* LeBlanc、Hunicke和Zabek的《MDA Framework》，这是在游戏领域受到广泛关注的少数学术论文（游戏邦注：这也许要归功于3位作者都是资深游戏设计师）。文章有2块内容尤 其突出。首先是Mechanics/Dynamics/Aesthetics（MDA）构想，这令我们能够探究规则同用户体验，用户同设计师之间的关系。第二块是“8种趣味”。
* Mechanics是游戏“规则”的同义词。这些是游戏运作的限制条件。游戏如何形成？玩家能够采取什么行动，这些行动会给游戏状态带来什么影响？游戏何时结束，如何确定解决 方案？这些都由Mechanics定义。
* 这里的Aesthetics不是指游戏的视觉元素，而是游戏的用户体验：Dynamics带给玩家的影响。游戏是否“有趣”？体验是令人沮丧，枯燥，还是饶有趣味？体验是否具有情感、 智力魅力？
假设你在设计新款FPS游戏，你在游戏中注意到此沮丧美学，你希望进行修复，这样游戏就不会如此令人沮丧。你无法简单改变游戏美学，令其“变得更富趣味”——这也许是你的 目标，但这不在你的直接控制范围内。你甚至无法直接改变重生点的机制；你无法告知玩家如何同游戏互动，除非通过游戏机制。所以相反，你需要改变游戏的机制——也许你希 望玩家在随机地点，而非制定区域重生，你希望预期美学效果能够从你的机制变更中诞生。
你如何知晓进行哪些调整，若机制调整的效果无法预知？最后我们会提供些许技巧。目前最显而易见的方法是设计师的直觉。实践越多，所设计的作品越多，进行的规则调整越多 （游戏邦注：然后进行游戏测试，查看变更的影响），你就越能够在发现问题时做出正确调整，有时甚至能在一开始就做出正确调整。经验无可取代，这也是为什么本课程建议大 家进行大量尝试，动手制作游戏。
现在引用游戏设计师Sid Meier的话恰到好处。他的警告瞄准的是电子游戏设计师，但同样适应于非数字项目。这提示我们所设计的游戏Mechanics和Mechanics也许对我们而言颇具 趣味，但在玩家看来却非常乏味。常见设计错误是创造能够带来乐趣的规则，但这并不一定能够转化成有趣玩法。记住你是为玩家而非自己设计游戏。
* 多数“4X”游戏通常基于积极反馈循环，如《文明》和《银河霸主》系列。玩家创建自己的文明帝国后，就能更快生成资源，进而更快成长。待到你同对手真正交锋时，某玩家 通常遥遥领先，使此交锋算不上真正的竞争，因为推动游戏的核心积极反馈循环机制显示，初期领先的玩家将会在未来的游戏角逐中更加遥遥领先。
* 物理运动游戏《Rugby》融入小型积极反馈循环：当团队得分时，他们就获得发球的机会，这样得分的机率就更大。因此处于优势地位的团队就能够再次获得有利条件。这和多数 体育运动游戏相反（游戏邦注：在这些运动中，通常刚得分的团队就有没有发球机会）。
举个例子，想想“卡丁车风格”的赛车游戏《马里奥卡丁车》。在赛车游戏中，若玩家置身车群中，而非遥遥领先或落后很后面，体验将更有趣。因此，这类体验的标准模式是添 加消极反馈循环：随着玩家开始领先车群，对手便会开始采取欺骗举措，寻找更好的升级设备，争取不可能的速度，帮自己迎头赶上。这让玩家更难维持领先位置。这个特殊的反 馈循环机制有时被称作“橡皮筋”，因为赛车仿佛同橡皮筋相连，橡皮筋会将领先者和落后者都重新带回车群中。
* 棋盘游戏《Starfarers of Catan》包含消极反馈循环，胜利积分少于特定数量的玩家都会在回合开始时得到免费资源。初期这会给所有玩家带来影响，加速初期阶段的游戏进程 。到后期，随着某些玩家开始迎头赶上，超过胜利积分界限，落后的玩家就会获得奖励资源。这令落后的玩家能够更轻松赶上。
* 我祖父是《Chess》高手，比他教出来的孩子还要厉害。为让竞赛更像挑战，他制定这样的规则：若他赢了比赛，下次对手就能在比赛开始移除他的一个棋子（游戏邦注：起初是 一个小卒，然后慢慢变成两个小卒，然后变成马或象）。每次祖父赢后，下个竞赛对他来说就会更具挑战性，他失败的机率就会逐步增大。
若你不希望移除游戏的反馈循环，但希望降低其作用，另一选择就是添加相反的反馈循环。让我们再次回到卡丁车竞赛例子，若你希望保持“橡皮筋”消极反馈循环，你可以通过 添加积极反馈循环进行中和。例如，当玩家处于领先地位时，对方赛车获得额外速度，也许玩家也能够前进更快，进而出现这样的状况：玩家处于领先能够让整个比赛进展更快。 或者也许处于领先的玩家能够找到更好的升级道具弥补对手的新速度优势。
* 本质来说，昆虫群落（游戏邦注：蚂蚁和蜜蜂）的行为很复杂，它们非常聪明，我们将之称作“蜂巢心智”。事实上，每只昆虫都有自己的简单规则，只有聚集起来，群落才会 呈现复杂行为。
* Conway的“生命游戏”，虽然根据我们的定义算不上真正的“游戏”，但它是模拟细胞生命的系列有序简单规则。每个细胞在当前回合或“生”或“死”。为前进至下个回合， 毗邻0或1个活跃细胞的活跃细胞将死去（过于孤立），毗邻4个以上活跃细胞的活跃细胞也会死去（过于拥挤）；死去细胞若毗邻3个活跃细胞将“重生”，在下个回合变成活跃细 胞；毗邻2个活跃细胞的的细胞将保持原状。这些就是全部规则。玩家从最初的选择设置着手，然后修改版面查看所发生情况。然而玩家也会面对相当复杂的行为：结构会移动、变 化和衍生新结构及其他许多内容。
* Boid的“Algorithm”，这是模拟某些CG电影和游戏群集行为的的方式。群落个体只需遵守3个简单规则。首先，若你的一旁有很多同伴，另一旁的同伴很少，这意味着你处在群 落边缘；需朝同伴靠拢。其次，若你和同伴很近，需给它们空间，这样你就不会过于逼近。第三，将自己速度和方向调整成与同伴相似。遵循这3条件规则，你将获得非常复杂、精 细和真实的群落行为。
* 在《街头争霸》或《铁拳》系列的战斗游戏中，“组合技能”来自系列简单规则的冲突：随机进攻会吓到对手，这样他们就无法做出反应，也可以在玩家恢复前展开快速进攻。 设计师也许会在游戏中设置组合技能。此惊吓和进攻速度机制创造系列复杂移动，这在系列回合的首次移动后变得不可阻挡。
* 在《Basketball》运动中，“带球”并非规则的组成部分。设计师原本打算将游戏打造成同《极限飞盘》类似的模式：持球玩家不允许移动，要嘛将球投向篮筐，要嘛“传”给 其他队员。没有规则限制玩家传球给自己。
* 想想这两个规则。首先，车辆碾过行人会使他们掉落身上的金钱。其次，雇佣妓女会补充玩家的能量，但会消耗资金。从上述两个毫无关系的规则中，我们得到被大家称作“利 用妓女”的意外策略：同妓女共度良宵，然后将其碾过，重获所付出的金钱。这在过去遭受很多流言蜚语，包括有人将此动态机制解读成有意美化针对性工作者的暴力行为。仅表 示“这是意外机制！”不足以向外行人说明这不是有意设计。
* 也许更有趣的是将两个规则结合起来。首先，若玩家给无辜旁观者带来伤害，他们会通过进攻玩家保护自己。其次，若车辆遭受严重损害，它最终会爆炸，破坏周围的东西（游 戏邦注：当然也会波及司机）。这会带来如下非常不真实的场景：玩家驾着破损的车辆撞击大量旁观者。然后车辆爆炸。玩家从废墟中爬出来，苟延残喘，然后附近的“撒玛利亚 人”群落认为玩家损及他们，结伴来到地面，解决玩家！
* Clint Hocking的《Designing to Promote Intentional Play》，这是Clint 2006年在GDC所做的现场演讲。
谈论这个话题的第一个原因是我们将在后面的课程讨论“趣味性”的整体概念，以及如何让游戏更加有趣。对于绝大多数游戏设计者来说，这是他们的最高指导原则：制作一款游 戏并让它变得有趣。所以，在我们进一步深入这个原则之前，我想要先澄清，趣味性并不是游戏设计的唯一目的，事实上，一些游戏即使不具备太多特别的“乐趣”，也能够按照 设计目标而取得巨大成功。
就像你所看到的，《Understanding Comics》是一本关于漫画书艺术形态的漫画书。如果你阅读了该书的第7章节，你将会立刻发现漫画书艺术与游戏设计的相似之处，除了公众普 遍意识到的“非严肃”和“针对于儿童”这两个问题。
McCloud（游戏邦注：《Understanding Comics》作者）开始尝试将“艺术”定义为一种与生存或繁殖无关的内容。我曾经交流过的大多数学生都认为这个定义太过广泛，但是却很 少有更好的定义了。事实上，如果你接受了这个定义，那么“游戏是艺术”对于你来说便不再是一个难以解决的问题，毕竟，当你真正花心思去完善下一款《生存之旅》的关卡， 或者考虑着将你的下一款游戏定义为象棋这类型的游戏，那么你也许就不用费心思去处理现实世界中的生存或繁殖问题了（除非你设置了不一样的游戏玩法）。
在这里我们最好能够区分早前朴素的“艺术”以及较为华丽的“纯艺术”或者“高端艺术”的区别——这种永恒的艺术总是能够传达出人类体验的本质内容。莎士比亚，达芬奇， 莫奈都是在创造这种类型的艺术。但是，这个论据并不是在说游戏不是一种“艺术”，从某些意义上来看游戏也是经过有目的性雕琢的一件艺术品，但是因为游戏媒介中的一些内 在因素，它达不到“高端艺术”的标准。
对于这点我不想加以描述，主要是因为育碧设计师Clint Hocking在《On Authorship in Games》中已经详细描绘了这一内容。
关于《Understanding Comics》我想提及两大关键点，首先便是 McCloud关于艺术的定义，如上文描述道的。而其次就是以下关于艺术的六个层面内容：
McCloud注意到忠实的漫画书读者会从外到内真正地体验一部作品。先是看到表面，然后往深层次去感受故事。更进一步看来，你甚至可以掌握到故事背后的真谛，并从内心深处感 受艺术家的创造性，即使这个故事并没你想象中那般优秀。甚至，当对故事做进一步研究时，你还会找到不同类型之间所存在的差别，并理解为何在一个类型中会出现一些特定的 故事元素或者其它管理等。看得越深，你便能够鉴赏漫画书的媒介，并理解它与其它艺术形式的不同之处，从而你便能够了解一部作品背后的真理，以及真正长久的文学作品的真 正目的。
McCloud同样也注意到了，当一件作品是“从外向内”进行设置时，它同样也会创造出“从内向外”的表达——在设计之前，而创造者必须在一开始就选择并明确一种模式，从而从 中选出最适合的类型。创造者既能够慎重地做出选择也能够情绪化地进行选择，但是不管怎样他们都需要最先考虑这个问题。随后定义结构，然后精心地雕琢所有的细节，最后便 创造出了外观。
仔细想想，什么才是对游戏有帮助的“最佳创想”？可能是与你喜欢的一款游戏有关的外部特征。“就像是《吃豆人》遇见《太空入侵者》。没有最好只有更好！”很多人都是通 过“修改”自己喜欢的游戏，改变现有的游戏设置或者一些外部特征，改变游戏中的角色外表等等，而不是像游戏《Marines Shooting Aliens In Space》，变得越来越山寨 《Wizards Battling Dragons In The Mountains》了，因为它们拥有相同的mechanics，相同的dynamics以及不同的外观。
随后会怎样？也许你会玩许多游戏，而发现许多同样带有龙，火球以及巫师等角色的游戏也有好坏之分，而它们间的差别并不是来自于故事或者类型，而是来自游戏设置。随后你 便开始思考不同的游戏类型，以及哪种类型有趣而哪种无趣。经过进一步的体验和学习你将会知道什么样的机制才能够创作出吸引人的游戏设置。也许这正是你们所想要的，即为 了成为一名优秀的设计者，你可以参照一些已经建立的有趣类型而制作出属于自己的有趣游戏。
但是如果你着眼于过去，你也许会问：这些类型来自于哪里？是谁决定特定的核心机制可以在游戏内部进行相互仿效，难道只有这样才能创造出优秀的游戏设置？如何才能创造出 新的类型？是否这是一个前人从未尝试过的过程以及前人从未发现的优秀机制？而你可以创造出一个甚至是多个新游戏类型。也许你可以或者不能够创造出这种类型并尽可能地完 善它们，但是你的创造却能够让更多人参考你的作品外观，使用你的核心理念并不断进行完善。
当你在探索形式内容时，你将会触及媒介的界限。游戏能够做些什么？它们是否能够影响玩家的情绪（除了让他们感到兴奋并带给他们幻想）？比起其它艺术媒介什么内容更适合 在游戏中得到体现？你要如何使用之前从未被使用过的媒介（不只是新的游戏类型或者新的有趣的方法）去表现游戏？你是否能够改变别人的想法？是否能够改变别人的生活？你是否能够做到图画或者电影所做不到的触动？怎么做？随后你可以创造一件实验作品，可以说一款非常小的游戏，然后借此探索游戏作为一种媒介可以做什么以及不可以做什么。 也许这些实验游戏并不有趣或者不能够吸引广大的用户，但是对于那些在形态游戏媒介中工作的人们来说，这却有很大的帮助，因为他们以你的实验作品为参考，并进行适当修改 而用于表达他们自己的观点。
但是除此之外，就像McCloud所说的，关于内部三层内容我们并不能简单地从课堂上或者书籍上学习到。为了能够理解艺术形式中的内部核心，你将需要花费你的整个职业生涯，也 许是20年或者30年或者更多，独自进行研究。但是前提是你愿意这么做。如果你没有兴趣，也没关系。这个世界需要更多人去实现游戏变成艺术媒介的这一过程，但是这个世界上也仍需要优秀游戏的存在。而你必须知道到底需要花多少时间才能实现艺术目标。虽然我没有义务去告诉你们答案，但是你自己必须对此有所规划，才能在未来的前进道路中更加 顺畅。
这个部分总是让我很烦躁，因为很多人对当代艺术持着怀疑的态度。一些人只是捣鼓着一些自认为是艺术品的垃圾，就大言不惭地称自己为“艺术家”，并且将所谓的“艺术品” 卖给美术馆而挣得2千欧元。这就是艺术？如果是，难道这就是游戏所追求的目标？这样做能够帮助我们退一步看待问题，并衡量我们是如何走到这一步，因为游戏很好地适应了当 代艺术，而我们也应该理解其中的原因。
让我们穿越回文艺复兴时期，而油画也正是在这个时期开始被当成一种艺术形式。那时候，艺术被认为是对于世界的真实表示；而图画则是一个窗口能够帮你找到现实的归宿。如 果一名艺术家能够更接近现实地去描述一个场景，那就说明他足够优秀。判断艺术的标准就是判断一幅画是否逼真，所以很简单！随后，大约在20世纪90年代的时候，照相机出现 了，也因此破坏了这种判断标准。
Wassily Kandinsky（游戏邦注：俄国画家，表现主义的创始人）也开始自问，艺术对于自己来说是一个目标，还是只是某些事物的代表：帆布只是一个“屏幕”而不是“窗户”或 者“镜子”？而因此出现了我们现在所说的抽象艺术，这时候艺术不再是代表自己的一种标志了。
具有影响力的批评家Clement Greenberg提供了一个解决方案，即单纯依据审美价值去判断艺术。技术执行是真理。艺术家是创造者，而一部好的艺术作品将会提供给任何人相同的 审美价值。Greenberg将所谓的“现代艺术”进一步现实化（游戏邦注：这里所说的现代是指从1910年到1950年期间这一特定年代，而不能与现今的当代艺术相混淆）。
特别是在20世纪6，70年代期间，艺术碰到了一个潜在的问题：艺术变成了最热门的商品，而艺术家的身价也瞬间暴涨。仍然还有很多艺术家认为自己的艺术品大大贬值了，因为比 起交易，他们创造那些艺术品是出于其它目的，没想到却被当成了商品进行销售。反倒是艺术品的含金量远远低于创造者的名字了。虽然这种情况能够帮助那些艺术家们赚到更多 钱而过上更高质量的生活，但是这其中的代价却是“出卖”他们的作品……但并不是所有艺术家愿意向这种情境妥协。
那么游戏呢？是否这些内容听起来都似曾相识？我们又该如何判断游戏？如果用数字作为评价标准，按照技术执行来看，对于音频或者图像的临界赞许，游戏的乐趣可以按照1至5 的分数进行评判，而预示着那些对于观众来说有趣的内容对于所有读者来说也很有趣。如果按照游戏评判的现实状况来说，其实也就等同于Greenberg的形式主义。好像我们陷入了一个诡异的时空隧道中，被带回1930年的那个时代里。那么游戏是更偏向于现代艺术还是后现代艺术？是被动还是互动？游戏会针对于不同的个人而创造不同的游戏体验还是提供 相同的游戏体验给所有人？游戏只能体现出视觉效果还是能够在机制中嵌入更多深层次的意义？也许你有不同的见解，但是在我眼中游戏更像是后现代艺术形式。我希望在不久的 将来，游戏观众们能够从这个视角去看待游戏。
收益又是怎么样的一种情况？游戏完全陷入了我们所说的商品化“问题”中了。每年电子游戏产业的盈利都会增长近2百亿美元。虽然在桌面游戏产业我找不到相关数据，但是以《 Scrabble》和《大富翁》每年的销量来看，我们不难想象这也是个丰收的产业。如今，绝大多数游戏工作室制作游戏的目的都是为了赚钱，而有时候开发者便不得不在制作独特游 戏与制作有利可图的游戏之间相互妥协了。
简单地来讲，如果你对这个领域感兴趣，那么你便可以花点时间来了解艺术历史。艺术评论家以及艺术历史学家的世界中已经明确了如何去判断“艺术”，追溯到1917年，当杜尚 （游戏邦注：法国艺术家，被誉为“现代艺术的守护神”）在一个尿壶上签上自己的假名后，他便称其为一件艺术。事实上，很多开发者都认为艺术世界太过势力，所以拒绝承认 游戏属于艺术范畴，但是这只是他们的片面想法；实际上，游戏被艺术评论家所注意到了。我自己的首部文献研究出现在1994年（而这一年刚好是PlayStation问世的前一年）。在 我能够找到的所有案例中（也就是所有同行评议的学术文章），不仅对电子游戏进行了分析，而且也含蓄地暗示了游戏是一种艺术形式。我也未曾找到一篇文章会浪费大把时间去 捍卫游戏的艺术表达形式，所以这只是一种先验假设。让我们克服这种迫害妄想，然后开始制作艺术游戏。
要如何才能制作出一款以艺术表达为目的而非趋于娱乐的游戏？这就必须取决于“艺术”的含义了，而显然已经有许多游戏已经处于一种表达形式中了。你将会看到，这些游戏会 分为几个类别。也许还有其它类别我未在这里提及可能因为那些游戏的艺术性受到质疑，或者因为那是未被触及的一些领域。但是我所列出的这些类别将帮助你更好地认识所谓 的艺术游戏。
Rod Humble的《The Marriage》（只需要几分钟游戏时间。）
Rod Humble的《Stars Over Half-Moon Bay》（只需要几分钟的游戏时间。）
Gonzalo Frasca的《September 12》（游戏时间不确定，但是玩家可以在短短1，2分钟内就知晓游戏机制。）
尽管你并不是所谓的大师级人物，你也能够创造出具有艺术感的作品，并且通过创造过程更清楚地理解艺术和艺术家的定义。就像Koster在《Theory of Fun》中所说的：
《September 12》同样也在传达一个观点（主要在说明残酷的战争是错误的），但是它却未进一步拓展这个观点。当Humble和Rohrer都在用游戏表达艺术家的观点和情绪的同时， 《September 12》则在尝试着说服自己的观众。所以这不是一种探索，而是一种修辞，着重在目的上凸显于其它作品。
《Stars Over Half-Moon Bay》与《The Marriage》一样也是在表达一种观点（它是在陈述一个创造性的过程，即当一开始是晴空万里，但你进入这个神秘的创造过程后所有的一 切是如何瞬间阴暗下来，最后当一切都再次明朗之后你又是如何创造出永恒。）游戏设计者和艺术家都在为了创造过程而努力，《Stars Over Half-Moon Bay》比起《The Marriage》更加“多元化”。理论上《The Marriage》会帮助那些想要了解长期关系的玩家解答答案，而《Stars Over Half-Moon Bay》则会直接告诉玩家其他设计者正在挑战他 们的游戏。
把游戏当成是自我表现（“观点/目的”）的一种媒介。你也许是在表达一种感觉，一个观点或者一种意识形态。或许你只是想借此表达你自己，或者说服观众认可你的某些看法。 对于情绪表达，从MDA中的“Aesthetics”说起，逆向来看：你希望玩家感受到何种情感，什么样的“Dynamics”能够诱发这种情感，以及最后什么样的“Mechanics”能够创造这 种情感？对于观点表述，你要始终记得游戏是一种系统，所以你需要找到你想要表达的观点背后的那些系统，然后找到这些系统内部的游戏设置。
Costikyan在《I Have No Words》中指出，我们用这个热门词“交互性”形容我们真正所指的“决策”。所谓“决策”，本质上是指玩家在游戏中的所做所为。如果没有这些决策 ，那么游戏就不再是游戏了，只不过是电影或其他线性活动罢了。完全不具有“决策”的游戏主要有两个例外：某些儿童游戏和赌博。关于赌博，没有决策是合情理的。赌博的“ 乐趣”在于可能赢钱也可能输钱的刺激感；如果没有这种刺激感，那么大多数赌博瞬间失去所有乐趣。在家筹码玩赌博游戏时，你玩的扑克牌包含了真正的决策成份；如果跟钱无 关，可能也没什么人会去玩掷骰子或老虎机了。
除了那两个例外，大多数游戏都有一定的决策方式，且游戏的乐趣会因此受到或多或少的影响。Sid Meier曾表示，好游戏就是一系列有趣的决策（大概就是这个意思吧）。这个观 点有一定道理。但什么能让决策“有趣”？《战舰》是一款包含大量决策的游戏，但对成年人来说，不算特别有趣，为什么呢？为什么《卡坦岛》中的决策比《大富翁》中的更有 趣？最重要的是，怎么给你自己的游戏设计出真正吸引人的决策？
明显的决策至少对游戏有所影响，但如果正确答案太过赤裸裸，其实也不算有选择。在桌面游戏《RISK》中的掷骰子就属于这一类：如果你受到3名或以上的敌人攻击，你可以“决 定”是否掷骰子1次、2次或3次……，但最好的显然是3次，所以除了非常特定的情况，其实没有多少决策可做。《Trivial Pursuit》中有一个更微妙的例子。每一回合，玩家将面 对一道很琐碎的问题，
想一想这款通俗问答游戏《Trivial Pursuit》。首先，你把骰子投向任意方向，所以你要落在哪里就构成了一个决策。在游戏面板上，有助于取胜的空间并不大，所以你要尽可能 落在其中，这是一个明显的决策。如果你不能，你的选择一般就取决于你最擅长的那个问题分类，这又是一个显然的（游戏邦注：或盲目的，在做出选择以前，一定程度上你并不 知道你在各个分类中会遇到什么问题）决策。一旦骰子停下来，你的琐碎问题就出来了。如果你不知道答案，那就没什么决策可言了；如果你知道正确答案，那么你要决策的就是 说出来还是不说出来……但没理由不说啊，所以这又是一个明显的决策。
风险与回报：一种选择是安全的；另一种选择可能有更高的回报，但也有更高的风险。你选择安全的那个还是危险的那个？部分取决于你对回报的渴望程度，另一分部取决于你对 安全和风险的分析。你的选择，再加上一点儿运气，决定了结果。但因为选择的数量是相当充足的，所以运气的成分影响不大，获胜的往往还是技巧是更胜一筹的玩家。（推论： 如果你想在游戏中增加运气的份量，最好的办法就减少决策的整体数量。）
还有一类决策有必要考虑一下：能影响玩家情绪的决策。在《Far Cry》中， 是救同伴（使用你宝贵的资源）还是让他自生自灭，这是一种资源决策，但也是情感决策——这与现 实战场上的决策一样，但现实中还要分析可用的资源和可能性。与此类似，绝大多数玩家不会带着“道德选择就是有害的”这样的想法来玩游戏（《Knights of the Old Republic 》或《神鬼寓言》）——不是因为“有害的”是次等策略，而是因为即使是在虚拟的世界中，许多人也不能无动于衷地看着无辜者被拷打或残杀。
