Sunday, 14 April 2013

What is a mechanic? (my pragmatic view)


This is a little piece about the meaning of the word 'mechanic' which I fired off on Twitter the other day. It's about why talking about mechanics does not need to be rigid or robotic and about the uses and limits of the concept of a 'mechanic'. It's not perfect and probably incomplete but I've been asked to post it on the blog for easier citation and I hope it does a job.

It was prompted by a question from @criticalbrit (now @utterlyhorrid) and a response from @xenobotanist. The original can be found here.

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Most of the time, when people talk of 'mechanics', I think they mean one of two things:

With the s, plural, 'mechanics', it's a vague but serviceable gesture towards 'the underlying rules of the game', the gamey bits. X game is just the mechanics of Y game but with a different skin. Z game is mechanically innovative.

When you talk of a single 'mechanic', though that's a bit more defined, and tends to follow something like the MDA Framework. This is an analytical tool for looking at game structure. It separates 'Mechanics' from 'Dynamics' from 'Aesthetics' and most formal definitions of 'a mechanic' are vaguely similar.

Let's use Metal Gear Solid as an example:

The fact that you leave footprints in the snow is a 'mechanic' - it's a rule, an individual building block of the game. Another linked mechanic is the rule that if you crawl on snow then you won't leave any marks.

'Dynamics' are the phenomena that arise from these. For example, the dynamic of guards following you even if you're not in their sight when you run past. Also, the dynamic of being able to lead them astray, or in circles. Then there's the difficulty trade-off, which is that if you run past a guard in the snow, you'll be faster but they will follow you. If you crawl, you'll be out in the open, in their sight, for a lot longer, so you're incurring immediate extra danger to gain more long-term security. That's a dynamic too.

In MDA framework 'aesthetics' would be stuff like the experience of surprise when a player realises that these mechanics even exist, or shock when the player is caught unawares. Tension when a guard is following you, or schadenfreude when you use the footstep mechanic against them. But this is a bit confusing because I and many others tend to use 'aesthetics' to mean, basically, 'graphics and sound' - ie, the various ways stuff in the game is represented to the player. Still, we can ignore the 'A' in MDA and still get a workable definition of 'mechanic'.

Nevertheless, there are also a few things which make this framework difficult to apply.

For one thing, individual 'mechanics' can't function in isolation. The footprint mechanics above also depend on the mechanic that 'guards can see things'. And that links to mechanics governing how guards follow and investigate areas. In Half-Life, I guess you'd call it a 'mechanic' that marines can throw grenades, another mechanic that grenades have modeled ballistics and physics, and yet another mechanic that grenades hurt entities to different degrees depending on proximity.

And all this gets us into optical illusion territory. How big is a 'mechanic'? Is the mere fact of a guard seeing something one mechanic, and the fact of investigating another? Is it a bit like Zeno's paradox where you cut something in half and then you can cut that in half and then you can cut that in half and so on forever...? This is one reason why, practically speaking, critics don't tend to talk about AI behaviour in terms of mechanics. All the little nitty-gritty rules of how an NPC in a game reacts to stuff are opaque to the player and very complicated. By contrast, stuff surrounding player verbs is a bit more easy to get a grip on.

Moreover, there are many cases where MDA doesn't really function. In Twine games, as Raymond Neilson pointed out earlier today, the basic mechanic is 'click' (or rather, in the backend, 'move' from one tile to another). But the way Twine games are made basically means that this mechanic has an infinite number of possible meanings and significances. Sure, it's identifiable as a mechanic, you can pin it down and see how it works. But unlike with other games, doing so tells you nothing about player experience or meaning. So it's a bit pointless.

This is why @Xenobotanist's approach is probably the best when it comes to actually designing things. If you think about everything from the level of player experience downwards then you'll always have a baseline from which everything gains its significance. Probably 'what happens in player's minds when they play' is the baseline most game developers are working from.

Also arguably, Twine games and text adventures completely blow our ideas about 'how games work' out of the water. For example, a big part of the 'interactivity' of Christine Love's Analogue: A Hate Story is remembering stuff you read in one part and applying it to a decision later. The same is true in Twine games: one of the player's actions is to read meaning from passages of text and carry it with them until it informs their decisions or reading of another. This is a basic unit - a 'mechanic' - of linguistics and literature, but not of games, because we don't think about them that way. And yet, isn't it just as large a part of games? When you see an enemy for the first time in a game, don't you, to exactly the same extent, 'read' their appearance on the screen, 'read' the signals about your HP and their HP that you get, and carry that knowledge forward?

