Bringing your attention to Greg Costikyan’s new book Uncertainty in Games. This is the second volume in the Playful Thinking Series that I co-edit with Geoffrey Long and William Uricchio.
Get it from MIT Press, Amazon US, UK. (Sorry about all the stores I am not linking to.)
In life, uncertainty surrounds us. Things that we thought were good for us turn out to be bad for us (and vice versa); people we thought we knew well behave in mysterious ways; the stock market takes a nosedive. Thanks to an inexplicable optimism, most of the time we are fairly cheerful about it all. But we do devote much effort to managing and ameliorating uncertainty. Is it any wonder, then, asks Greg Costikyan, that we have taken this aspect of our lives and transformed it culturally, making a series of elaborate constructs that subject us to uncertainty but in a fictive and nonthreatening way? That is: we create games.
In this concise and entertaining book, Costikyan, an award-winning game designer, argues that games require uncertainty to hold our interest, and that the struggle to master uncertainty is central to their appeal. Game designers, he suggests, can harness the idea of uncertainty to guide their work.
Costikyan explores the many sources of uncertainty in many sorts of games—from Super Mario Bros. toRock/Paper/Scissors, from Monopoly to CityVille, from FPS Deathmatch play to Chess. He describes types of uncertainty, including performative uncertainty, analytic complexity, and narrative anticipation. And he suggest ways that game designers who want to craft novel game experiences can use an understanding of game uncertainty in its many forms to improve their designs.
Today is the 10th anniversary of The Ludologist blog. Here is the very first post, Welcome to Blogdom.
10 years sounds like a long time, but the blog also feels like it has been operating on its own separate time scale all along. I started blogging while I was working on my PhD, but now I have been a full-time academic for almost 9 years. I am also married and a father now (but I could never get myself to blog about personal things).
I started blogging when “video games” almost exclusively meant AAA games sold in boxes.
I started blogging before cell phone games had taken off.
I started blogging before casual games took off.
I started blogging before art games, indie games, and personal games.
When I started blogging, experimental game (or interactive art) creators used to emphasize that they were not making games in any way. Now they emphasize that they are.
Book published since I started blogging: 3.
Blog posts: 635.
Blog comments: 2142.
Best hosting service used: Hostgator. Worst: Dreamhost.
When I started blogging, there were few books on video games. We were still going over Huizinga, Caillois, and Sutton-Smith, looking for secret knowledge from the past.
I recently made a list of must-have video game books … got to 100. (I may post the list later.)
I started blogging before game jams were a thing, and when experimental video games were still considered weird and exceptional.
Twitter and social media are poor replacements for blog posts and discussion. Because: Twitter comments invariably become snarky and/or misunderstood. Facebook comments disappear in the stream of time.
Game studies is a big field now. I think we managed to construct the field, and to launch game educations (vocational or otherwise) at a surprising speed. I think that some of the better work and discussion show that we really are getting smarter.
Though there can also be a sense of history repeating at times. And yet, many of the basic questions (i.e. games and narrative, games and players, design and industry, what is a “good game”) are different questions now than they were 10 years ago. They appear against a different background.
Becoming smarter seems to entail that many of the discussions that were assumed to be resolvable on a high level … turn out to contain smaller discussions and questions inside.
Knowledge accumulates, but not in the way you thought it would.
Blogging and game research remain fun (in a much more pure and unambiguous sense than games are fun, strangely).
Not a new video, but I keep thinking about this video of a level in Call of Duty: Black Ops where the game goes out of its way to make the player think that he/she is playing a major part in driving the action forward, as well as as being constantly on the verge of failing.
Except you aren’t. Apart from two scripted moments, you can play through this 15-minute section without doing anything.
Question #1: is this wrong? Is it bad design?
I think there is an impetus to denounce this as overly slick, commercial and dishonest design.
But wait! Note how poorly this game example fits with some of the recent discussions (123) concerning the importance (or non-importance) of choices. I think we currently associate denials of player agency with experimental, subversive, art or personal games.
But Call of Duty probably rates among the games least likely to be described as “experimental”, yet we can also compare this video’s lack of player choice and consequence to some of the discussion of Proteus, whose status as a game is questioned on the Steam Forums, and defended vigorously as such by designer Ed Key.
Question #2: Are there honest and dishonest ways of breaking player expectations? Good and bad? Interesting and uninteresting? How can we tell the difference?
More recently, the video from the Game Developers Conference #1ReasonToBe panel has been made available, featuring Brenda Romero, Robin Hunicke, Elizabeth Sampat, Mattie Brice, Leigh Alexander, and Kim McAuliffe: http://www.gdcvault.com/play/1018080/
#1ReasonWhy prompted a number of horror stories, and made for very depressing reading. In addition to the raw quality of people’s experiences, I realized that it was depressing to hear that people had experienced something so different from what I experienced. My immediate personal association of game and computer culture was always one of inclusivity: feeling alienated and ill-fitted in regular and official congregations (such as high school), my experience was that game and computer culture was deep, welcoming, and inclusive – this was where I felt at home and accepted. Sure, people always challenge you on your skills and credentials (Did you play Dwarf Fortress? Do you write your own shaders? How many alts to you really have? Do you still use SVN?), but I felt at home in that.
It is depressing to realize people belonging to the same culture can also be so hostile and excluding on superficial grounds (e.g. gender). It is also clear that many have had the hardest time taking this to heart (see the Kotaku comments here), perhaps for the very same reason – they have personally had good experiences, so why would anyone feel excluded?
Hopefully this discussion is making us all smarter.
We often talk of video games as being “fun,” but this is a mistake. When we play video games, our facial expressions are only occasionally those of of happiness, instead we frown and grimace when fail to achieve our goals. This is the paradox of failure: why do we play video games even though they make us unhappy?
In video games, as in tragic works of art, literature, theater, and cinema, it seems that we want to experience unpleasantness even if we also dislike it. Yet failure in a game is unique in that when we fail in a game, it means that we (not a character) are in some way inadequate, and games then motivate us to play more, in order to escape that inadequacy.
In this talk, based on his new book The Art of Failure, Jesper Juul will argue that the paradox of failure pervades games on many levels: in game design, in sports coaching, in strategy guides, in taunting, in the prejudices against sore losers. The issue of failure is also central to recurring controversies of what games can, or should be about: what does it mean to cause terrible events to happen in a fictional game world? Games, then are the Art of Failure: the singular art form that sets us up for failure and allows us to experience it and experiment with it.