再来思考一下许多桌面游戏的开头部分普遍存在的决策：己方是什么颜色？颜色通常只是为了区分面板上属于不同玩家的对象而设置的，对游戏玩法本身并无影响。然而，不少人 都有自己最中意的颜色，玩游戏时总是坚持使用“自己的”颜色。如果两位玩家都“总是”玩绿色，碰上了免不了要为谁用绿色而争吵不休，那就有意思了。如果玩家的颜色对游 戏玩法无影响，这就是一个毫无意义的决策。然而事实上，玩家却矛盾地发现这种决策还是有意义的。理由是，玩家对结果有一种情绪上的寄托。当然，作为设计师，应该意识到 玩家会在情绪的影响下做出什么样的决策。
我们来讨论一下这个难懂的概念“乐趣”。游戏应该有乐趣。游戏设计师的作用大多数时候就是让游戏变得有趣。请注意，当我提到“乐趣”一词时，我总是故意把它带上引号， 因为我认为这个词对游戏设计师来说并不特别有用。我们天生就知道什么是有“乐趣”，这是肯定的。但这个词没有向我透露过应该怎么制作“乐趣”。什么是“乐趣”？“乐趣 ”从哪来？什么让游戏有“乐趣”？
有趣的决策看起来好像应该有“乐趣”。是这样吗？不见得，为什么这类决策是有趣的，或为什么不有趣的决策对孩子们来说仍然有趣，对这些问题我们还没有解答。所以我们来 看看Raph Koster怎么说的吧。
Raph Koster的《Theory of Fun》是这么说的：游戏的乐趣来自技能的掌握。真是激进的论断呢，因为这个说法把“乐趣”与“学习”给等量齐观了……至少我没长大时，我总是 习惯性地把“学习”与“学校”挂钩，“学校”当然没什么“乐趣”可言。所以，这个理论有必要稍作解释。
《Theory of Fun》大量提到心理学家Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi的研究成果，即情绪的“心流”（flow）状态。当人处于这个状态时，将会对着某事物全神贯注，心无旁骛，效率 也会非常高，另外你的大脑会产生一种使你愉悦的神经化学物质——“心流状态”只是书面上的说法。
3、结果是不确定的或受到你的行为的影响。（游戏邦注：Csikszentmihalyi称之为“控制的悖论”：你能控制自己的行为，从而间接控制结果，但你不能直接控制结果）以上要求 是有道理的。为什么你的大脑需用排除所有外界干扰，精神高度集中于眼下的活动才能进入“心流”状态？因为只有这样，你才能完成任务。“心流”状态影响成败需要什么条件 ？
4、对时间的曲解。奇怪的是，这点有两层意思。有些时候，比如我说的《俄罗斯方块》的例子，时间好像变慢了，事物看似在慢速运动。（其实是你的大脑在高速运转，而万物的 速度并没有变化，你是以自己作为参照物看待周围的一切）也有些时候，时间好像过得更快了。比如你本来打算只玩五分钟，可是六个小时后，你才醒悟过来：一整晚都耗在游戏 上了。
顺便一提，我们现在可以回答之前的问题了：什么儿童游戏中缺乏有意义的决策却仍然被视作有乐趣呢？答案是，儿童仍然在从游戏中学到有价值的技能：怎么掷骰子，怎么移动 面板上的标记物，怎么转向，怎么阅读/遵守规则，怎么决定输赢等等。这些技能不是生来就会的，而必须通过重复的游戏来教授和学习。当儿童掌握了这些技能，这款没有什么决 策性的游戏也就失去其乐趣。
Jenova Chen的《flow》认为应当允许玩家在游戏中根据自己的行动改变难度级数。你厌烦了？那就上调一点难度吧，这样动作就更快了。你受不了了？那就调回刚才的难度吧（如 果有必要，游戏会自动把你踢回更简单的难度级数）。
你可能会疑惑，如果“心流”状态这么令人愉悦，并且就是复杂而神秘的“乐趣”来源，那么为什么我们设计的是游戏而不是其他媒体？为什么不设计一种能触发“心流”状态的 任务，让成千上万的人去为发现治疗癌症的验方而努力工作，而不是沉迷于《魔兽》？为什么不设计一种能触发“心流”状态的大学课堂，那样学生就可以坚持每周学习50小时， 而不是好几周都难得看书几分钟。
游戏天生就擅长把玩家引入“心流”状态，所以设计一款有趣的游戏显然比设计一门课程来得容易。正如Koster在《A Theory of Fun》中所指出的，大脑是一种特征匹配机器，当 我们的大脑处于“心流”状态时，就是在寻找和理解当前出现的特征。我认为游戏在这方面做得相当棒，因为你有三个层面上的特征：审美、动态识别和最终的机制精通。因为所 有游戏都具备这三个层次的特征，所以游戏的乐趣是大多数其他活动的三倍。
我认为这种游戏设计的思路一开始就是错误的，所谓“上梁不正下梁歪”，按这种思路做出来的游戏必然没有什么价值。这种思路错就错在把“学习”和“乐趣”分离开了，我们 知道，此二者不是单独的概念，而是统一的整体（或至少存在非常紧密的联系）。学习无乐趣，玩乐不教育的假想直接损害了整个游戏，也顺带强化了这个极其有害的概念，即教 育即受罪，乐趣无处寻。
是不是有很多学生因为你的课难度太高或太低而受不了？游戏也存在这个问题。游戏对此的解决方式是加入多重难度级数；对付教学的话，可以考虑采用一种分级系统，这种系统 对学习比较差的学生而言，只要能学会基础知识，那就应该能够通过，而学习优秀的学生就可以做更有趣的额外作业。把课堂内容分层次，第一层是非常基础的、每个人都会的“ 傻瓜层”，然后增加确实重要的主要细节，最后给出只有某些学生才可能理解的内容，但那些内容的有趣程度必须至少能让学生有动机学习一点儿。
最有趣的游戏以玩家为中心，关注的首先是为玩家提供高品质的游戏体验。你可以感觉得出来，设计师在一款游戏的哪里制作出了他们想玩的地方，因为它卖了整整五份给设计师 、设计师最好的朋友和设计师的老妈。你可以感觉得到在游戏的什么地方，设计师从那儿开始游戏的内容而不是游戏玩法：这些是有深度、包含剧情和内容层次的游戏，但没有人 看得出，因为游戏玩法太无聊，玩家才玩了五分钟就不想玩了。如果你先考虑学生的经验，再开始制定课程计划，而不是根据你觉得有趣的方式（学生的想法可能跟你不太一样） 来设计课堂或以目录（可能直到你上完课都没提到）为基础，那么你的课堂会是怎么样的呢？
*Noah Falstein作著的《Natural Funativity》。我们已经就何为乐趣而进行了大量讨论，通过MDA Framework我们了解了多种趣味形式。Noah的理论可以解答为何有些东西一开始 就具有趣味性，有些东西则不然。
*Richard Bartle作著的《Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, Spades: Players Who Suit MUDs》。如果你还不知道MUD为何物，我简单解释一下MUD就是今天MMO游戏的前身。这里的MUD也 可以替换为《魔兽世界》这类游戏。
为何不制作一种含有8种趣味元素的游戏？这样不正好迎合所有人的喜好了吗？但事实并非如此。游戏存在8种趣味元素并不意味着所有人都能从这些元素中找到乐子。所以我们常 看到不同游戏结合了不同种类的趣味性，而不同玩家对不同趣味结合体的喜好也不尽相同。我认识的半数人认为象棋很好玩，但另外半数人却不以为然，所以说“趣味”的美感并 非来自游戏本身，而是游戏与玩家的结合。
那么游戏就只有以上这8种趣味元素了吗？不，即使是MDA作者也承认这份趣味列表并不完善。还有其他业内人士也列出了自己的趣味定义，其中包括Nicole Lazzaro的4种关键趣味 元素，Pierre-Alexandre Garneau的14种趣味形式。即使是MDA论文提出的这8种趣味元素也仍然存在争议。例如，把“幻想”和“叙事”拆开真的合理吗，或者说这两者代表不同 的趣味理念？“服从”真的算是一种趣味吗，或者说只有在一种游戏真有强大吸引力从而上升成为玩家的“爱好”时才会发生这种情况？——它究竟算是一种起因还是影响？什么 才能算或者不算“表现”？
《Natural Funativity》作者Noah Falstein的观点是，趣味性的由来可以追溯到史前时代，当时的原始人只能靠狩猎和采集为生，为了生存和繁殖他们不得不学习许多技能。人们 发现学习某些技能很有趣，就会多实践这种技能，从而更好地生存、繁殖，将自己的基因遗传给下一代。随着时间发展，那些可以让我们生存下来的技能就成了今天“有趣”的东 西。虽然并非所有原始时代的狩猎采集技能现在仍能派上用场，但是要知道，我们的本性并不是那么容易因科技的发展而消失殆尽。
当我看到这种观点时，脑中立即闪过《魔兽世界》的影子，这款游戏是不是也存在体能趣味性（战斗），精神趣味性（提升装备和技能），以及社交趣味性（随着《Night Elves》 的背景音乐起舞）？
玩乐，尤其是玩游戏，让我们锻炼了长大成人的一些技能。虽然我们觉得有趣的技能虽然数百万年的进化才会发生演变，但我们所玩的游戏却是代代不相同，所以你可以通过某个 年代最流行的游戏观察其社会价值观（游戏邦注：例如在几个世纪以前，世界绝大多数人是农民，收割庄稼对人们来说是件大事。但今天的情况不同了，所以我们在现代社会中再 也看不到“收割游戏”的盛行了）。
这为我们设计游戏提供了一个重要的出发点。设计师在动工之前可以先想想自己所在文化圈哪些技能最有用。找到这些技能与原始人求生技能的关联，然后设计一款可实践这些技 能的游戏。许多成功的游戏都极为擅长贯穿学以致用的理念。这类游戏中的活动包括使用玩家需掌握的技能，或者将掌握某项技能作为成功的前提条件。无论是哪种情况，游戏玩 法都会将内在趣味性与学习乐趣融为一体，这样你就有可能做出一款“具有教育意义”同时又不失趣味性的游戏。注意这种游戏与所谓的“寓教于乐”游戏截然不同，后者常要求 人们机械地学习，或者将学习与玩乐孤立起来，已有不少先例证明这种游戏其实很“无趣”。
正如我们在艺术游戏这一课程中所言，“有趣”并不是游戏的唯一目的。我们阅读《战争与和平》时会觉得它是一本好书，但我们不会称之为有趣。我们也可以说《辛德勒的名单 》和《拯救大兵瑞恩》是好电影，但如果我们说它们很有趣，肯定会让人不解。《麦克白》也不能算是“有趣”的戏剧，看《蒙娜丽莎》也并不有趣，日常新闻也甚少趣味性，但 这些东西却都极具深意。
Koster曾在《A Theory of Fun》中指出，玩家本质上都很懒。他们通常只会找那些自己原来就擅长的游戏，所以他们不会去学习新的技能，这就减少了他们所获得的学习乐趣。他 们老是喜欢找漏洞，钻空子和作弊，这些现象都损害了愉快的学习过程。从这一点上看是玩家让游戏趣味性大打折扣，但他们就是要这么做。
公平来说，游戏设计师也难免如此。我们在某些方面的表现比玩家更甚，因为我们都吃透了特定的游戏模式，可以快速将其消化。这就催生出了大量衍生工作。从我个人经验来说 ，我接触的第一个游戏项目是款卡片收集游戏，所以直到现在我还是会习惯性地在自己制作的任何一款游戏中添加卡片、损失/利益决策、稀有性概念等元素。我认识的另一名设计 师则喜欢从RPG角度看问题。另一名同事则喜欢制作模拟题材的游戏。我们多数人都习惯从特定游戏类型出发，制作其他不同的游戏。以我个人经验来看，我们设计游戏时通常会受 到职业生涯中第一款游戏风格的影响。
举例来说，《21st Century Game Design》（由Chris Bateman和Richard Boon所著）这本书根据Myers-Briggs人格理论提出了相应的玩家类型。在游戏设计领域中，执行市场调查 结果，并根据目标用户的喜好量体裁衣地设计游戏是一种非常普遍的做法。但这种应用方式存在一个问题。先以Myers-Briggs人格理论反映玩家类型，然后再以玩家类型区分不同 趣味形式。这个过程已经发生了两次概念提纯，这实际上存在很大的出错率。这本书所提出的16种玩家类型并不适用于所有人。
另一个典型的例子就是将玩家简单区分为“休闲”和“硬核”类型。这种分类法可能很适用于游戏的营销推广，但对设计师来说作用有限。这些玩家到底喜欢哪种乐趣？何为“休 闲乐趣”和“硬核乐趣”？这些问题尚无准确答案。不少人认为休闲玩家喜欢体验简洁、容易学习、挑战性不大的游戏。但有些所谓的“休闲游戏”却很困难（例如《美女餐厅》 ）、冗长（《Puzzle Quest》）或者复杂（《Virtual Villagers》。我发现与其浪费大量时间定义“休闲玩家”类型，不如去寻找让那些“休闲游戏”大获成功的趣味形式，然后 依此设计游戏。
*发展是任何一种课程都存在的固有属性，毕竟每节课都是建立在之前课程的基础之上。假如你利用某节课中大家所学的知识制作一张图表，就会发现这与RTS或MMO游戏中的“科技 树”或“技能树”颇为相似。向学生们展示这种技能图表（然后在他们学到新知识，“解琐”更高级的技能之后向他们再次展示），你就可以为他们创造一种成就感……这种方法 也可以让授课主题更为明晰易了。教育部门的主管也可以效仿此法，以图表形式展示课堂要求和前提条件。
Until this point, we have made lots of games and game rules, but at no point have we examined what makes a good rule from a bad one. Nor have we really examined the different kinds of rules that form a game designer’s palette. Nor have we talked about the relationship between the game rules and the player experience. These are the things we examine today.
No major announcements today, but for your curiosity I did compile a list of tweets for the last challenge (add or change a rule to Battleship to make it more interesting):
* “Reveal” was a common theme (such as, instead of firing a shot, give the number of Hits in a 3×3 square – thus turning the game from “what number am I thinking of” into “two-player competitive Minesweeper”)
* Skip a few turns for a larger shot (for example, skip 5 turns to hit everything in an entire 3×3 area). The original suggestion was an even number (skip 9 turns to nuke a 3×3 square) but note that there isn’t much of a functional difference between this and just taking one shot at a time.
* Like Go, if you enclose an area with a series of shots, all squares in the enclosed area are immediately hit as well (this adds an element of risk-taking and short-term versus long-term tradeoffs to the game – do you try to block off a large area that takes many turns but has an efficient turn-to-squares-hit ratio, or do you concentrate on smaller areas that give you more immediate information but at the cost of taking longer in aggregate?)
* When you miss but are in a square adjacent to an enemy ship, the opponent must declare it as a “near miss” (without telling you what direction the ship is in), which doesn’t exactly get around the guessing-game aspect of the original but should at least speed play by giving added information. Alternatively, with any miss, the opponent must give the distance in squares to the nearest ship (without specifying direction), which would allow for some deductive reasoning.
* Skip (7-X) turns to rebuild a destroyed ship of size X. If the area in which you are building is hit in the meantime, the rebuild is canceled. (The original suggestion was skip X turns to rebuild a ship of size X, but smaller ships are actually more dangerous since they are harder to locate, so I would suggest an inverse relationship between size and cost.)
* Each time you sink an enemy ship, you can rebuild a ship of yours of the same size that was already sunk (this gives some back-and-forth, and suggests alternate strategies of scattering your early shots to give your opponent less room to rebuild)
* Once per game, your Battleship (the size-4 ship) can hit a 5-square cross (+) shaped area in a single turn; using this also forces you to place a Hit on your own Battleship (note that this would also give away your Battleship’s location, so it seems more like a retaliatory move when your Battleship is almost sunk anyway)
We will revisit some of these when we talk about the kinds of decisions that are made in a game, next Monday.
This week I’m trying something new and putting one of the readings up front, because I want you to look at this first, before reading the rest of this post.
* MDA Framework by LeBlanc, Hunicke and Zabek. This is one of the few academic papers that achieved wide exposure within the game industry (it probably helps that the authors are experienced game designers). There are two parts of this paper that made it really influential. The first is the Mechanics/Dynamics/Aesthetics (MDA) conceptualization, which offers a way to think about the relationship of rules to player experience, and also the relationship between player and designer. The second part to pay attention to is the “8 kinds of fun” which we will return to a bit later in the course
(Thursday of next week).
Now, About That MDA Framework Thing…
LeBlanc et al. define a game in terms of its Mechanics, Dynamics, and Aesthetics:
* Mechanics are a synonym for the “rules” of the game. These are the constraints under which the game operates. How is the game set up? What actions can players take, and what effects do those actions have on the game state? When does the game end, and how is a resolution determined? These are defined by the mechanics.