Okay, so let's define 'mechanic' as 'a rule in the computer system'. The reading happens in our brains and the mechanic happens in the computer. But wait! Isn't it all maths that are happening in the computer? When we speak of footprints in the snow aren't we just talking about our impression, our image, of the complex and pernickety system of programming rules which led to that effect? Is the only mechanic, ultimately, a switch from 1 to 0?!?

Obviously, now we're in useless la-la land. Most definitions of 'mechanic' are trying to arrive at an atomic theory of games. "Here, finally, I have discovered What Games Are! And the smallest possible unit of a game is a Mechanic!" Or it's a Play Atom, or a Ludeme, or whatever. Ultimately I think these theories tend to end up faltering on their own hurdles. There will always be exceptions that break their rules, or otherwise the problems above will surface. To be fair to MDA, I don't think it's an attempt to come up with The Final Theory of All Games Ever. It's just a tool, with its own acknowledged uses and limitations.

Recent discussions about 'formalism' have thrust the question of frameworks and definitions into sudden and explosive prominence. Like Andrew Vanden Bossche, I think that dogmatic definition schemes tend to have glaring theoretical problems even if you completely ignore their politics. For me, the word 'mechanic' is just useful when I need a word to describe 'a piece of rule'; I keep one eye on MDA while using it so that it doesn't end up being a polymorphous word which can mean anything. I'd call the fact that you can jump higher and longer by holding down the jump button in Mario a mechanic, and call the more general characteristics of jumping over stuff 'dynamics' just so that I don't get confused and can separate things out.

I do think a critic should be able to make these distinctions and drill down into the fabric of games because it unlocks important insights. For example, one reason Robot Unicorn Attack feels so happy and free is because it tweaks the aforementioned Mario jumping-length mechanic to have a very long jump arc. When you combine this with the dash mechanic, and the mechanic of being able to jump again immediately after a dash, you get a game which produces a dynamic of constant lift and a feeling of near-infinite flight as you charge your way ever upwards and upwards and up! And now we know how it did it, specifically - or at least I think we do (my theory is open to challenge).

By the same token, though, a critic must also understand that all separations, and all unities, are provisional and temporary. These are useful distinctions to make only when and if you need them. And, obviously, they're useless on their own.  

18 comments:

  1. I'm not interested in the "wot is X" debate, but I wanted to throw some spanners into your various cogs here.

    First: The Twine mechanic is not a click. A Twine mechanic is a decision and in sum it is a series of decisions. At point X, player chooses Y or Z. At point Y, player chooses back to X or forward to Q. And so on. If the mechanics you decompose to aren't expressive enough, that suggests you need to decompose further or your decomposition is in error. That's not to say such decomposition is actually useful, but the click is such an incorrect way to express a Twine experience; that makes it sound like mechanics could never explain a decision tree in any game we've ever played from Torment to Dishonored.

    Second: One of the important outcomes of MDA is this... The designer wants to create the A, the holy grail, the experience in the player's head - but the designer is stuck with making M, two levels away from A. Irrespective of whether you think that breakdown is useful or not, it's a thought experiment that demonstrates the chasm between design intention and actuality. All that stuff about "remembering stuff you read in one part and applying it to a decision later" is trapped in the A part of the MDA framework.

    Again - I'm not arguing for anything here, I'm just responding to some notes.

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    1. Hey, this post was far more about just responding to someone asking for more information on how to engage with games than about THAT debate. Obviously, they tie together.

      Your points are very worth making - though as spanners they are not so big as to be intimidating (I've seen bigger, in your endo, etc etc)

      A few people have pointed out, very rightly, that 'click' is an input and mechanical scholarship has traditionally distinguished inputs from mechanics. But does that change the problem? You could replace 'click' with 'move' (as per my bracketed clarification in-article) and you'd still be looking at a single formal player verb whose meaning is infinitely polymorphous.

      Arguably, a good way to express this mechanic would be 'multiple choice movement'. That's very different from the kind of movement you get in an FPS or genre derivative; it's more like tile-based movement in Maze War, but its spacial element is totally different. And I don't see how you can unify 'decision-making' with mechanics per se because that would be to place a move in Twine on the same level with the merest twitch of the mouse in Dear Esther - a formalism which is of little use for actually engaging with form. I'd be interested in what you would call Twine's mechanics and if you would identify it as having more than one.

