When discussing rules and fiction in games, I invariably show a picture of
the beautiful Bauhaus chess set, where the superfluous ornamentation and fiction of the standard chess set has given way to shaped pieces meant to indicate how each piece moves. And it is easy to illustrate how some pieces signal well – the bishop, the rook – where others quickly fail. How are you supposed to deduce en passant from the cube that is the pawn?
Artist Nova Jiang has now one-upped Josef Hartwig considerably with her Orthogonal/Diagonal art piece. Here, Jiang not only makes a better version of the pawn in Western chess (the pawn’s diagonal attacks are now suggested by the form), the work also includes a range of Asian chess variants.
And of course – we never get to quite deduce the entirety of game rules from the shape of the pieces, but it’s just interesting to see that the basic question of how to shape chess pieces does not need to be left to the history books.
In this final issue of the year, we are exploring material components of analog gameplay. The materiality of games is important to consider as it lends insight into the ways that games can be located within the clear parameters of space and time—often despite the best efforts of players and designers to otherwise construe them as timeless or nostalgic media. Additionally, materialities help to remind us of the limitations of play. Our bodies must navigate black-box theater rooms and city spaces, as manipulate pawns, chits, meeples, cards and other trappings of board games. These deliberate, sometimes awkward, yet often tacit negotiations help to remind us of the always-present stakes of materiality.
Jason Cox’s essay “Manipulating Environments in American Freeform” offers a starting point for those curious about the ways in which emerging practices of larp design offer more to players than just narrative—they tell stories about spaces as well, and attend to how environments affect our bodies. This is also what is at stake in Kyle Moore’s essay, “Playing With Portals: Rethinking Urban Play with Ingress,” a theoretical sketch of the ways that the game, formerly a Google product, compels players to experience urban space in new and often challenging ways. Finally, the last two essays in this issue, Devin Wilson’s “The Eurogame as Heterotopia,” and Greg Loring-Albright’s “The First Nations of Catan: Practices in Critical Modification”—both in dialogue with last year’s AGS essay by Will Robinson—take up critiques of the abstracted representations characteristic of Eurogames. Wilson’s piece argues for a new and less oppositional reading of abstract game materials, positioning them as a space of polysemic and potentially revolutionary interpretation. In contrast, Loring-Albright moves forward from the problematic of abstraction established by Robinson by offering a new critical ruleset for Catan that accounts for the erasure of indigenous peoples in the game’s narrative. And, in the spirit of materiality: we’ve included the rules as a bonus to our readers.
Thank you, readers, for an excellent year, and keep an eye out in the coming months for more exciting content!
This issue presents six papers each reflecting on one angle to the future of virtual worlds: Four concrete views relating to: bots, head mounted displays (HMD), neuroscience and meditation, and eSports; as well as two theoretical views relating to the focus of virtual worlds research, and looking at virtual worlds as a mediator between “technology trends” and the “digital transformation of society and business.”
From the point of view of 2015: the virtual is becoming the real and the real is becoming the virtual.
Set for launch in February 2016, we are proud to present the fifth book of the Playful Thinking Series. Katherine Isbister’s How games Move Us: Emotion by Design is an examination of how video game design can create strong, positive emotional experiences for players, with examples from popular, indie, and art games.
This is a renaissance moment for video games—in the variety of genres they represent, and the range of emotional territory they cover. But how do games create emotion? In How Games Move Us, Katherine Isbister takes the reader on a timely and novel exploration of the design techniques that evoke strong emotions for players. She counters arguments that games are creating a generation of isolated, emotionally numb, antisocial loners. Games, Isbister shows us, can actually play a powerful role in creating empathy and other strong, positive emotional experiences; they reveal these qualities over time, through the act of playing. She offers a nuanced, systematic examination of exactly how games can influence emotion and social connection, with examples—drawn from popular, indie, and art games—that unpack the gamer’s experience.
Isbister describes choice and flow, two qualities that distinguish games from other media, and explains how game developers build upon these qualities using avatars, non-player characters, and character customization, in both solo and social play. She shows how designers use physical movement to enhance players’ emotional experience, and examines long-distance networked play. She illustrates the use of these design methods with examples that range from Sony’s Little Big Planet to the much-praised indie game Journey to art games like Brenda Romero’s Train.
Isbister’s analysis shows us a new way to think about games, helping us appreciate them as an innovative and powerful medium for doing what film, literature, and other creative media do: helping us to understand ourselves and what it means to be human.
One time I killed a sim by drowning. Then I made everyone show up to his funeral in swimwear.
It’s not too sadistic per-se, but it involved a lot of deaths.
I wanted to make a church with a full, complete graveyard. So I built a small, simple structure moved in a family of 8, get them all inside, remove the door, fill with fire. Yay, 8 new tombstones!
Repeat like 9 times, and you’ve got a full graveyard of tombstones. Then I built the church and moved in a priest to live there and tend to the grounds.
So, in my most recent Sims playthrough, I found this girl that I really wanted my Sim to marry. Problem is she already had a husband, so rather than just doing the (relatively) normal thing and just increasing the relationship and convincing her to break up with him, I instead became best friends with her husband, convinced him to move in with me, and then drowned him in a pool so I could marry his wife.
And much more.
Theoretically, it ties to some of my arguments in my Without a Goal chapter about open and expressive games: anything truly expressive can also express things we find offensive and/or transgressive.
… the reason why goal-less games can easily become steeped in controversy. The wide range of player actions – what makes the game expressive – also makes it likely that the player can express something that offends someone.