* Dynamics describe the play of the game when the rules are set in motion. What strategies emerge from the rules? How do players interact with one another?
* Aesthetics (in the MDA sense) do not refer to the visual elements of the game, but rather the player experience of the game: the effect that the dynamics have on the players themselves. Is the game “fun”? Is play frustrating, or boring, or interesting? Is the play emotionally or intellectually engaging?
Before the MDA Framework was written, the terms “mechanics” and “dynamics” were already in common use among designers. The term “aesthetics” in this sense had not, but has gained more use in recent years.
The Process of Design
With the definitions out of the way, why is this important? This is one of the key points of the MDA paper. The game designer only creates the Mechanics directly. The Dynamics emerge from the Mechanics, and the Aesthetics arise out of the Dynamics. The game designer may want to design the play experience, or at least that may be the ultimate goal the designer has in mind… but as designers, we are stuck building the rules of the game and hoping that the desired experience emerges from our rules.
This is why game design is sometimes referred to as a second-order design problem: because we do not define the solution, we define something that creates something else that creates the solution. This is why game design is hard. Or at least, it is one reason. Design is not just a matter of coming up with a “Great Idea” for a game; it is about coming up with a set of rules that will implement that idea, when two-thirds of the final product (the Dynamics and Aesthetics) are not under our direct control.
The Process of Play
Designers start with the Mechanics and follow them as they grow outward into the Aesthetics. You can think of a game as a sphere, with the Mechanics at the core, the Dynamics surrounding them, and the Aesthetics on the surface, each layer growing out of the one inside it. One thing the authors of MDA point out is that this is not how games are experienced from the player’s point of view.
A player sees the surface first – the Aesthetics. They may be aware of the Mechanics and Dynamics, but the thing that really makes an immediate impression and that is most easily understood is the Aesthetics. This is why, even with absolutely no knowledge or training in game design, anyone can play a game and tell you whether or not they are having a good time. They may not be able to articulate why they are having a good time or what makes the game “good” or “
bad”… but anyone can tell you right away how a game makes them feel.
If a player spends enough time with a game, they may learn to appreciate the Dynamics of the game and now their experience arises from them. They may realize that they do or don’t like a game because of the specific kinds of interactions they are having with the game and/or the other players. And if a player spends even more time with that game, they may eventually have a strong enough grasp of the Mechanics to see how the Dynamics are emerging from them.
If a game is a sphere that is designed from the inside out, it is played from the outside in. And this, I think, is one of the key points of MDA. The designer creates the Mechanics and everything flows outward from that. The player experiences the Aesthetics and then their experience flows inward. As designers, we must be aware of both of these ways of interacting with a game. Otherwise, we are liable to create games that are fun for designers but not players.
One Example of MDA in action
I mentioned the concept of “spawn camping” earlier in this course, as an example of how players with different implicit rule sets can throw around accusations of “cheating” for something that is technically allowed by the rules of the game. Let us analyze this in the context of MDA.
In a First-Person Shooter video game, a common mechanic is for players to have “spawn points” – dedicated places on the map where they re-appear after getting killed. Spawn points are a mechanic. This leads to the dynamic where a player may sit next to a spawn point and immediately kill anyone as soon as they respawn. And lastly, the aesthetics would likely be frustration at the prospect of coming back into play only to be killed again immediately.
Suppose you are designing a new FPS and you notice this frustration aesthetic in your game, and you want to fix this so that the game is not as frustrating. You cannot simply change the aesthetics of the game to “make it more fun” – this may be your goal, but it is not something under your direct control. You cannot even change the dynamics of spawn camping directly; you cannot tell the players how to interact with your game, except through the mechanics. So instead, you must change the mechanics of the game – maybe you try making players respawn in random locations rather than designated areas – and then you hope that the desired aesthetics emerge from your mechanics change.
How do you know if your change worked? Playtest, of course!
How do you know what change to make, if the effects of mechanics changes are so unpredictable? We will get into some basic tips and tricks near the end of this course. For now, the most obvious way is designer intuition. The more you practice, the more you design games, the more you make rules changes and thenplaytest and see the effects of your changes, the better you will get at making the right changes when you notice problems… and occasionally, even creating
the right mechanics in the first place. There are few substitutes for experience… which, incidentally, is why so much of this course involves getting you off your butt and making games .
“If the computer or the game designer is having more fun than the player, you have made a terrible mistake.”
This seems as good a time as any to quote game designer Sid Meier. His warning is clearly directed at video game designers, but applies just as easily to non-digital projects. It is a reminder that we design the Mechanics of the game, and designing the Mechanics is fun for us. But it is not the Mechanics that are fun for our players. A common design mistake is to create rules that are fun to create, but that do not necessarily translate into fun gameplay. Always
remember that you are creating games for the players and not yourself.
Mechanics, Dynamics and Complexity
Generally, adding additional mechanics, new systems, additional game objects, and new ways for objects to interact with one another (or for players to interact with the game) will lead to a greater complexity in the dynamics of the game. For example, compare Chess and Checkers. Chess has six kinds of pieces (instead of two) and a greater number of actions that each piece can take, so it ends up having more strategic depth.
Is more complexity good, or bad? It depends. Tetris is a very simple but still very successful game. Advanced Squad Leader is an incredibly complex game, but still can be considered successful for what it is. Some games are so simple that they are not fun beyond a certain age, like Tic-Tac-Toe. Other games are too complex for their own good, and would be better if their systems were a bit more simplified and streamlined (I happen to think this about the board game
Agricola; I’m sure you can provide examples from your own experience).
Do more complex mechanics always lead to more complex dynamics? No – there are some cases where very simple mechanics create extreme complexity (as is the case with Chess). And there are other cases where the mechanics are extremely complicated, but the dynamics are simple (imagine a modified version of the children’s card game War that did not just involve comparison of numbers, but lookups on complex “combat resolution” charts). The best way to gauge
complexity, as you may have guessed, is to play the game.
One kind of dynamic that is often seen in games and deserves special attention is known as the feedback loop. There are two types, positive feedback loops and negative feedback loops. These terms are borrowed from other fields such as control systems and biology, and they mean the same thing in games that they mean elsewhere.
A positive feedback loop can be thought of as a reinforcing relationship. Something happens that causes the same thing to happen again, which causes it to happen yet again, getting stronger in each iteration – like a snowball that starts out small at the top of the hill and gets larger and faster as it rolls and collects more snow.
As an example, there is a relatively obscure shooting game for the NES called The Guardian Legend. Once you beat the game, you got access to a special extra gameplay mode. In this mode, you got rewarded with power-ups at the end of each level based on your score: the higher your score, the more power-ups you got for the next level. This is a positive feedback loop: if you get a high score, it gives you more power-ups, which make it easier to get an even higher score
in the next level, which gives you even more power-ups, and so on.
Note that in this case, the reverse is also true. Suppose you get a low score. Then you get fewer power-ups at the end of that level, which makes it harder for you to do well on the next level, which means you will probably get an even lower score, and so on until you are so far behind that it is nearly impossible for you to proceed at all.
The thing that is often confusing to people is that both of these scenarios are positive feedback loops. This seems counterintuitive; the second example seems very “negative,” as the player is doing poorly and getting fewer rewards. It is “positive” in the sense that the effects get stronger in magnitude on each iteration.