      As for MDA, this is certainly true, and I don't mean to imply that developers shouldn't be thinking about mechanics! If I seem to suggest that then I've been undone by the rushed and scatty quality of the post. My suggestion was that developers will often wish to work from D upwards while trying to see from A downwards (and placing themselves in the player position as often as possible via playtesting) - per Xeno's statement that this is her approach.

      I do wonder, however, if the developer even working from D. Aren't they actually working from a level somewhere below 'mechanics' but somewhere above binary, somewhere on the chain of of production tools which mediate between hardware and human - whether in assembly language, high-level code, engine tools, middleware, mod tools, or RPG maker? The apprehension of 'mechanics' for designers as well as players may always partly fictional.

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  2. I don't think MDA - or analysis via mechanics - is particularly useful for something like Twine. Seeing mechanics as verbs is the wrong way to think about a Twine game; if I was going to be formal about it, I'd suggest each decision (each entry) could be considered an individual mechanic. These mechanics don't have any overlap (or minimal at the most) so there's little in MDA's dynamics bit. It's more MMA =)

    Twine is much closer to a short story than a set of interacting rules which means, well, English Lit would be the closest analogue for figuring how to make a Twine game effective. But the MDA framework is just such a useless way of looking at a Twine game. It tells us more about how rules combine and fuck each other to birth experiences and MDA doesn't tell us *anything* about story.

    I was too quick to respond as well, John =) But I think using mechanics in a Twine discussion is self-serving either way: the ludologists would say Twine has no mechanics -> therefore not a game. Those who dislike the hardcore stance would argue Twine has no mechanics -> hardcore view is obv wrong.

    The suggestion that has come up before, that "narrative is a mechanic", is a nice, optimistic idea but it doesn't really tell us anything. The whole point of mechanics is to be able to say something about them, and look at how these things blob and morph together. If someone demands narrative to be a mechanic, they've already bought into one the assumption that "mechanics" are the building block of All Things Game: and that's the problem.

    I just don't think bringing mechanics into the picture is going to be particularly useful for Twine or other forms of interactive fiction. Someone is always going to lose; it just depends on your point of view. I'm not looking for a grand unified theory of games because that really isn't important right now. It's far more useful to build theories about small, siloed and constrained situations, like Pinchbeck's work on environmental narrative.

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    1. Oh yeah, I very much agree with everything you say there, esp on the 'political' - if you will - deployment of analytic frameworks where they aren't appropriate.

      Like you say, I really wouldn't advocate trying to see Twine games in terms of mechanics. It's no use at all. And in observing this, I don't believe I've somehow 'disproved' MDA, because it's a tool which is useful in some but not all situations (most, at the moment). Because the post was prompted by a question from someone who says saying "I really don't know much about this", I wanted to make it very clear that MDA-inspired mechanical analysis is just one way of looking at things, and that not all games were amenable to that approach. So me applying MDA to Twine is just a way of showing MDA's limitations. The implication that "mechanics are the building block of All Things Game" was precisely what I wished to avoid.

      And yes, I don't buy into the idea that "narrative is a mechanic". Obviously narrative itself HAS mechanics. That's what narratology (the wider field, rather than the game crit spectre) is all about. And, equally obviously, mechanics can form a narrative (in a different sense of the word). But the formal notion of a 'mechanic' derives its critical utility precisely from its limitations. Andrew Vanden Bossche used the word 'mechanic' somewhat loosely on his post about 'who can talk about systems', but his essential point was correct: IF has its own complicated forms and demands its own kind of formalism. I imagine some already exists, as IF has been around for yonks, and I'd like to explore it.

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    2. I thought I put another comment here. Hmm. I said in that comment...

      So we've had a nice long discussion where we both realised we were agreeing?

      Shit.

      I've not heard of any formalism in IF but, then again, I haven't gone looking for it.

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    3. Heh, I think so. Worse things happen, even in videogame criticism.

      I'm assuming there's IF-specific formalism because lots of early game crit (including the dreaded 'narratology') grew out of the humanities establishment. Not only were some of the tools of that establishment a very good fit for IF work, but if you couldn't bring yourself to analyse Doom like it capital-M Mattered, you'd surely see IF titles as offering something more worth of serious analysis.

