such as which property will you land on in Monopoly after they have all been purchased or which monster will be revealed in the Adventure Tile System. There are times when randomness provides a challenge because of unpredictability, the lack of information which I've discussed previously, but also the uniqueness of each game, and thus its "re-playability." But these are all very different than the unexpected and the not (directly) controlled nature of another persons decisions. 

In Chess or International Football, the field and the tools are set before the game begins. The tools being the pieces you'll be using, chess pieces and a football, respectively, and the mental and physical capabilities of the players. Also, the rules are a kind of tool, as well. Some games offer different rules depending on the role, resources, and scenarios the game is experienced by a given player. Yet, these games are exciting because it is unknown exactly how a given player will respond under specific, but yet to be determined, circumstances. In Apples to Apples and DiXit the outcome of your choices is determined by deliberate, but unknowable beforehand, decisions by other players. The rules explain the abstract conditions for winning or the effects of resolved conflicts, such as:

The object of the game is to checkmate the opponent; this occurs when the opponent's king is in check, and there is no legal way to remove it from attack.

However, the specific scenarios are created and evaluated by the players. Chess rewards strategic thinking because the rules are clear and the outcome of a given move is never in question. Likewise, in Apples to Apples a clever choice of word based on a careful evaluation of the judging player is rewarded because the rules are clear and, although the judge will decide subjectively, that subjective adjudication has internal logic. The same with DiXit where a well laid card based on the psychological assessment of all the players, except the storyteller of that round, will be rewarded because the rules are clear and the internal logic of the other voters.

What do you think of randomness in games?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Mind Games

Drum roll please...the name for the new website is: Thank you all for your feedback and conversations. I am still working on the programming of the site, trying to decide the best way to present it, but the domain name is purchased and associated with my server space. In the course of preparing the site I've realized that my aptitude in some programming isn't where I would like it to be. Which means I can use new knowledge, practice for underused skills, and concrete problems to avail.

What I realized was in my excitement to prepare the site and share not only these blog entries, but other new aspects of the site, that this drive was inadvertently encouraging me to go through motions which would lead to my learning and improving skills. Isn't this the beauty of games? To review my definition for games, "an endeavor which has the goal of overcoming challenges, but the value is primarily in the action, not the outcome." I want my web presence for game design and game-play to be found on and I want it to be more than a blog. I could pay someone to do that for me. But, because I have chosen to make it myself, to have total control, I'm finding all this joy in the endeavor itself, and that is propelling me through the challenge of learning new skills.

For a great view of what and how games can and are influencing our behavior watch this video a then tell me what positive things you've gotten from recreation.