There are three properties of positive feedback loops that game designers should be aware of:
1.They tend to destabilize the game, as one player gets further and further ahead (or behind).
2.They cause the game to end faster.
3.The put emphasis on the early game, since the effects of early-game decisions are magnified over time.
Feedback loops usually have two steps (as in my The Guardian Legend example) but they can have more. For example, some Real-Time Strategy games have a positive feedback loop with four steps: players explore the map, which gives them access to more resources, which let them buy better technology, which let them build better units, which let them explore more effectively (which gives them access to more resources… and the cycle repeats). As such, detecting a
positive feedback loop is not always easy.
Here are some other examples of positive feedback loops that you might be familiar with:
* Most “4X” games, such as the Civilization and Master of Orion series, are usually built around positive feedback loops. As you grow your civilization, it lets you generate resources faster, which let you grow faster. By the time you begin conflict in earnest with your opponents, one player is usually so far ahead that it is not much of a contest, because the core positive feedback loop driving the game means that someone who got ahead of the curve early on is going to be much farther ahead in the late game.
* Board games that feature building up as their primary mechanic, such as Settlers of Catan. In these games, players use resources to improve their resource production, which gets them more resources.
* The physical sport Rugby has a minor positive feedback loop: when a team scores points, they start with the ball again, which makes it slightly more likely that they will score again. The advantage is thus given to the team who just gained an advantage. This is in contrast to most sports, which give the ball to the opposing team after a successful score.
Negative feedback loops are, predictably, the opposite of positive feedback loops in just about every way. A negative feedback loop is a balancing relationship. When something happens in the game (such as one player gaining an advantage over the others), a negative feedback loop makes it harder for that same thing to happen again. If one player gets in the lead, a negative feedback loop makes it easier for the opponents to catch up (and harder for a winning player to extend their lead).
As an example, consider a “Kart-style” racing game like Mario Kart. In racing games, play is more interesting if the player is in the middle of a pack of cars rather than if they are way out in front or lagging way behind on their own (after all, there is more interaction if your opponents are close by). As a result, the de facto standard in that genre of play is to add a negative feedback loop: as the player gets ahead of the pack, the opponents start cheating, finding better power-ups and getting impossible bursts of speed to help them catch up. This makes it more difficult for the player to maintain or extend a lead. This particular feedback loop is sometimes referred to as “rubber-banding” because the cars behave as if they are connected by rubber bands, pulling the leaders and losers back to the center of the pack.
Likewise, the reverse is true. If the player falls behind, they will find better power-ups and the opponents will slow down to allow the player to catch up. This makes it more difficult for a player who is behind to fall further behind. Again, both of these are examples of negative feedback loops; “negative” refers to the fact that a dynamic becomes weaker with iteration, and has nothing to do with whether it has a positive or negative effect on the player’s standing in the game.
Negative feedback loops also have three important properties:
1.They tend to stabilize the game, causing players to tend towards the center of the pack.
2.They cause the game to take longer.
3.They put emphasis on the late game, since early-game decisions are reduced in their impact over time.
Some examples of negative feedback loops:
* Most physical sports like Football and Basketball, where after your team scores, the ball is given to the opposing team and they are then given a chance to score. This makes it less likely that a single team will keep scoring over and over.
* The board game Starfarers of Catan has a negative feedback loop where every player with less than a certain number of victory points gets a free resource at the start of their turn. Early on, this affects all players and speeds up the early game. Later in the game, as some players get ahead and cross the victory point threshold, the players lagging behind continue to get bonus resources. This makes it easier for the trailing players to catch up.
* My grandfather was a decent Chess player, generally better than his children who he taught to play. To make it more of a challenge, he invented a rule: if he won a game, next time they played, his opponent could remove a piece of his from the board at the start of the game (first a pawn, then two pawns, then a knight or bishop, and so on as the child continued to lose). Each time my grandfather won, the next game would be more challenging for him, making it more likely that he would eventually start losing.
Use of Feedback Loops
Are feedback loops good or bad? Should we strive to include them, or are they to be avoided? As with most aspects of game design, it depends on the situation. Sometimes, a designer will deliberately add mechanics that cause a feedback loop. Other times, a feedback loop is discovered during play and the designer must decide what (if anything) to do about it.
Positive feedback loops can be quite useful. They end the game quickly when a player starts to emerge as the winner, without having the end game be a long, drawn-out affair. On the other hand, positive feedback loops can be frustrating for players who are trying to catch up to the leader and start feeling like they no longer have a chance.
Negative feedback loops can also be useful, for example to prvent a dominant early strategy and to keep players feeling like they always have a chance to win. On the other hand, they can also be frustrating, as players who do well early on can feel like they are being punished for succeeding, while also feeling like the players who lag behind are seemingly rewarded for doing poorly.
What makes a particular feedback loop “good” or “bad” from a player perspective? This is debatable, but I think it is largely a matter of player perception of fairness. If it feels like the game is artificially intervening to help a player win when they don’t deserve it, it can be perceived negatively by players. How do you know how players will perceive the game? Playtest, of course.
Eliminating Feedback Loops
Suppose you identify a feedback loop in your game and you want to remove it. How do you do this? There are two ways.
The first is to shut off the feedback loop itself. All feedback loops (positive and negative) have three components:
* A “sensor” that monitors the game state;
* A “comparator” that decides whether to take action based on the value monitored by the sensor;
* An “activator” that modifies the game state when the comparator decides to do so.
For example, in the earlier kart-racing negative feedback loop example, the “sensor” is how far ahead or behind the player is, relative to the rest of the pack; the “comparator” checks to see if the player is farther ahead or behind than a certain threshold value; and the “activator” causes the opposing cars to either speed up or slow down accordingly, if the player is too far ahead or behind. All of these may form a single mechanic (“If the player is more than 300 meters ahead of all opponents, multiply everyone else’s speed by 150%”). In other cases there may be three or more separate mechanics that cause the feedback loop, and changing any one of them will modify the nature of the loop.
By being aware of the mechanics causing a feedback loop, you can disrupt the effects by either removing the sensor, changing or removing the comparator, or modifying or removing the effect of the activator. Going back to our The Guardian Legend example (more points = more power-ups for the next level), you could deactivate the positive feedback loop by either modifying the sensor (measure something other than score… something that does not increase in proportion to how powered-up the player is), or changing the comparator (by changing the scores required so that later power-ups cost more and more, you can guarantee that even the best players will fall behind the curve eventually, leading to a more difficult end game), or changing the activator (maybe the player gets power- ups through a different method entirely, such as getting a specific set of power-ups at the end of each level, or finding them in the middle of levels).
If you do not want to remove the feedback loop from the game but you do want to reduce its effects, an alternative is to add another feedback loop of the opposing type. Again returning to the kart-racing example, if you wanted to keep the “rubber-banding” negative feedback loop, you could add a positive feedback loop to counteract it. For example, if the opposing cars get speed boosts when the player is ahead, perhaps the player can go faster as well, leading to a case where being in the lead makes the entire race go faster (but not giving an advantage or disadvantage to anyone). Or maybe the player in the lead can find better power-ups to compensate for the opponents’ new speed advantage.
Another dynamic that game designers should be aware of is called emergent gameplay (or emergent complexity, or simply emergence). I’ve found this is a difficult thing to describe in my classroom courses, so I would welcome other perspectives on how to teach it. Generally, emergence describes a game with simple mechanics but complex dynamics. “Emergent complexity” can be used to describe any system of this nature, even things that are not games.
Some examples of emergence from the world outside of games:
* In nature, insect colonies (such as ants and bees) show behavior that is so complex, it appears to be intelligent enough that we call it a “hive mind” (much to the exploitation of many sci-fi authors). In reality, each individual insect is following its own very simple set of rules, and it is only in aggregate that the colony displays complex behaviors.
* Conway’s Game of Life, though not actually a “game” by most of the definitions in this course, is a simple set of sequential rules for simulating cellular life on a square grid. Each cell is either “alive” or “dead” on the current turn. To progress to the next turn, all living cells that are adjacent to either zero or one other living cells are killed (from isolation), and living cells adjacent to four or more other living cells are also killed (from overcrowding); all dead cells adjacent to exactly three living cells are “born” and changed to living cells on the next turn; and any cell adjacent
to exactly two living cells stays exactly as it is. Those are the only rules. You start with an initial setup of your choice, and then modify the board to see what happens. And yet, you can get incredibly complex behaviors: structures can move, mutate, spawn new structures, and any number of other things.
* Boid’s Algorithm, a way to simulate crowd and flocking behavior that is used in some CG-based movies as well as games. There are only three simple rules that individuals in a flock must each follow. First, if there are a lot of your companions on one side of you and few on the other, it means you’re probably at the edge of the flock; move towards your companions. Second, if you are close to your companions, give them room so you don’t crowd them. Third, adjust
your speed and direction to be the average of your nearby companions. From these three rules you can get some pretty complex, detailed and realistic crowd behavior.
Here are some examples of emergent gameplay:
* In fighting games like the Street Fighter or Tekken series, “combos” arise from the collision of several simple rules: connecting with certain attacks momentarily stuns the opponent so that they cannot respond, and other attacks can be executed quickly enough to connect before the opponent recovers. Designers may or may not intentionally put combos in their games (the earliest examples were not intended, and indeed were not discovered until the games had been out for awhile), but it is the mechanics of stunning and attack speed that create complex series of moves that are unblockable after the first move in the series connects.
* In the sport of Basketball, the concept of “dribbling” was not explicitly part of the rules. As originally written, the designer had intended the game to be similar to how Ultimate Frisbee is played: the player with the ball is not allowed to move, and must either throw the ball towards the basket (in an attempt to score), or “pass” the ball to a teammate (either through the air, or by bouncing it on the ground). There was simply no rule that prevented a player from passing to himself.
* Book openings in Chess. The rules of this game are pretty simple, with only six different piece types and a handful of special-case moves, but a set of common opening moves has emerged from repeated play.
Why do we care about emergent dynamics? It is often desired for practical reasons, especially in the video game world, because you can get a lot of varied and deep gameplay out of relatively simple mechanics. In video games (and to a lesser extent, board games) it is the mechanics that must be implemented. If you are programming a video game, emergent gameplay gives you a great ratio of hours-of-gameplay to lines-of-code. Because of this apparent cost savings,
“emergence” as a buzzword was all the rage a few years ago, and I still hear it mentioned from time to time.
It’s important to note that emergence is not always planned for, and for that matter it is not always desirable. Here are two examples of emergence, both from the Grand Theft Auto series of games, where unintended emergent gameplay led to questionable results:
* Consider these two rules. First, running over a pedestrian in a vehicle causes them to drop the money they are carrying. Second, hiring a prostitute refills the player’s health, but costs the player money. From these two unrelated rules, we get the emergent strategy that has been affectionately termed the “hooker exploit”: sleep with a prostitute, then run her over to regain the money you spent. This caused a bit of a scandal in the press back in the day, from people who interpreted this dynamic as an intentional design that glorified violence against sex workers. Simply saying “it’s emergent gameplay! ” is not sufficient to explain to a layperson why this was not intentional.
* Perhaps more amusing was the combination of two other rules. First, if the player causes damage to an innocent bystander, the person will (understandably) defend themselves by attacking the player. Second, if a vehicle has taken sufficient damage, it will eventually explode, damaging everything in the vicinity (and of course, nearly killing the driver). These led to the following highly unrealistic scenario: a player, driving a damaged vehicle, crashes near a group
of bystanders. The car explodes. The player crawls from the wreckage, barely alive… until the nearby crowd of “Samaritans” decides that the player damaged them from the explosion, and they descend in a group to finish the player off!
As you can see, emergence is not always a good thing. More to the point, it is not necessarily cheaper to develop a game with emergent properties. Because of the complex nature of the dynamics, emergent games require a lot more playtesting and iteration than games that are more straightforward in their relationships between mechanics and dynamics. A game with emergence may be easier to program, but it is much harder to design; there is no cost savings, but rather a shift in cost from programmers to game designers.
From Emergence to Intentionality
Player intentionality, the concept from Church’s Formal Abstract Design Tools mentioned earlier in this course, is related in some ways to emergence. Generally, you get emergence by having lots of small, simple, interconnected systems. If the player is able to figure out these systems and use them to form complicated chains of events intentionally, that is one way to have a higher degree of player intention.
* Designing to Promote Intentional Play by Clint Hocking. This was a lecture given live at GDC in 2006, but Clint has kindly made his Powerpoint slides and speaker notes publicly available for download from his blog. It covers the concept of player intentionality and its relation to emergence, far better than I can cover here. The link goes to a Zip file that contains a number of files inside it; start with the Powerpoint and the companion Word doc, and the presentation will make it clear when the other things like the videos come into play. I will warn you that, like many video game developers, Clint tends to use a lot of profanity; also, the presentation opens with a joke about Jesus and Moses. It may be best to skip this one if you are around people who are easily offended by such things.
The most important takeaway from today is that game design is not a trivial task. It is difficult, mainly because of the nature of MDA. The designer creates rules, which create play, which create the player experience. Every rule created has a doubly-indirect effect on the player, and this is hard to predict and control. This also explains why making one small rules change in a game can have ripple effects that drastically alter how the game is played. And yet, a designer’s task is to create a favorable player experience.
This is why playtesting is so important. It is the most effective way to gauge the effects of rules changes when you are uncertain.
Today we will practice iterating on an existing design, rather than starting from scratch. I want you to see first-hand the effects on a game when you change the mechanics.
Here are the rules for a simplified variant of the dice game called Bluff (also called Liar’s Dice, but known to most people as that weird dice game that they played in the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie):
* Players: 2 or more, best with a small group of 4 to 6.
* Objective: Be the last player with any dice remaining.
* Setup: All players take 5 six-sided dice. It may also help if each player has something to hide their dice with, such as an opaque cup, but players may just shield their dice with their own hands. All players roll their dice, in such a way that each player can see their own dice but no one else’s. Choose aplayer to go first. That player must make a bid:
* Bids: A “bid” is a player’s guess as to how many dice are showing a certain face, among all players. Dice showing the number 1 are “wild” and count as all other numbers. You cannot bid any number of 1s, only 2s through 6s. For example, “three 4s” would mean that between every player’s dice, there are at least three dice showing the number 1 or 4.
* Increasing a bid: To raise a bid, the new bid must be higher than the previous. Increasing the number of dice is always a higher bid, regardless of rank (nine 2s is a higher bid than eight 6s). Increasing the rank is a higher bid if the number of dice is the same or higher (eight 6s is a higher bid than eight 5s, both of which are higher than eight 4s).
* Progression of Play: On a player’s turn, that player may either raise the current bid, or if they think the most recent bid is incorrect, they can challenge the previous bid. If they raise the bid, play passes to the next player in clockwise order. If they challenge, the current round ends; all players reveal their dice, and the result is resolved.
* Resolution of a round: If a bid is challenged but found to be correct (for example, if the bid was “nine 5s” and there are actually eleven 1s and 5s among all players, so there were indeed at least nine of them), the player who challenged the bid loses one of their dice. On subsequent rounds, that player will then have fewer dice to roll. If the bid is challenged correctly (suppose on that bid of “nine 5s” there were actually only eight 1s and 5s among all players), the player who made the incorrect bid loses one of their dice instead. Then, all players re-roll all of their remaining dice, and play continues with a new opening bid, starting with the player who won the previous challenge.
* Game resolution: When a player has lost all of their dice, they are eliminated from the game. When all players (except one) have lost all of their dice, the one player remaining is the winner.
If you don’t have enough dice to play this game, you can use a variant: dealing cards from a deck, for example, or drawing slips of paper numbered 1 through 6 out of a container with many such slips of paper thrown in.
If you don’t have any friends, spend some time finding them. It will make it much easier for you to playtest your projects later in this course if you have people who are willing to play games with you.
At any rate, your first “assignment” here is to play the game. Take particular note of the dynamics and how they emerge from the mechanics. Do you see players bluffing, calling unrealistically high numbers in an effort to convince their opponents that they have more of a certain number than they actually do? Are players hesitant to challenge, knowing that any challenge is a risk and it is therefore safer to not challenge as long as you are not challenged yourself? Do any players calculate the odds, and use that information to influence their bid? Do you notice any feedback loops in the game as play progresses – that is, as a player starts making mistakes and losing dice, are they more or less likely to lose again in future rounds, given that they receive fewer dice and therefore have less information to bid on?