      Raph Koster recommended me this:
      http://www.amazon.co.uk/Writing-Space-Computers-Hypertext-Remediation/dp/0805829199/ref=reg_hu-rd_add_1_dp

      I don't know how well that cleaves to the idea of 'formalism', not having read them, but I imagine they are, at least, engaged with form. Raph's recommendation was a response to a discussion rather like the one we just had - https://twitter.com/raphkoster/status/323525778182656000

      I've also been recommended these in the past, though don't know how relevant they are:
      http://www.amazon.co.uk/Twisty-Little-Passages-Approach-Interactive/dp/0262633183/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1366545626&sr=8-2&keywords=interactive+fiction

      http://www.amazon.co.uk/First-Person-Media-Story-Performance/dp/0262731754/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1358428136&sr=8-1

      It's not like I can afford any of them, but they're on my wishlist.

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  3. I think that the definitions you've picked out are quite vague. It's much easier to think:

    mechanic – a function in a game, ie. something the player can do, Mario's jump
    dynamic – a variable which affects at least two other things in the game system, gravity
    aesthetics – I hate this word, let's just throw it out
    game element – an object in the game, goombas and question boxes
    interplay – the back and forth reaction between game elements, ie. Mario stomps on Koopa Troopa, Koopa Troopa goes into shell, Mario kicks shell, etc

    In your Metal Gear Solid example, you conflate a series of different things together. It's much clearer to say:

    -Snake's walk is a mechanic
    -when Snake walks on snow, he leaves footprints, which are temporary game elements
    -when soldiers, another game element, see footprints they follow them
    -there is interplay between Snake, the footprints, and the enemies

    Although I prefer these terms, you were using the other terms quite well until you got to “Then there's the difficulty trade-off, which is that if you run past a guard in the snow, you'll be faster but they will follow you. If you crawl, you'll be out in the open, in their sight, for a lot longer, so you're incurring immediate extra danger to gain more long-term security. That's a dynamic too.” The balancing of mechanics is not a dynamic (your definition), ie. it's not something that occurs from a mechanic.

    This is also very confusing: “another mechanic that grenades have modeled ballistics and physics, and yet another mechanic that grenades hurt entities to different degrees depending on proximity.” You are talking about the properties of the grenades.

    “This is one reason why, practically speaking, critics don't tend to talk about AI behaviour in terms of mechanics.”

    Or because the player can't do it, it's a scripted behaviour, static.

    “But the way Twine games are made basically means that this mechanic has an infinite number of possible meanings and significances.”

    This is an astute observation. Mechanics are functions + context. So, Mario's jump is moving Mario so many pixels into the air + the visual presentation and sound of Mario jumping. Without the visual and aural form, the mechanic can't have meaning on its own. In the case of Twine, the core function in the game is click, but the mechanic itself is entirely dependent on the text, and because of the nature of text, there are infinite possibilities for mechanics, as you say.

    On your comments on formalism and language. You might want to take a read of this site: http://critical-gaming.com/gamedesign101/ The writer, Richard Terrell, basically solves the current issues with discussion around video games, ie. clearly accessible language and theory.

    Games are very complicated and the only way “game critics” are going to be able to talk about them competently is to have some form of commonly accepted language. So whether that language is accepted now or later, it will happen at some point, unless we're to continue to wallow in the current flood of shallow, uniformed games criticism.

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  4. I see that my friend and fellow ninja Daniel Primed has already said quite a lot here. I also agree with his response.

    But what I really wanted to say is that this article wrestles with a lot of the deeper issues that pop up when dealing with language and understanding. If you don't have a good foundation with clear terms, it's easy to get lost bouncing back and forth between code, rules, ideas, aesthetics, meaning, feelings, etc. Also, when you don't have a clear conceptual framework, it's easy to look at examples in too narrow of a view. However...

    It's great that the writing here is very clear even though I think the conclusions and logical jumps aren't as solid.

    In my mind, it's not about solving this problem or "being there" (a place of highly precise game criticism). It's about "getting there" in a clear and effective way, which includes helping each other out.

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  5. Hi lads,

    I've had the Critical Gaming site open in a spare tab for a while now - I simply haven't gotten round to submerging myself in what is sure to be a long and stimulating read.