Okay, that last question kind of gave it away – yes, there is a positive feedback loop in this game. The effect is small, and noticeable mostly in an end- game situation where one player has three or more dice and their one or two remaining opponents only have a single die. Still, this gives us an opportunity to fiddle with things as designers.
Your next step is to add, remove, or change one rule in order to remove the effect of the positive feedback loop. Why did you choose the particular change that you did? What do you expect will happen – how will the dynamics change in response to your modified mechanic? Write down your prediction.
Then, play the game again with your rules modification. Did it work? Did it have any other side effects that you didn’t anticipate? How did the dynamics actually change? Be honest, and don’t be afraid if your prediction wasn’t accurate. The whole point of this is so you can see for yourself how hard it is to predict gameplay changes from a simple rules change, without actually playing.
Next, share what you learned with the community. I have created a new page on the course Wiki. On that page, write the following:
1.What was your rules change?
2.How did you expect the dynamics of the game to change?
3.How did they really change?
You don’t need to include much detail; a sentence or two for each of the three points is fine.
Finally, your last assignment (this is mandatory!) is to read at least three other responses. Read the rules change first, and without reading further, ask yourself how you think that rule change would modify gameplay. Then read the other person’s prediction, and see if it matches yours. Lastly, read what actually happened, and see how close you were.
You may leave your name, or you may post anonymously.
Take your favorite physical sport. Identify a positive or negative feedback loop in the game. Most sports have at least one of these. Propose a rule change that would eliminate it. Find a way to express it in less than 135 characters, and post to Twitter with the #GDCU tag. You have until Thursday. One sport per participant, please!
At this point I’d like to take a brief diversion to go into the whole “can games be art?” thing. This may seem like a strange topic to cover in the middle of some heftier design principles. It’s also one of those tired old arguments that have been going on for years now, so why waste our time retreading old ground? I have a few reasons for including this in the syllabus, and you are free to debate the merits and drawbacks of its inclusion in this course.
The first reason for this topic is that for the next few weeks we’ll be talking about the whole concept of “fun” and how to make games more enjoyable. For most practicing game designers, this is their prime directive: Take This Game And Make It Fun. Before we go down that road, I want to make it clear that fun is not the only purpose of game design, and in fact that some games can be critically successful in their design goals even if they are not particularly “fun” in the way that most games are.
Second, as a debate that has been going on for ages, I want those who are new to the party to get a basic grounding in the debate. It’s one of those things that will certainly come up in conversation among designers from time to time, and I want the novices among you to be prepared to enter that discussion. For those of you who are quite familiar with this already, I hope to up the ante so that we can all proceed in these discussions at a higher level of discourse.
Third, so-called “art games” – that is, games that are made primarily for the purpose of artistic expression (as opposed to entertainment) – are reaching a critical mass. There are a lot of very talented people doing very interesting things in this space right now. A lot of art games are very simple and small in scope, made by a single person in a relatively short period of time. A lot of potential avenues are yet to be explored. This makes art games a wonderful opportunity for those who are looking to establish themselves as game designers.
And finally, I know just enough about art history and art criticism to be dangerous. I am therefore driven, to an extent, to talk about an area of personal interest… even though I acknowledge that it will undoubtedly get me into trouble at some point.
For those paying close attention, I recently changed my Twitter username from @ai864 to @IanSchreiber, after urging from co-author Brenda Brathwaite (@bbrathwaite). The theory is that my actual name will be easier to remember… provided people learn to spell it correctly. Keep in mind, for those of you who tweet about this course regularly.
Here are a small selection of the answers to the mini-challenge from last time (identify a physical sport with a feedback loop, and propose a rule change to eliminate it):
?8-ball (pocket billiards): Negative feedback loop is that the more of your own balls you sink, the fewer legal targets you have. Rule change: sunk balls are reset on the table, first to sink any seven of their balls can attempt to sink the 8-ball for the win. Alternate rule change: after failing to sink a ball, opponent automatically gets a point.
?Martial arts, boxing, and similar: Positive feedback loop is that the more you injure your opponent, the less likely they are to retaliate. Rule change:
wait a day between rounds. (Impractical perhaps, although it would probably cut down on serious injury.)
?Soccer, Basketball, and most other team sports: Negative feedback loop where after scoring, the ball is given to the other team. Rule change: after scoring, use a “jump ball” or equivalent to give both teams an equal chance to reclaim the ball.
?Croquet: Positive feedback loop is that you get bonus swings for hitting wickets. Rule change: make the bonus swings optional, keep track of total number of swings throughout the game, lowest number of swings wins.
?Most professional sports: Positive feedback loop is that a team that wins a lot gets more money (from fans, sponsorships, etc.), which lets them buy better players, which makes it more likely they will continue to win. Rule change: not given. (This is actually a real struggle with some professional sports, because it is more exciting to watch a game if you feel like both teams have a chance to win. In the real world, some proposals to fix this include drafts
and salary caps. Sports that don’t do something to prevent this feedback loop tend to lose popularity. I’m looking at you, American Baseball.)
?Cycling, auto racing, and similar: Negative feedback loop is the ability to draft behind the person in front of you, letting you save energy so that you can overtake them later. Rule change: race in a vacuum. (Very funny, wise guy.)
Due to the positive response from Monday, I’ll continue putting the readings up front. Go do these now：
?Challenges for Game Designers, Chapter 17 (Games as Art)
?A Theory of Fun for Game Design, Chapter 12 (Taking Their Rightful Place), if you chose to acquire this book.
?Understanding Comics, Chapter 7 (The Six Steps), if you chose to acquire this book.
What is Art?
Understanding Comics is, as you may have seen, a comic book about the art form of comic books. If you have read Chapter 7, you will immediately see a number of parallels between comic book art and game design… aside from the public image problem that both have of being “not serious” and “just for kids.”
McCloud starts off by making an attempt to define “art” as anything that is not done for the intent of survival or reproduction. Most students I’ve talked to think this is an overly broad definition, but of course few can offer anything better. For what it’s worth, if you accept this definition, then “games are art” is not a difficult leap – after all, when you’re deeply concentrating on clearing the next Left 4 Dead level, or considering your next move in a game of Chess, you are probably not doing much to aid in either your real-world survival or reproduction (unless you play Chess in a uniquely erotic way, in which case I really do not need to hear about it).
I’ve heard the definition of art as something that is communicative and transformative. This is also overly broad, but also clearly includes games.
Dictionary.com defines art as the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance. By that definition, a game with lots of “eye candy,” or a game that is more than “just a game” for any reason, can be considered art.Wikipedia defines art as the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions. Games have formal elements that can be deliberately designed. Games can appeal to senses, obviously, through their visual properties if nothing else. Games can also appeal to emotions – two oft-cited examples from the video game world are the death of Floyd in Planetfall and the death of Aerith in Final Fantasy VII, although notice how emotional some people can get even by watching a sports game on television, or how many friendships and romantic relationships have ended over a game of Diplomacy.
My intent is not to define the term art; it is about as difficult and about as fruitless as the quest to define the word game. Rather, my point is that no matter what definition of “art” you find, it does not seem particularly difficult to include games within that definition.
Why the problem, then?
If games fit any reasonable definition of “art” that we can think of, you might wonder why this is even a debate. Why the claims, real or imagined, that “ games cannot be art”?
Here it is useful to make a distinction between just plain old “art” and the more highbrow “fine art” or “high art” – the kind of timeless art that captures and communicates the essence of the human experience. Shakespeare. Da Vinci. Monet. That kind of thing. The argument, then, might not be that games are not “art” in the sense that they can be purposefully and deliberately crafted, but rather that games cannot reach the status of “high art” due to something inherent in the medium.
I won’t say much about this because it is largely covered in Clint Hocking’s essay On Authorship in Games, which he generously gave permission to reprint in the Challenges text.
At any rate, if you’re noticing a theme in the readings, you can see where I personally stand on the issue. We may not have the game equivalent of Mona Lisa or Citizen Kane yet, but that just means an opportunity. So, let us move past this. Let’s assume for the moment that games can be a valid medium for artistic expression, and start talking about how one might go about doing so.
I wanted to make two key points in reference to the reading in Understanding Comics. The first was McCloud’s definition of art, above. The second is the six layers of art:
?Idea/Purpose. What is the message to be expressed, the seed of an idea for a story that must be told? Why are you creating a work of art at all？?Form. What artistic medium will you use to express your message? Oil paints? Sculpture? Interpretive dance? Comic books? Games?
?Idiom. What McCloud calls idiom is more commonly called genre when referring to games. First-person shooter, real-time strategy, vehicle simulation, MMORPG, and so on (or for board games: resource management games, roll-and-move track games, trivia games, dice games, tile-laying games, gambling games…).
?Structure. In stories, this is the basic plot arc, characters, and other building blocks. In games, we might call this the “core mechanics” of the game. What are the structural components that form the core of the user/viewer/player experience?
?Craft. In comic books, this includes how well a story is told. With games, it is the ability to make your rules and play experience streamlined and natural, so that the players are not struggling with the rules but rather enjoying the play.
?Surface. This is the outer-layer experience: the colors, sounds, visuals, beauty, attention to the details that are immediately sensed. The “eye candy” of the piece.
McCloud notes that a typical comic book viewer experiences a work from the surface inward. First you see the surface; then, looking deeper, you enjoy the story. Looking even further, you can see the ideas behind the story, and perhaps appreciate a groundbreaking artist even if their drawing quality isn’t as high as you’d like. With even more study, you can see divisions between different genres and styles, and even understand the reason why certain story elements or other conventions occur within a genre. Looking ever deeper, you can eventually gain an appreciation for the medium of comic books, understanding the ways that make it unique as an art form; and, you can see the ideas behind a work, the purpose behind what is essentially timeless literature.
You might notice that this all applies to games as well.
McCloud also notes that, while a work is encountered from the “outside in” it is still created from the “inside out” – the creator must first choose an idea and a form and then choose an idiom within that form, before ever putting pen to paper. These choices might be deliberate or they might be made rashly or emotionally, but they must be decided first. Then the structure must be defined; then the details fleshed out in craft; and finally the surface must be created.
Does this sound familiar? It should. It is, for the most part, a restatement of the MDA Framework.
Actually, I think of McCloud’s six steps as an extension of MDA. Mechanics are roughly equivalent to McCloud’s Structure; Dynamics are analogous to Craft; and Aesthetics are similar to Surface. It’s not a direct parallel, but it is close. In both cases, the consumer is concerned with the surface, while the true artist looks toward the inner core of the artistic process.
Towards an Artistic Process
If MDA represents the outer three layers of a piece of art, how do we represent the inner three layers? To answer this, we again turn to McCloud’s model.
McCloud takes one additional, important step behind LeBlanc et al. He states that while works are experienced from the outside in and created from the inside out, artists and other creators follow a process of learning from the outside in.
Think about it. What was your first “Great Idea” for a game? It probably concerned the surface characteristics of a game that you liked. “It’ll be just like Pac-Man meets Space Invaders. Only better!” Many people start out by “modding” a game that they like, taking existing gameplay and simply changing some of the surface characteristics – changing the appearance of characters in a game, reskinning everything so that instead of Marines Shooting Aliens In Space, the game now looks like Wizards Battling Dragons In The Mountains. Same mechanics, same dynamics, different surface.
And then what happened? Maybe you played enough games to see past the surface, to see that some games with dragons and fireballs and wizards are fun but others are not, and that the difference comes not from the story or the genre but from the gameplay. And you start to see the different types of play, and which types are and aren’t fun. With further experience and study you can get a good feel for what kinds of mechanics lead to compelling gameplay. And maybe
that’s all you want or need, to become an established designer who is known for making games in established genres that are fun.
But if you look a little past that, you’ll start asking: where do genres come from? Who decides that a certain set of core mechanics can be copied from game to game, with variations, and that this particular set of mechanics creates good gameplay? How are new genres created? Is there a process for doing what no one else has done before, finding an elusive set of compelling mechanics that have not been discovered yet? And you could become renowned for creating one or
more new genres of gameplay. You may or may not be able to take those genres and polish them as far as they can go, but you can create something that other people can take, those who work closer to the surface, who can then use your core ideas and perfect them.
Is that all you can do? It is probably more than any of us would aspire to in our lifetimes. And yet, you might wonder if there is something more. And there are two paths to explore: Idea and Form.
If you explore form, you can push the boundaries of the medium. What are games capable of? Can they generate emotions in the player (other than adrenaline rush and power fantasy)? What kinds of things can be expressed through games better than any other artistic medium? How can you use games in ways that the medium has not been used before – not just new gameplay styles, and not just new ways to have fun, but as a means of expression or transformation in the
player? Can you change someone’s mind? Can you change their life? Can you touch them in ways that a painting or movie cannot? How? And then you create experimental work, probably very small games, that explore some aspect of what games as a medium can and can’t do. These games might not be particularly interesting or compelling to a wide audience, but they will give a lot of ideas to others who work within the medium, who can then use your experiments and
modify them to express their own meaningful ideas.
If you explore idea/purpose, you instead have a message you want to communicate to the world, and you have chosen games as your preferred method of expression. Here, the challenge is to communicate in a medium where the player, and not the designer, is in control of the experience. You must use every trick you know in order to provide meaning through gameplay. What ideas do you want to express? What deep meaning exists in your life, that you want to share?
Lots of questions, few answers…
You might be wondering at this point if I have any answers at all about how to do this. I do not, but this is because of the nature of art.
This course is concerned primarily with the outer three layers of the art of game design: Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics (or if you prefer, Structure, Craft and Surface). Teaching you how to make compelling games by creating their rules is already a daunting task for a ten-week course; teaching you to create new genres or to push the boundaries of the medium are a bit much.
But beyond that, as McCloud says, the inner three layers can’t be learned from a class or a book. To reach an understanding of the inner core of an art form, you will have to spend your entire career, maybe 20 or 30 years or more, working towards this on your own. And that’s only if you want to. You may have no interest in this, and that is perfectly okay. The world may need more people pushing the boundaries of games as an artistic medium… but the world still needs some good games, too. Only you know how far you can or want to take your art. It is not my place to tell you, but rather to point you to a road map that will let you get where you want to go.
And now, a little art history.
This is the part that always gets me into trouble, because a lot of people are mistrustful and cynical of contemporary art. Some guy calling himself an “artist” can poop in a tin can and sell it to an art gallery for 20,000 Euros, and the rest of us wonder how we can get people to pay us that much for our own excrement. This is art? And if so… is this what games aspire to be? It helps to take a step back and look at how we got this way, because games fit in quite nicely with contemporary art, and we should really understand why.
Let’s take a trip back to the Renaissance, when painting was elevated to an art form. At that time, art was supposed to be a faithful representation of the world; the picture frame could be thought of as a window through which you could view this other reality. The more realistic a piece of art depicted a scene, the better the artist. Judging art was as simple as seeing how lifelike it was – simple! And then around the 1890s, the photographic camera was invented and it ruined everything.
Now, with photographs being able to create a 100% perfect reproduction, the old form of art suddenly became obsolete. Painters had to ask themselves the question: what now?
The artist Wassily Kandinsky, followed by many others, started by asking if art could be its own object, rather than a representation of something else: what if a canvas is a “screen” rather than a “window” or “mirror”? And thus came what is now called abstract art, art that is not symbolic or representative of anything except itself.
How do you judge this kind of art? How can you tell an artist that is genuinely talented and inspired, from a poser who just flings paint randomly at a canvas and waits for undeserved accolades?
The influential critic Clement Greenberg offered a solution: judge art purely on its aesthetic value. Technical execution is king. The artist is the creator, and a good artwork should provide the same aesthetic value, regardless of who, if anyone, is viewing it. Greenberg formalized what is now referred to as “modern art” (modern here refers to a specific time period in the general range of 1910 through 1950, and is not to be confused with contemporary art which is the art of today).
Over the next few decades, the art world experienced a rejection of Greenbergian formalism, insisting that art should not be passive but interactive; it should be a dialogue between artist and viewer; art is allowed to have multiple interpretations; art should carry meaning. This era was referred to as “postmodern” art.
During the 1960s and 70s especially, art ran into a potential problem: it became a hot commodity and suddenly big-name artists were worth a lot of money. (I hear you saying: gosh, we should all have such “problems.”) Still, a lot of artists felt their work was being devalued in the sense that they made it for a purpose and instead it was being treated as a commodity. The work is not as important as the name attached to it. And while it was nice for some artists to earn a healthy living, it was at the cost of “selling out”… something that no all artists were willing to compromise on.
Now look at games. Does any of this sound familiar?
How do we judge games? Numeric review scores. Technical execution. Critical praise for the audio or graphics. Game reviews give “fun” a rating from 1 to 5, implying that what is fun for the reviewer will be equally fun for every reader. The current state of game critique is the equivalent of Greenbergian formalism. We are, apparently, stuck in an odd time warp that takes us back to 1930.
Are games more Modern or Postmodern? Are they passive, or interactive? Do games produce different play experiences for different individuals, or does a game provide the same experience for everyone? Do games simply carry visuals, or are they capable of carrying a greater meaning embedded in their mechanics? You may disagree, but I see games as very much of a Postmodern art form. I hope that some day, game reviewers start looking at games in this light.
What about money? Games are definitely suffering the “problem” of being commoditized. The video game industry exceeds $20 Billion per year these days. I don’t have any figures for the board game industry, but given how many millions of copies of Scrabble and Monopoly are sold each year, I’d imagine it is significant. Most major studios exist to make games that make money, and sometimes developers must compromise between their desire to make something unique and something that will sell.
What is the point of all of this? Simply that if this is an area of interest for you, it is worth your time to study art history. The world of art critics and art historians already figured out how to judge if something is “art” or not, back in 1917 when Duchamp signed a pseudonym to a urinal and called it art. In fact, while many developers imagine the art world snobbily refusing to acknowledge games as worthy of attention, this is just fantasy; the reality is that games have been on the radar of art critics for awhile now. My own literature search turned up articles as early as 1994 (this was a year before the first PlayStation was released, mind you). In all of the cases I could find – and I’m talking peer-reviewed academic art journals – not only are video games being analyzed, but there is an implicit assumption that games are art. I did not find any articles that wasted any time defending games as a means of artistic expression; it was an a priori assumption. Let’s get over our delusions of persecution, then, and make some art.
What are Art Games?
How does one go about designing a game that is artistic in its purpose rather than purely entertainment-driven? This really depends on what counts as “art, ” as there are many games out there already that are primarily made as a form of expression. As you’ll see, they fall into several categories. There may be other categories I am missing here… partly because there are undoubtedly games that could be called “art” that I have not yet seen, and partly because this is a largely unexplored space. But these should give you some starting points.
I’ll give you a few games to play. Go ahead and play them first, if you can. Then, read down for further discussion. The following games are all playable in just a few minutes, usually five or less. Those that take longer, will at least give you the general idea of gameplay right away, and you can play them for longer or not. Play some or all, as your time allows.
?Passage and/or Gravitation, by Jason Rohrer. (5 and 8 minute play times, respectively.)
?The Marriage, by Rod Humble. (Playable in just a few minutes.)
?Stars Over Half-Moon Bay, by Rod Humble. (Playable in just a few minutes.)
?September 12, by Gonzalo Frasca. (Plays indefinitely, but the mechanics are simple and immediately apparent within the first minute or two.)
?Samorost, by Amanita. (Takes awhile to play through completely.)
?Cloud, by Jenova Chen. (Takes awhile to play to completion, but it shows you the major mechanics in the first level, which only takes a few minutes)
The question of whether games can be “art” will continue to be debated for some time, I’d imagine. For our purposes, it is a rather fruitless debate; if you are interested in making an artistic expression through the medium of games, then do so.
Studying art and the artistic process further can be useful to game designers. If you’re wondering what to do after this course ends, that is one of many potential avenues you can explore to deepen your understanding of design.
Even if you are not looking to be an artiste, you may still be creating art in a sense, and it is good to understand a little bit of what art is and what artists do. As Koster says in today’s Theory of Fun reading:
“Most importantly, games and their designers need to acknowledge that there is no distinction between art and entertainment… all art and all entertainment are posing problems to the audience. All art and all entertainment are prodding us toward greater understanding of the chaotic patterns we see swirl around us. Art and entertainment are not terms of type – they are terms of intensity.”Now, About Those Playings…
By looking at some of the games that seem to be referenced a lot in discussions of art, we can get some clues about how we might go about creating our own artistic statements through gameplay. I should be clear that what follows are my own personal interpretations of these works, and your experiences (and the artists’ intent) may vary. I do not see this as a problem; Postmodern art allows for multiple interpretations and multiple layers of meaning.
Samorost is “art” mostly in the visual sense. It is like an interactive painting: very pleasant graphics, and a nice form of exploration. The creators are going for a particular visual reaction in the player.
Cloud takes this a step further, deliberately trying to create an emotional response in the viewer (specifically, the emotion of childlike wonder when gazing up at the clouds). Some of my students have found it coming off a bit heavy-handed in this department, and I remind them that this was an exploratory work that was trying to answer the question of whether games could induce emotion at all, so one can expect it to be a little wide of the mark.
Passage and Gravitation both express a specific idea or feeling (that of death and dying, or parenthood, respectively). Rohrer took his own emotions and did his best to translate them directly into gameplay. The difference between these games and Cloud is that Cloud’s goal is to create an emotion; with Passage and Gravitation, the goal is self-expression of the creator’s emotions.
The Marriage is similar to Rohrer’s work, but The Marriage is expressing an idea rather than an emotion (specifically, Humble is attempting to detail the mechanics behind a long-term relationship, hence the title).
September 12 also expresses an idea (mainly, that declaring war on terror is a flawed concept), but it takes things one step further. While Humble’s and Rohrer’s work is simply an expression of the artist’s ideas and emotions, September 12 is an attempt to persuade the audience. This is not exploration, but rhetoric, making it slightly different in purpose than the others.
Stars Over Half-Moon Bay is similar to The Marriage in that it is expressing an idea (in this case, it is making some statements on the creative process and how you start with an open sky of possibilities, then things get cloudy as you enter this mysterious process of creativity and innovation, and at the end things crystallize and you put together the pieces to make something permanent. As game designers and other artists struggle with the creative process, Stars
is a bit more “meta” than The Marriage. While The Marriage could theoretically speak to an audience of anyone who wants to understand long-term relationships, Stars is speaking directly to an audience of other game designers on the challenges of their medium.
Looking at these in the context of McCloud’s six steps, we can see some patterns emerging. Here are some potential starting points for art games:
?Use games as a medium of self-expression (“Idea/Purpose”). You might express a feeling, an idea, or an ideology. You may simply be presenting your expression, or actually persuading the audience to your point of view. For emotional expression, start with the Aesthetics (in the MDA sense) and work backwards: what emotion do you want the player to feel, what Dynamics would cause that emotion, and finally what Mechanics can create that kind of play? For expression of ideas, remember that games are systems; find the systems behind the ideas that you want to express, and then find the gameplay inherent in those systems. (I should mention my co-author’s series of games in progress, including Train, which are exploring the systems behind human atrocity. Unfortunately these games are non-digital and therefore I cannot simply give you a link to play them. But I did want to point them out, lest anyone think that only video games are capable of being artistic.)
?Use games to explore the limitations of games-as-artistic-medium (“Form”). In this case, start with a question: can games do X (whatever “X” is)? Then, try to answer that question by designing a game that tries to do X.
?Create a traditional work of art, with interactive game-like elements (“Surface”). In this case your creative process may be different than that of game design.
Are there other artistic works you can do in the other steps? I think there are, but we have not heavily explored them yet.
Today I offer a choice of designs, based not on experience level (I must admit that most of us are novices in this area, even if we are experienced game designers) but on area of interest. Here are four options, all inspired by the “non-digital shorts” at the end of the Challenges chapter:
Option 1 (Creating emotions): Design a non-digital game that introduces children to the concept of grief. Post the rules and required components. If desired, also include commentary on how you approached this problem and why you think your game does (or does not) succeed.
Option 2 (Persuasion): Modify the board game RISK to advocate world peace. Post your changes to the original rules. If desired, also include commentary on what you were trying to do, whether you think you were successful, and why or why not.
Option 3 (Exploring the boundaries of games): Design a game that has intentionally incomplete rules, requiring player authorship of rules during the play of the game in order for it to be playable. Post your (incomplete) rules.
Option 4 (Exploring the nature of the medium): Choose a digital game that you consider to be artistic and inspiring. Create the rules for a non-digital version of it. Note how the difference in medium affects the experience; think about what kinds of artistic ideas are best expressed in digital or non- digital form. Post your rules, plus commentary.
I’m excited about this week, because this is where we’re going to really get into the essence of game design, starting today with decision-making and continuing this Thursday with the nature of fun. These are some of my favorite topics to discuss, because it is the interactivity between players and systems that sets games apart from most other traditional media. This is where the magic of play happens, and as a systems designer, this strikes at the heart of what I deal with when making a game.
As Costikyan pointed out in I Have No Words, we often use the buzzword “interactivity” when describing games when we actually mean “decision-making.” Decisions are, in essence, what players do in a game. Remove all decisions and you have a movie or some other linear activity, not a game. As pointed out in Challenges, there are two important exceptions, games which have no decisions at all: some children’s games and some gambling games. For gambling games, it makes sense that a lack of decisions is tolerable. The “fun” of the game comes from the thrill of possibly winning or losing large sums of money; remove that aspect and most gambling games that lack decisions suddenly lose their charm. At home when playing only for chips, you’re going to play games like Blackjack or Poker that have real decisions in them; you are probably not going to play Craps or a slot machine without money being involved.
You might wonder, what is it about children’s games that allow them to be completely devoid of decisions? We’ll get to that in a bit.
Other than those two exceptions, most games have some manner of decision-making, and it is here that a game can be made more or less interesting. Sid Meier has been quoted as saying that a good game is a series of interesting decisions (or something like that), and there is some truth there. But what makes a decision “interesting”? Battleship is a game that has plenty of decisions but is not particularly interesting for most adults; why not? What makes the decisions in Settlers of Catan more interesting than Monopoly? Most importantly, how can you design your own games to have decisions that are actually compelling?
Things Not To Do
Before describing good kinds of decisions, it is worth explaining some common kinds of uninteresting decisions commonly found in games. Note that the terminology here (obvious, meaningless, blind) is my own, and is not “official” game industry jargon. At least not yet.
? Meaningless decisions are perhaps the worst kind: there is a choice to be made, but it has no effect on gameplay. If you can play either of two cards but both cards are identical, that’s not really much of a choice.
? Obvious decisions at least have an effect on the game, but there is clearly one right answer, so it’s not really much of a choice. Most of the time, the number of dice to roll in the board game RISK falls into this category; if you are attacking with 3 or more armies, you have a “decision” of whether to roll 1, 2, or 3 dice… but your odds are better rolling all 3, so it’s not much of a decision except in very special cases. A more subtle example would be a game like Trivial Pursuit. Each turn you are given a trivia question, and if you know the correct answer it could be said that you have a decision: say the
right answer, or not. Except that there’s never any reason to not say the right answer if you know it. The fun of the game comes from showing off your mastery of trivia, not from making any brilliant strategic maneuvers. This is also, I think, why quiz shows like Jeopardy! are more fun to watch than to play.
? Blind decisions have an effect on the game, and the answer is not obvious, but there is now an additional problem: the players do not have sufficient knowledge on which to make the decision, so it is essentially random. Playing Rock-Paper-Scissors against a truly random opponent falls into this category; your choice affects the outcome of the game, but you have no way of knowing what to choose.
These kinds of decisions are, by and large, not much fun. They are not particularly interesting. All three represent a waste of a player’s time. Meaningless decisions could be eliminated, obvious decisions could be automated, and blind decisions could be randomized without affecting the outcome of the game at all.
In this context, it is suddenly easy to see why so many games are not particularly compelling.
Consider the trivia game that popularized the genre, Trivial Pursuit. First you roll a die, and move in any direction, so which location you land on is a decision.
Only a few spaces on the board help you towards your victory condition, so if you can land on one of those it is an obvious decision. If you can’t, your choice generally amounts to which category you’re strongest at, which is again obvious (or blind, to the extent that you don’t know what question you would get in each category until after you choose). Once you finish moving, you’re asked a trivia question. If you don’t know the answer, there is no decision to
be made. If you do know the answer, there is a decision of whether to say it or not… but there is no reason not to, so again it is an obvious decision.
Or consider the board game Battleship which seems to keep coming up in our discussions. Just about every decision made in this game is blind. You are given no information on which to base your decision of what space to fire at. Once you hit an enemy ship you do have some information, but you still don’t know which direction the ship is oriented (horizontally or vertically) or where its endpoints are, so the decision is more constrained but not any less blind.
Or consider Tic-Tac-Toe, which has interesting strategic decisions until you reach the age where you master it and realize the way to always win or draw, at which point the decisions become obvious.
What Makes Good Decisions?
Now that we know what makes weak decisions, the easiest answer is “don’t do that!” But we can take it a little further. Generally, interesting decisions involve some kind of tradeoff. That is, you are giving up one thing in exchange for another. These can take many different forms. Here are a few examples (again I use my own invented terminology here):
? Resource trades. You give one thing up in exchange for another, where both are valuable. Which is more valuable? This is a value judgment, and the player’s ability to correctly judge or anticipate value is what determines the game’s utcome.
? Risk versus reward. One choice is safe. The other choice has a potentially greater payoff, but also a higher risk of failure. Whether you choose safe or dangerous depends partly on how desperate a position you’re in, and partly on your analysis of just how safe or dangerous it is. The outcome is determined by your choice, plus a little luck… but over a sufficient number of choices, the luck can even out and the more skillful player will generally win. (Corollary: if you want more luck in your game, reduce the total number of decisions.)
? Choice of actions. You have several potential things you can do, but you can’t do them all. The player must choose the actions that they feel are the most important at the time.
? Short term versus long term. You can have something right now, or something better later on. The player must balance immediate needs against long-term goals.
? Social information. In games where bluffing, deal-making and backstabbing are allowed, players must choose between playing honestly or dishonestly. Dishonesty may let you come out better on the current deal, but may make other players less likely to deal with you in the future. In the right (or wrong) game, backstabbing your opponents may have very negative real-world consequences.
? Dilemmas. You must give up one of several things. Which one can you most afford to lose?
Notice the common thread here. All of these decisions involve the player judging the value of something, where values are shifting, not always certain, and not obvious.
The next time you play a game that you really like, think about what kinds of decisions you are making. If you have a particular game that you strongly dislike, think about the decisions being made there, too. You may find something about yourself, in terms of the kinds of decisions that you enjoy making.
What About Action Games?
At this point, the video gamers among you are wondering how any of this applies to the latest First-Person Shooter. After all, you’re not exactly strategizing about resource management tradeoffs in the middle of a heated battle where bullets and explosions are flying all around you.
The short answer here is that you are making interesting decisions in such games, and in fact you are making them at a much faster rate than normal – often several meaningful decisions per second. To compensate for the intense time pressure, the decisions tend to be much simpler: fire or dodge? Aim or move? Duck or jump?
Time limits can, in fact, be used to turn an obvious decision into a meaningful one. Another way I prefer to say this is that time pressure makes us stupid. For a more thorough discussion of action games and how skill relates to them, see Chapter 7 (Twitch Skill) in Challenges for Game Designers.
There is one class of decisions that is useful to consider: decisions that have an emotional impact on the player. The decision of whether to save your buddy (while using some of your precious supplies) or leave him behind to die (potentially denying yourself some AI-assisted help later on) in Far Cry is a resource decision, but it is also meant to be an emotional one – and certainly, an identical decision made on a real-life battlefield would come down to more than just an analysis of available resources and probabilities. Likewise, the majority of players do not play through a game with moral choices (such as Knights of the Old Republic or Fable) as pure evil – not because “evil” is a suboptimal strategy, but because even in a fictional simulated world, a lot of people can’t stomach the thought of torturing and killing innocent bystanders.
Or consider a common decision made at the start of many board games: what color are you? Color is usually just a way to uniquely identify player tokens on the board, and has no effect on gameplay. However, many people have a favorite color that they always play, and can become quite emotionally attached to “their” color. It can be rather entertaining when two players who “always” play Green, play together for the first time and start arguing over who gets to be Green. If player color has no effect on gameplay, it is a meaningless decision. It should therefore be uninteresting, and yet some players paradoxically find it quite meaningful. The reason is that they are emotionally invested in the outcome. This is not to say that you can cover up a bad game by artificially adding emotions; but rather, as a designer, be aware of what decisions your players seem to respond to on an emotional level.