    And I can quibble with your definitions and examples all I like, but I could not claim that this post is particularly informed or solid. It stands to reason that people who are deeply engaged in building formalisms will be able to come along and knock it over with relative ease! I appreciate Daniel's bracing criticism.

    Regarding the specifics: is it usual to define a 'mechanic', formally, as being player-side only? This is how the word 'verb' is often used. Or is this a particularity of the Critical Gaming framework?

    Otherwise, yes, I do a lot of shortening and only semi-conscious conflation of things that might more clearly be separated out. It makes more sense to think of a grenade as a game element or object (with certain lethal properties) and the grenade-throwing ability to be a mechanic which spawns a grenade object on a trajectory affected by blah blah blah blah.

    The only thing I would argue is that difficulty trades arising from the interplay of mechanics and objects would surely count as dynamics under MDA (from what I understand). While these trades and bargains appear to be imposed from the top-down to determine the nature of the mechanics, there is obviously also a sense in which they simply arise from the property of the mechanics and objects as they exist. In that light, 'balancing' is a process conducted by a designer who is imagining herself at the A, and tweaking at the M, in order to shape the D.

    And this is the cautious note I would sound regarding formalism and terminology; things do not always get clearer the smaller your units of consideration are. Physics can illuminate our inform our understanding of everything that depends on it, but it does not replace (say) sociology or art criticism as an explicative method. Personally I love to drill down, but levels of scale are themselves in interplay.

    Ultimately, I am not actually convinced that we need a "commonly accepted language." I don't think 'the field' of games criticism - taking into account the blogosphere, the press, and academia - actually does want for "accessible language and theory" (although there are lots of competing and interacting frameworks) and I don't think the lack of such is 'holding it back'. We're all still groping our way, but it's not like any other field has stopped trashing its own shibboleths and rebooting its own frameworks every decade. I will admit to being a bit of a magpie - I take terms from all over, depending on the situation.

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    1. (To clarify my remarks on commonly accepted language, I am implicitly invoking a sort of Sturgeon's Law: I don't know how much it really proves that there is a profusion of crap or imprecise writing about a medium whose users are mostly web savvy digital natives in an age of increasing mass internet writing)

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  6. "Regarding the specifics: is it usual to define a 'mechanic', formally, as being player-side only? This is how the word 'verb' is often used. Or is this a particularity of the Critical Gaming framework?"

    I've seen some use 'mechanic' more strictly, and others not so much. I have a problem with the use of 'verb' as 'mechanic.' People often get carried away when talking about verbs. They look at any action, combination of actions, or any state resulting from any type of action and try to assign 'verbs' to it. Often times, techniques, strategies, and tactics are conflated with 'verb' because all of these concepts directly involve actions.

    I think having a term that specifically talks about the basic moves/options a player has is absolutely important. Part of the core of what games are is effortful/effective player interactivity. And though there are many emergent states that a player can experience, there are always a very limited set of ways the player can interact with the game world. Because everything the player is and does to the computer half of video games is done through mechanics, being very clear and very strict about how we talk about mechanics is key. The word 'mechanic' is not as important as the definition.

    "The only thing I would argue is that difficulty trades arising from the interplay of mechanics and objects would surely count as dynamics under MDA (from what I understand). While these trades and bargains appear to be imposed from the top-down to determine the nature of the mechanics, there is obviously also a sense in which they simply arise from the property of the mechanics and objects as they exist. In that light, 'balancing' is a process conducted by a designer who is imagining herself at the A, and tweaking at the M, in order to shape the D."

    If by 'difficulty trades' you mean some of the emergent risk-reward relationships between various options and outcomes, then yeah; such gameplay scenarios are the result of gameplay dynamics (which are rules that connect various states, proprieties, and actions in a game system so that doing multiple things ultimately affects multiple elements in different, sometimes disproportionate ways).

    I read that MDA document. I liked some of the ideas presented in it, but I think its 3 part view of games isn't practical for an accurate or deep analysis. For example, the moment you started talking about developer intent in terms of balance and where the source of the balance starts from, you've lost your design grounding. In general, I don't care about developer intent or how games are constructed (including the source of ideas). I just care about what the game is once its done and how players interact with its systems. Games are always set in some kind of balance. Typically when we talk about balance we have a few particular kinds of balance types in mind that we used to structure our analysis.

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  7. I've found that the MDA and talking about Aesthetics and dynamics in the way the article outlines, leads people away from clearly considering the more objective rules and scenarios of a game. People too quickly jump to or reference aesthetics, without realizing how important the rules and other underlying structures are. BTW, I did a podcast on this topic here: http://critical-gaming.com/blog/2012/12/9/critical-casts-episode-2-expression.html


    "And this is the cautious note I would sound regarding formalism and terminology; things do not always get clearer the smaller your units of consideration are."

    This isn't anything really to caution about. It's the way of the world. But I'll say that things do get clearer the smaller you drill down. However, not EVERYTHING gets clearer, and/or sometimes what becomes clear is the limitations of the drill.

    Overall, these kinds of fears and cautions are not my concern. I know many who are afraid that studying terminology, learning craft techniques, or just being more articular "kills" or "ruins" something "magical" about the experience. Some believe that expression and art are just come out of us from shear willpower and inspiration. While some artists appear to operate this way, most don't.

    Using the strictest terms to talk about game design gives us the structure to understand the highly structured systems we interact with so we can better frame and present our more subjective, mysteriously, elusive feelings/experiences to each other. Certainly, there is more than one way to express/articulate ourselves. But for the most part, the non-formal/structured/terminology based approaches have not been applied with enough discipline or rigor that matches up to the complexity of experience we have with video games. In other words, the gamers on the other end of the spectrum aren't trying hard enough doing things their own way.

    "Ultimately, I am not actually convinced that we need a "commonly accepted language." I don't think 'the field' of games criticism - taking into account the blogosphere, the press, and academia - actually does want for "accessible language and theory" (although there are lots of competing and interacting frameworks) and I don't think the lack of such is 'holding it back'. We're all still groping our way, but it's not like any other field has stopped trashing its own shibboleths and rebooting its own frameworks every decade. I will admit to being a bit of a magpie - I take terms from all over, depending on the situation."

    The funny thing about language is that if it's not somewhat common, it's useless. Language is a tool that is best used when different people share and embrace it (at least partially). You say you don't think the industry wants a common language? Perhaps. But they need it. And I think the people who say they don't want it are just afraid of what they might lose, ignorant of what they might gain and how little they have currently.

    I think by this time in our industry, we should have much more intelligent writers and gamers out there, and we simply do not. Gameplay, itself, is a foreign concept to many now. People lack the language to understand what can be very simple. People love to talk about everything but gameplay from graphics, sound, story, to feelings. Yet, the vast majority of content written about these things is pathetically lacking. A few weeks of any course of art/ music/story critique would give one more tools and structure to say something meaningful about these crafts that what we see currently in our industry.

    Sure games are complicated. But the path that we can take to better understand them and communicate about them is not.

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  8. --VERBS vs MECHANICS--

    Yes, discriminating a sort of basic atom of player action from the tactics and behaviours which arise from that action is very important. This is, frankly, how I try to use the word 'verb'. I'd find it hard to agree that people get any more carried away with that word than with the word 'mechanic' - but I basically agree that the definitional unit you propose, whatever we call it, is a useful and illuminating one.

    --DRILLING DOWN

    "Not EVERYTHING gets clearer, and/or sometimes what becomes clear is the limitations of the drill."

    Yes, precisely - developing finer and more specific tools does not always make obsolete the rest of the box.

    "Overall, these kinds of fears and cautions are not my concern. I know many who are afraid that studying terminology, learning craft techniques, or just being more articular "kills" or "ruins" something "magical" about the experience. Some believe that expression and art are just come out of us from shear willpower and inspiration. While some artists appear to operate this way, most don't. "

    I'm not bothered about this. Technique is crucial in art, artists are (usually but not always conscious) technicians, and more thoroughly articulating how things work has never diminished their wonder in the history of humanity. What more concerns me is the ideology and framing that surrounds these standards.

    I did not say that the industry doesn't WANT terminology but that it doesn't WANT FOR it. What we have is a multitude of very clever formalist schemes which are mostly wedded to deeply ideological conceptions of 'what games are'. That is to say they're less descriptive and more explanatory: they don't merely claim to describe features so they can be better examined but claim to locate these features within a total scheme of taxonomy (e.g. Tadhg Kelly and Keith Burgun). Much of what's individual about these schemes is useful, hence my magpie-like approach. But the scheme as a whole tends to ignore a lot of actual formal nuances because they don't fit.