Let’s talk a little bit about this elusive concept of “fun.” Games, we are told, are supposed to be fun. The role of a game designer is, in most cases, to take a game and make it fun. I’ve used the word “fun” a lot in this course without really defining it, and it has understandably made some of you uncomfortable. Notice I usually enclose the word “fun” in quotation marks, on purpose. My reasoning is that “fun” is not a particularly useful word for game designers. We instinctively know what it means, sure, but the word tells us nothing about how to create fun. What is fun? Where does it come from? What makes games fun in the first place? We will continue to talk about this on Thursday, but I want to start talking about it now. I’m sure you can agree it has been long enough.
Interesting decisions seem like they might be fun. Is that all there is to it? Not entirely, because it doesn’t say anything about why these kinds of decisions are fun. Or why uninteresting decisions are still fun for children. For this, we turn to Raph Koster.
What a lot of Koster’s Theory of Fun boils down to is this: the fun of games comes from skill mastery. This is a pretty radical statement, because it equates “fun” with “learning”… and at least when I was growing up, we were all accustomed to regard “learning” with “school” which was about as not fun as you could get. So it deserves a little explanation.
Theory of Fun draws heavily on the work of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced just like it’s spelled, in case you’re wondering), who studied what he called the mental state of “flow” (we sometimes call it being “in the flow” or “in the zone”). This is a state of extreme focus of attention, where you tune out everything except the task you’re concentrating on, you become highly productive, and your brain gives you a shot of neurochemicals that is pleasurable – being in a flow state is literally a natural high.
Csikszentmihalyi identified three requirements for a flow state to exist:
? You must be performing a challenging activity that requires skill.
? The activity must provide clear goals and feedback.
? The outcome is uncertain but can be influenced by your actions. (Csikszentmihalyi calls this the “paradox of control”: you are in control of your actions which gives you indirect control over the outcome, but you do not have direct control over the outcome.)
If you think about it, these requirements make sense. Why would your brain need to enter a flow state to begin with, blocking out all extraneous stimuli and hyper-focusing your attention on one activity? It would only do this if it needs to in order to succeed at the task. What conditions would there have to be for a flow state to make the difference between success and failure? See above – you’d need to be able to influence the activity through your skill towards a known goal.
Csikszentmihalyi also gave five effects of being in a flow state:
? A merging of action and awareness: spontaneous, automatic action/reaction. In other words, you go on autopilot, doing things without thinking about them. (In fact, your brain is moving faster than the speed of thought – think of a time when you played a game like Tetris and got into a flow state, and then at some point it occurred to you that you were doing really well, and then you wondered how you could keep up with the blocks falling so fast, and as soon as you started to think about it the blocks were moving too fast and you lost. Or maybe that’s just me.)
? Concentration on immediate tasks: complete focus, without any mind-wandering. You are not thinking about long-term tradeoffs or other tasks; your mind is in the here-and-now, because it has to be.
? Loss of awareness of self, loss of ego. When you are in a flow state, you become one with your surroundings (in a Zen way, I suppose).
? There is a distorted sense of time. Strangely, this can go both ways. In some cases, such as my Tetris example, time can seem to slow down and things seem to happen in slow motion. (Actually, what is happening is that your brain is acting so efficiently that it is working faster; everything else is still going at the same speed, but you are seeing things from your own point of reference.) Other times, time can seem to speed up; a common example is sitting down to play a game for “just five minutes”… and then six hours later, suddenly becoming aware that you burned away your whole evening.
? The experience of the activity is an end in itself; it is done for its own sake and not for an external reward. Again, this feeds into the whole “here-and-now” thing, as you are not in a mental state where you can think that far ahead.
I find it ironic, when a typical kid is in their “not now, I’m playing a game” mental state, the parent complains that they are “zoned out.” In fact, the gamer is in a flow state, and they are “zoned in” to the game.
Flow States in Games
Simplifying this a bit, we know that to be in a flow state, an activity must be challenging. If it is too easy, then the brain has no reason to waste extraneous mental cycles, as a positive outcome is already assured. If it is too difficult, the brain still has no reason to try hard, because it knows it’s just going to fail anyway.
The goal is to hit that sweet spot where the player can succeed… but only if they try hard. You’ll often see a graph that looks like this, to demonstrate:
All this says is that if you have a high skill level and are given an easy task, you’re bored; if you have a low skill level and are given a difficult task, you’re frustrated; but if the challenge level of an activity is comparable to your current skill level… flow state! And this is good for games, because this is where a lot of the fun of games comes from.
Note that “flow” and “fun” are not synonyms, although they are related. You can be in a flow state without playing a game (and in fact without having fun). For example, an office worker might get into a flow state while filling out a series of forms. They may be operating at the edge of their ability in filling out the forms as efficiently as possible, but there may not be any real learning going on, and the process may not be fun, merely meditative. (Thanks to Raph for clarifying this for me.)
One Slight Problem
When you are faced with a challenging task, you get better at it. It’s fun because you are learning, remember? So, most people start out with an activity (like a game) with a low skill level, and if the game provides easy tasks, then so far so good. But what happens when the player gains some competency? If they keep getting the same easy tasks, the game becomes boring. This is essentially what happens in Tic-Tac-Toe when a child makes the transition to understanding the strategy of the game.
By the way, we can now answer our earlier question: why can children’s games get away with a lack of meaningful decision-making? The answer is that young children are still learning valuable skills from these games: how to roll a die, move a token on a board, spin a spinner, take turns, read and follow rules, determine when the game ends and who wins, and so on. These skills are not instinctive and must be taught and learned through repeated play. When the child masters these skills, that is about the time when decision-less games stop holding any lasting appeal.
Ideally, as a game designer, you would like your game to have slightly more lasting playability than Tic-Tac-Toe. What can you do? Games offer a number of solutions.
? Increasing difficulty as the game progresses (we sometimes call this the “pacing” of a game). As the player gets better, they get access to more difficult levels or areas in a game. This is common with level-based video games.
? Difficulty levels or handicaps, where better players can choose to face more difficult challenges.
? Dynamic difficulty adjustment (“DDA”), a special kind of negative feedback loop where the game adjusts its difficulty during play based on the performance ofthe player.
? Human opponents as opposition. Sure, you can get better at the game… but if your opponent is also getting better, the game can still remain challenging if it has sufficient depth. (This can fail if the skill levels of different players fall out of synch with one another. I like to play games with my wife, and we usually both start out at about the same skill level with any new game that really fascinates us both… but then sometimes, one of us will play the game a lot and become so much better than the other, that the game is effectively ruined for us. It is no longer a challenge.)
? Player-created expert challenges, such as new levels made by players using level-creation tools.
? Multiple layers of understanding (the whole “minute to learn, lifetime to master” thing that so many strategy games strive for). You can learn Chess in minutes, as there are only six different pieces… but then once you master that, you start to learn about which pieces are the most powerful and useful in different situations, and then you start to see the relationship between pieces, time, and area control, and then you can study book openings and famous games, and so on down the rabbit hole.
? Jenova Chen’s flOw provides a novel solution to this: allow the player to change the difficulty level while playing based on their actions. Are you bored?
Dive down a few levels and the action will pick up pretty fast. Are you overwhelmed? Run back to the earlier, easier levels (or the game will kick you back on its own if needed).
You’ll notice that when we read in a review that a game has “replayability” or “many hours of gameplay” what we are often really saying is that the game is particularly good at keeping us in the flow state by adjusting its difficulty level to continue to challenge us as we get better.
You might wonder, if flow states are so pleasurable and they are where this elusive and mysterious “fun” comes from, why do we design games to do this and not some other medium? Why not design productive tasks to induce flow states, for example, so that maybe we could get a few million people working on discovering a cure for cancer instead of playing World of Warcraft? Why not design college classes to induce flow states, so that a student could learn a typical 50-hour class in a week (the same way they might play through a 50-hour RPG on their PlayStation) instead of having that same class take an entire 10 or 15 weeks?
Games just happen to be naturally good at putting players in a flow state, so it is much easier to design a fun game than a fun course in Calculus. As Koster points out in A Theory of Fun, the brain is a great pattern-matching machine, and it is the finding and understanding of patterns that is what is happening when our brain is in a flow state. I think games bring this out really well because you have three levels of patterns: feeling the Aesthetics, discerning the Dynamics, and finally mastering the Mechanics (in the MDA sense). Since every game has these three layers of patterns, games are three times as interesting as most other activities.
You might think that, if games are so great at teaching and if learning is so darned pleasurable, that educational games would be more fun than anything. In reality, of course, “Edutainment” is a dirty word that we only mention when forced, as the vast majority of games that bill themselves as “fun… and educational!” are actually neither. What’s going on here?
Many “Edutainment” games work like this: first you’ve got this game, and you play it, and it’s maybe kind of fun. And then the game stops, and tries to give you some kind of gross, icky, disgusting learning. And as a reward for doing the learning, you get to play the game again. Gameplay is framed as a reward for the inherently unpleasurable task of learning something. We have a name for this: chocolate-covered broccoli.
I think this design contains an error of thinking, and this infects the design of such games at a fundamental level, invalidating the whole premise. The error is the separation of “learning” and “fun” because, as you now know, these are not separate concepts but rather identical (or at least strongly related). The assumption that learning is not fun and that fun cannot be inherently educational undermines the entire game… and incidentally, also reinforces the extremely damaging notion that education is a chore and not a pleasure.
It would be wonderful if we could stop teaching that “learning is not fun” lesson to our children. It would certainly make my life a lot easier as a teacher, if I did not have to first convince my students that they should be intrinsically motivated to do well in my classes.
What if you want to design a game that has the primary purpose of teaching, then? That is a subject that deserves a course of its own. My short answer: start by isolating the inherently fun aspects of learning the skills you want to teach, and then use those as your core mechanics. By integrating the learning and the gameplay (rather than keeping them as separate concepts or activities), you take a large step towards something truly worthy of the “fun, and educational” label.
A Note for Teachers
If you’ve accepted everything in this lesson so far, you might see a parallel with teaching. If learning is inherently fun, think about what you can do to draw that out of your subject.
? How many interesting decisions do your students make? I once saw a statistic that the average college student raises their hand in class once every ten weeks
– that’s three meaningful decisions per year! Can you do better? Consider giving a choice of assignments (with built-in tradeoffs: for example, an easy- but-boring homework or a difficult-but-interesting one). Ask lots of questions in class that get students involved. Have class discussions or debates.
? Are too many of your students bored or overwhelmed, because your class is at a difficulty that is too low or too high? Games have this problem too, and often solve it through including multiple difficulty levels; consider having a tiered grading system where remedial students should be able to pass if they can at least put in the work to grasp the basics, while offering advanced students extra work that is more interesting. Offer the course content in layers, first going over the very basics in a “For Dummies” way that everyone can get, then add the main details that are really important, and finally give some advanced applications that only some students might understand, but that are interesting enough that students will at least have some incentive to reach a bit.
? The most fun games are designed in a player-centric manner, concentrating first on providing a quality experience. You can tell a game where the designer made a game that they wanted to play, because it sold a total of five copies to the designer, the designer’s close friends, and the designer’s mom. You can also tell a game where the designer started with content rather than gameplay; these are the games that have deep, involving stories and incredible layers of content, but no one sees them because the gameplay is boring and people stop playing after five minutes. What would your class be like if you start your lesson plans by thinking of the student experience, rather than designing a class that you find interesting (your students might not share your research interests), or designing a class based around content (which is probably not engaging until you bring it to life)?
Decisions are the core of what a game is. When critically analyzing a game (yours or someone else’s), pay attention to what decisions the players are making, how meaningful those decisions are, and why. The more you understand about what makes some decisions more compelling than others, the better a game designer you are likely to be.
Games are unnaturally good at teaching new skills to players. (Whether those skills are useful or not, varies from game to game.) Learning a new skill – by being given a challenge that forces you to try hard and increase your skill level – is one of the prerequisites for putting players in a flow state. Flow states are an intensely pleasurable state for the brain to be in, and a lot of the feeling of “fun” that comes from playing games comes from being in the flow.
There it is! Mystery solved! You now know everything there is to know about where “fun” comes from and how to create it. Okay, not really. But this is a start, and we will probe a bit deeper into the nature of “fun” this Thursday.
On Monday, we discovered that “fun” is really just another word for “learning” and that putting players in a flow state is where this elusive “fun” comes from. Today we dig deeper into this concept to learn more about “fun,” digging into LeBlanc et al.’s “8 kinds of fun” and relating that back to flow theory and other things.
We currently have an idea of what is fun, but it would help to know why these things are fun. What if there are new kinds of fun waiting to be discovered?
I will be at Protospiel this weekend, so I may be a bit slow in responding to email or validating forum accounts. Likewise, next Monday’s lesson may be slightly delayed in posting, depending on what shape I’m in when I return.
Here are a small selection of the answers to the mini-challenge from last time (propose a rule change to add interesting decisions to Trivial Pursuit):
» Answering player hears all six questions on the card, then predicts the number they’ll get right. If they don’t overestimate how many they’ll get right, they get N points (where N is the number of correct answers); otherwise they get nothing. Presumably, players play to a total score rather than moving around the board. This decision is interesting when the player is not entirely sure whether an answer is correct, and they must choose their level of risk (based on
how certain they are and their relative score).
» After earning a wedge, you can choose to keep answering additional questions on the card for additional wedges (or additional turns), but if you miss one then you lose all of the ones you’ve earned that turn. An interesting push-your-luck mechanic.
» Instead of rolling to move, a player can attempt to answer a question of the color of a nearby space (anywhere within 6 spaces) to move there. If they fail, they do not move. Another risk/reward mechanic, where you risk completely wasting your turn in exchange for more precise movement.» Once per turn, you can force another player to answer a question for you after hearing it. If they get it wrong, your turn continues; if they get it right, your turn ends. Reminiscent of “You Don’t Know Jack.”
» You can get more than one wedge of the same color. You may trade with opponents at any time.
» You read your own question. After looking at the answer, if you are incorrect, you can bluff and claim you were correct anyway. If no one else challenges you, then proceed as if you had answered correctly. If you are challenged… well, the original tweet didn’t specify, but presumably the winner of the challenge gains something and the loser loses something. I’d recommend, loser of a challenge loses their next turn, and if the challenger was correct it immediately becomes their turn (possibly skipping other players in the process).
Read the following:
» Natural Funativity, by Noah Falstein. We’ve talked a lot about what is fun, and from the MDA Framework we know there are different kinds of fun. But why are these things fun in the first place, and not other things? Noah provides a useful theory.
» Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, Spades: Players Who Suit MUDs, by Richard Bartle. If you’re too young to know what a MUD is, it is basically a precursor to today ’s MMO. Replace the word “MUD” with “World of Warcraft” and it will still make perfect sense.
» You may also find it useful to review the MDA Framework, specifically the part that talks about the 8 kinds of fun.
Kinds of Fun
You may remember from the MDA Framework that the authors listed 8 kinds of fun. These are:
» Sensation. Games can engage the senses directly. Consider the audio and video “eye candy” of video games; the tactile feel of the wooden roads and houses in Settlers of Catan; or the physical movement involved in playing sports, Dance Dance Revolution, or any game on the Nintendo Wii.
» Fantasy. Games can provide a make-believe world (some might cynically call it “escapism”) that is more interesting than the real world.
» Narrative. As we mentioned earlier in passing, games can involve stories, either of the embedded kind that designers put there, or the emergent kind that are created through player action.
» Challenge. Some games, particularly retro-arcade games, professional sports, and some highly competitive board games like Chess and Go, derive their fun largely from the thrill of competition. Even single-player games like Minesweeper or activities like mountain climbing are fun mainly from overcoming a difficult challenge.
» Fellowship. Many games have a highly social component to them. I think it is this alone that allows many American board games like Monopoly to continue to sell many copies per year, in spite of the uninteresting decisions and dull mechanics. It is not the game, but the social interaction with family, that people remember fondly from their childhood.
» Discovery. This is rare in board games, but can be found in exploration-type games like Tikal and Entdecker. It is more commonly found in adventure and role-playing video games, particularly games in the Zelda and Metroid series.
» Expression. By this, I think the MDA authors mean the ability to express yourself through gameplay. Examples include games like Charades or Poker where the way that you act is at least as important as what other actions you take within a game; Dungeons & Dragons where the character you create is largely an expression of your own personal idea; or open-world and sim video games like The Sims or Grand Theft Auto or Oblivion or Fable, which are largely concerned with giving the player the tools needed to create their own custom experience.
» Submission. A name that often has my students chuckling with their dirty minds, but the intent is games as an ongoing hobby rather than an isolated event. Consider the metagame and the tournament scene in Magic: the Gathering, the demands of a guild to show up at regular meetings in World of Warcraft, or even the ritualized play of games at a weekly boardgame or tabletop-roleplaying group.Recall that these are not all-or-nothing propositions. Games can contain several kinds of fun, in varying quantities.
Why not just create a game that has all eight kinds of fun? Wouldn’t that be the holy grail of games, the game that’s fun for everyone? Unfortunately, no. Just because these are different kinds of fun does not mean that everyone finds all eight of these things fun at all. Not only do different games provide different combinations and relative quantities of the various kinds of fun, but different players find different combinations more or less fun than others. About half of the people I run into think that Chess is fun, and the other half do not; the “fun” Aesthetic arises not from the game alone, but the
combination of game and player.
Are these eight the only kinds of fun? No; even the authors admit the above list is incomplete. There are many classification schemes out there to identify different kinds of fun, including Nicole Lazzaro’s four fun keys, or Pierre-Alexandre Garneau’s fourteen forms of fun. Even the 8 kinds of fun from the MDA paper are debatable. Is it meaningful to separate Fantasy and Narrative, or are they just two ways of looking at the same kind of fun? Is submission really a
kind of fun, or is it what happens when you have a game compelling enough to earn the status of “hobby” – is it a cause or an effect? What, exactly, counts as “expression” and what does not?
And where does the whole “fun is learning, learning is fun” thing from last time come into this discussion?
Evolution (sans Pokemon)
Falstein’s answer is to take a trip back to early pre-history, when humans were at their hunter-gatherer stage. Primitive humans had to learn many skills in order to survive and reproduce. If we found it fun to learn certain skills, we would be more likely to practice them, and thus more likely to survive, reproduce, and pass on our genes to the next generation. Over time, those things that made us most likely to survive ended up being the things that we find “fun” today. Not all primitive hunter-gatherer skills are necessarily useful today, mind you, but our genetics haven’t had time to catch up with our technology yet.
In short: if a caveman found it useful, you’ll find it fun.
Falstein proposes three kinds of fun: “physical fun” (useful for any physical feats that allow us to fight or escape danger), “mental fun” (the problem- solving part of our brain that gave us such useful things as the wheel and fire), and “social fun” (the benefits of banding together in groups for mutual survival… and, of course, reproduction).
When I first saw this, I thought “wow!” Except I spelled it “WoW”… because, what is World of Warcraft, but physical fun (combat), mental fun (optimizing your equipment and skills), and social fun (dancing Night Elves)?
But we can apply this evolutionary thought process to any “kinds of fun.” Let us look some of the MDA’s 8 kinds of fun in this context:
» Sensation includes physical movement (good for building muscle) and looking at and hearing things that are interesting (good for detecting opportunities or dangers).
» Fantasy allows the kind of “what-if” scenario part of our brain to get stronger, allowing us to come up with novel ideas.
» Narrative is useful for passing on vital information and experience to others in your group, increasing the chance that all of you will survive.
» Challenge is a convenient way for different humans to show dominance over one another in a relatively safe way – “I can throw this rock further than you ” is more useful than “let’s fight to the death” if you’re trying to build a colony.
» Fellowship opens up the possibility of new food sources (a single one of us might get killed hunting a large beast, but a group of us together can take it down). It’s also rather hard to pass on your genetic material to the next generation if you’re alone.
» Discovery is what makes us want to explore our nearby territory. The more territory we know, the more potential places for us to find food and shelter.
» Expression probably comes from the same part of us that is hardwired to communicate through language. Language, and communication in general, are pretty useful.
» Submission is… well, I’m not sure about that one. Maybe it is an effect of fun rather than the cause.
Discovering New Kinds of Fun
We can do this in reverse. Instead of taking something that’s fun and tracing it back to the reptilian parts of our brain, we can isolate skills that our hunter-gatherer ancestors might have needed to survive, and then use that to figure out what we would find fun. For example, here are some activities that are often found in games:
» Collection. This is the “gathering” part of hunting-and-gathering, so you would expect it to be fun. And it is. When I was a kid, before video games became ubiquitous, the world’s most popular hobby was stamp collecting. In many board games you collect resources or tokens. Trading Card Game players collect cards. In the video game world, we’ve been collecting things since Mario first started collecting coins.
» Spatial Reasoning. Primitive humans needed to figure out spatial relationships in order to build useful tools (for example, if you want to find a big stick to make a crude ladder or bridge, you need to be able to estimate length; if you want to stick two pieces of wood together, you need to be able to figure out how to make them fit). Many games make use of spatial relationships, from Tetris to Pente.
» Advancement. I see this as kind of a meta-skill, the skill of learning new skills, which is obviously useful to a primitive human that needs to learn a lot of skills. We see this formalized in games all the time, from the overt Experience Points and Levels to finding new items or buying new weapons that give us better stats or new capabilities.
» Finding Shortcuts. Finding novel, undiscovered ways to work around problems in ways that take less effort than normal helped primitive humans to conserve their energy; in that sense, laziness can be a virtue. Ironically, in games, this often takes the form of deliberate rule-breaking and cheating.
» Griefing. Like other forms of competition, putting other people down is a way to show dominance and superiority over your peers. (Yes, some of us find it annoying and immature, but cavemen are not exactly known for their emotional sensitivity.)
Perhaps you can think of other kinds of fun. Feel free to add to the list in the Comments on this blog post.
Games Change Over Time
Play in general, and games in particular, help us to exercise the skills we need for adulthood. While the things we find fun require millions of years of evolution to change, the games we play can change with each generation. As such, you can tell a lot about a society’s values by looking at its most popular games. (A few centuries back when most people were farmers, grain harvesting was a big deal to a lot of people. Today it is not, so we do not see a predominance of “grain games” in our contemporary world.)
This gives yet one more potential starting point when designing a game. Think about what kinds of skills are useful in adulthood in your culture. Find a link between those and the skills needed for a primitive hunter-gatherer to survive. Then, design a game that exercises those skills. Most successful learning games do this, by integrating the learning into the game. The actions in the game either consist of using the skills that need to be learned, or the learning of a skill is the victory condition of the game. In both cases, the gameplay is aligned with the inherent fun and joy of learning, and you can end up with an “educational” game that is also fun. Note that this is in stark contrast to the typical “Edutainment” title that requires rote learning as a prerequisite for play, or that separates the learning and the gameplay, which has been proven time and again to be not fun.
So, now it would appear we have all the answers. Flow states are pleasurable. We are driven by our hardwired tendencies to build useful hunter-gatherer skills. Games can exploit these to produce that thing we call “fun.”
Is that it?
First, we must question our collective obsession with this “fun” business. Fun is not the only pleasurable emotion. For example, designers often talk of:
» Fiero, the triumphant feeling of completing a significant, challenging task. “You rock!”
» Schadenfreude, the gloating feeling you get when a rival fails at something. “Tragedy is when I stub my toe; comedy is when you fall off a cliff and die.
» Naches, the warm feeling of self-worth that you get when your child, student, or other person you are mentoring succeeds. “I’m so proud of you!”
» Kvell, the emotion you feel when bragging about your child, student, etc. “My kid is an honor student at Wherever Elementary.”
None of these emotions would be described as “fun” exactly. None of them are directly related to flow states, either. But they are pleasurable. And they could certainly add something to a gameplay experience.
Also, as we discussed when talking about art games, “fun” is not necessarily the only purpose for which games could be made. We may read War and Peace and say that it is a good book, but we would not call it fun. We may say that Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan are great movies, but people would look at us very strange if we said either one was fun. Macbeth is not particularly fun. Viewing the Mona Lisa is not fun. The daily news is rarely fun. And yet,
these things can all be deeply meaningful.
A game reviewer might say of the Mona Lisa: “Great visuals, but only one level, low interactivity, not much replay value. Interesting, but not very fun.
The rest of us would not.
So, that premise that I started with last Monday – “a game designer’s job is to make a game fun” – is something that you should all be a bit uncomfortable with by now. Fun is certainly a strong component of many games, but games do not have to be limited to that. Our role as game designers goes beyond making a game fun. A game designer’s job is to craft a meaningful gameplay experience.
Fun just happens to be a convenient and easy way to do this. But never forget that it is not the only way.
Koster points out in A Theory of Fun that players are, at their core, lazy. They tend to seek games similar to those that they’re already good at, so they are not learning something that is new, which reduces the amount of learning-pleasure they can receive. They tend to look for loopholes, exploits, and cheats, which likewise circumvent the pleasurable learning process. Players make the game less fun – but they do it anyway.
In fairness, game designers do this too. We probably do this even moreso than most players, since we are so experienced at finding patterns in games and we see the forms so quickly. This leads to lots of derivative work. Personally, the first game I ever worked on was a collectible card game, and even now I instinctively want to add cards, custom decks, cost/benefit decisions, and the concept of rarity to every game I make. Another designer I know sees everything in terms of RPGs. Another one of my colleagues tries to turn everything into a Sim game. Most of us, I think, tend to think in terms of one genre even if we’re working in another. In my experience, it’s usually the genre of the first game we work on professionally.
Is there something about us that makes us like one kind of game over another? If it is as simple as “personal taste” then why do we see so much overlap among gamers?
This brings us to Bartle and his player types. As with kinds of fun (and definitions of games), we find no shortage of people willing to advance their own theory of player types. Why read Bartle, then, and not someone else? First, Bartle’s was the first essay of its kind to gain widespread interest and acceptance, so it is important historically; second, because there are certain aspects of it that make for interesting dissection.
Let us look at the four proposed types of players in a MUD (or MMO):
» Achievers find it enjoyable to gain power, level up, and generally to “win” the game (to the extent that an ongoing, never-ending game can be “won”).
» Explorers want to explore the world, build mental maps of the different areas in their heads, and generally figure out what is in their surroundings.
» Socializers use the game as a social medium. They play for the interaction with other players. The gameplay systems are just a convenient excuse to get together and play with friends.
» Killers (today we call them “griefers”) derive their fun from ruining other people’s fun.
What is the motivation of each player type? Why do they do what they do? This relates back to the different kinds of fun.
Comparing the lists of Bartle’s player types and MDA’s 8 kinds of fun, we see parallels. Achievers favor Challenge fun. Explorers seem to like Discovery fun. Socializers are all about Fellowship fun. And Killers… well, they don’t map to a specific kind of fun in MDA, but the Griefing fun that I proposed as an addition seems to work well.
Other player type schemes show similar correlations: each “player type” is really a kind of fun, or a combination of several kinds of fun, personified. The two concepts (player types and kinds of fun) are really the same concept expressed in different ways.
This suggests that you can start with a list of kinds o fun, and invent new player types based on some combination of fun types. Car racing games combine Sensation and Challenge fun; I could propose a “Racer” player type as the kind of player who likes these kinds of games. And then I could make a guess that other games, such as “Xtreme Sports,” might appeal to the same player type since they have a similar “fun signature.”
You could also go the other way. If you manage to isolate a new player type (i.e. a pattern of play that appears in a nontrivial percentage of your playtesters), by studying that type and what the players are doing, you may be able to discover new kinds of fun.
Which Comes First?
If we can go back and forth between player types and kinds of fun, we may wonder if this is a classic chicken-and-egg problem. Is it better to start with players, or fun?
Consider this: as game designers, we create rules (mechanics). The rules create the play dynamics when set in motion, and those cause the aesthetic of fun in the players. The things that we create, are a root cause of fun. Therefore, it is the kinds of fun that are of greatest concern to us.
We do not create players. (Well, those of us who are parents could say that they do, but you know what I mean.) As game designers, our rules do not create new players or player types. Therefore, any list of player types is only useful to the extent that it is correlated with kinds of fun.
Let me give an example. There is a book, 21st Century Game Design, by Chris Bateman and Richard Boon, that proposes player types based on Myers-Briggs ersonality types. The main idea of doing market research, understanding the players that you are designing for, and designing a game to fit the target market is an idea that has definite applications in game design. But the implementation has a problem. Myers-Briggs types are mapped to player types, which in turn correspond to different kinds of fun. There are two levels of abstraction here, which means a higher-than-normal error rate. People do not always fall neatly and precisely into 16 categories, after all.
A more well-trod example is that of classifying players as “casual” or “hardcore.” Now we see why this distinction may be useful to marketing suits, but not so much to game designers. What kinds of fun correspond to these players? What is “casual fun” or “hardcore fun”? This is not clear. We are told that casual gamers want experiences that are short, easy to learn, not very challenging. Yet, some so-called “casual games” are difficult (Diner Dash), long (Puzzle Quest), or complicated (Virtual Villagers). Instead of spending time trying to define a single “casual gamer” archetype, I suspect it would be more fruitful to identify the kinds of fun that help a so-called “casual game” to succeed, and then work from there.
A Note for Teachers
As with last time, there are some direct parallels with teaching. Where I say “player types” and “kinds of fun” an educator might be thinking of “learning styles.” What I call Sensation, Narrative and Expression fun, you might refer to as Audio, Visual, or Kinesthetic learning.
Think of ways to apply this to your classroom:
» How many kinds of fun do you use in your classroom? Do you use a variety, in order to give all students a chance to be engaged and fascinated at least some of the time?» Sensation fun is pretty easy. Bring things to class that are interesting to look at. Bring props that can be felt or passed around. I know one teacher who will get the entire class to stand up and stretch if she sees the students nodding off.
» Narrative is another easy one. Most subjects have stories embedded in them. It is much easier for most people to remember a story than to remember a random factoid. We’re hardwired to tell and to listen to stories.
» Challenge often comes in the form of quiz-show-type games in class. While Jeopardy! is still marginally more interesting than the average college lecture, keep in mind that students are not making any interesting decisions. You can do better than this. Formal or informal debates and discussions with students taking sides can also play to this kind of fun.
» Fellowship can happen in class when students are put in groups, or during class discussions.» Discovery is difficult in most classrooms, as everyone is stuck in their seats and can’t explore the area much. Field trips are an obvious way to work on this. If your classroom is internet-enabled, you can ask students to do Web searches, at least letting them explore a virtual space if not a real one.
» Collection is a kind of fun that is most often seen in elementary school classrooms, giving students stickers or gold stars. It is riskier in higher education (you run the risk of treating your grad students like they were in kindergarten), but it can be done. I know an Economics professor, for example, who printed out a bunch of dollar bills with his face on them, and handed them out to students during in-class exercises, pop quizzes, and the like. Students could exchange the play money for real cash and prizes at the end of the term.
» Advancement is a kind of fun that is inherent in any course where the later material builds on what was learned earlier. If you created a diagram of skills being taught in the class (with arrows drawn from the prerequisite skills to the new skills being layered on top), you might find that it looks a lot like a “tech tree” or “skill tree” in an RTS or MMO video game. By exposing this kind of skill diagram to the students (and then showing them when they gain new skills and “unlock” access to other more advanced skills) you can create a sense of accomplishment and also make the connections between the topics
easier to see. Incidentally, for department heads out there, you can also do this for an entire curriculum, diagrammatically showing the course requirements and prerequisites.
In general, the things we find fun are related to the skills our distant ancestors needed in order to survive. We can exploit this in our game designs to make games that are more fun.
Some people find certain kinds of fun more interesting and engaging than others. Tastes vary. Try looking at your own favorite games (and popular games that you don’t like) and see if you can discover your own personal “fun signature.”
Remember that “fun” is but one of many emotional responses that a game can invoke in a player. Our goal as game designers is to deliver a compelling experience, which may or may not be fun. Most of the art games in Level 6 were not particularly fun… but they were deeply meaningful. Fun is an important part of what we do, but do not seek fun at the exclusion of all else.
As you do your own research, you will undoubtedly run into many articles that purport to classify Fun or Players into types. Do not take any such article as gospel. Instead, analyze it to see if it makes sense. For fun types, can you see why we (or our hunter-gatherer ancestors) would find each type fun? For player types, can you see a link between player types and kinds of fun, since it is easier for a game designer to create a custom brand of fun than to create a new type of player?