    This is my point. We have a proliferation of terminology brushfire wars. Many of the terminology schemes we have are accessible, some are rigorous, and even fewer are both accessible and rigorous. This distribution means I have nothing but goodwill for any attempt to establish a framework which is both. I just don't buy the idea that there is a massive lack of useful frameworks and that your proposing one is necessarily going to make a big difference to industry practice or player behaviour (which are imo in the end conditioned by economics).

    So when you say that the whole ludosphere - and let's exclude mainstream churn consumer journalism - finds gameplay "a foreign concept" with which you can re-unite them, I raise my eyebrows. Not because of any arrogance in your mission - I'm all for people declaring they're the saviour of this or that and being evaluated based on their efforts - but because it does not fit with my experience of what people are writing, saying, and making. My experience is that there is a lot of shit games writing out there, but there is some good stuff too, and the good stuff is happening with or without you or me. After all (I would say, in person, with a jocular grin, but which, in a comment, I can only betone with this clumsy paranthetical), yours is a suspiciously convenient assessment.

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  9. John, instead of directly responding to Richards points, I think that you've partly resorted to some anti-intellectualism jabs, if not thinly-veiled insults (actually, I'm flatly confused by what you've said). I originally commented on this post, and shared it with my friend, Richard, because you've made a good first attempt at trying to discuss games with a clear framework and I thought that I/we could lend a hand. Richard and I aren't trying to shove our words into anyone's mouth or be the saviour of the “ludosphere”. As Richard said: “The word 'mechanic' is not as important as the definition”. We're just, like you, trying to clearly communicate our ideas about games and we've found that the best way to do that is through clear language, evidence, and focusing on specifics instead of broad generalisations. You don't have to use these things, it's up to you, but if can't directly respond to our comments, then, well...

    I subscribed to your blog a few months ago, after I finished the final copy of my book, and have enjoyed your posts, but I think that, like a lot of the current writing around games, they have some neat ideas, but could benefit from more clarity to properly explain those ideas. If you're interested in continuing this conversation, or talking about a game of your choice (I'm all up for a chat on MGS3) then please hit me up on any of the following services:

    AIM – Daniel Primed

    MSN/email – daniel [at] danielprimed [dot] com

    Skype – Daniel Primed

    Best,
    Daniel

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  10. Hi Dan,

    Apologies - I'm a bit confused by what you're saying, but I certainly didn't mean to insult anyone, 'resort' to anything, or to circumvent your argument. If I have expressed any contempt either for you or for the terms of decent and honest discussion then I can only apologise.

    The fault may well be mine because I responded to what I disagreed with and left alone what I liked. It may also be that I sometimes write in a bit of a loose and jibing tone, by which no slight is intended. Alternatively still, maybe we just see 'clear frameworks' as having different roles - I'm actually kind of surprised that you would identify my writing as having one, as I imagine myself (perhaps fancifully) as promiscuously and sometimes incoherently 'doing things with' videogames.

    To be very clear: on a personal/interpersonal level, I'm actually flattered and happy to have people get all up in my grill and give me suggestions. Like I said, I'm very interested by your work, and some of it I plan to buy into. My disagreements are on a wider level: it's not that I take Richard's assessment of the state of games writing as a personal slight against my own work. I simply do not agree with it based on what I've read.

    I'll email over the weekend. By the way, are you aware of the Google Group 'Game Words Incorporated'? Buncha people discuss game crit on there, although been a bit dead lately. https://groups.google.com/forum/?fromgroups#!forum/game-words-incorporated

    P.S. The word "saviour" was more a jab at myself than at you. I started out in this game with the idle ambition to revolutionise shit and then found myself running to catch up.

    ReplyDelete
  11. John,

    Okay, I might have over-interpreted what you meant. It's really hard to tell tone on the internet and your self-refferential style threw me a bit. Your original post tried to create a clear framework, that in itself is really great. I am not aware of the google group you mentioned. Richard and I did find your responses to be a bit hard to follow up given that you avoided some points and we can't really make sense of some other parts (what "terminology brushfire wars"? what's the difference between want and want for, etc). So, yeah, send me an email with some points that you're interested in discussing and we can drill through them together. Let's not worry about continuing this current conversation for now.

    Daniel

    ReplyDelete
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