I'm currently re-reading a bit of Jesper Juul's book, Half-Real. I should say at the outset that I haved always enjoyed Juul's general approach to videogame studies. His work is highly accessible, innovative, thoughtful, and centered on concrete (and popular) examples. (He also includes lots of screenshots, which is good.) Juul takes what might be called a "grassroots" approach to game studies, not bringing heavy disciplinary baggage to colonize the area, but instead trying to build a formal theory of games from the ground up. He takes his lead primarily from game and culture theorists like Huizinga, Caillois, Crawford and Sutton-Smith rather than from literary theory or media studies.
But I don't want to review Half-Real here -- I just want to share a passage that made me wonder a bit about the differences between MMORPGs and other games. The question is: how do players set the balance in MMORPGs between world immersion and game/rule objectives?
Part of Juul's thesis in Half-Life is that games are not just about rule systems (what one might call a "radical ludological" approach), but are also about the establishment of fictional worlds. (Cf. the past ludology debate.) Yet on page 139, Juul makes an interesting assertion about the relationship between worlds and rules in games:
It is a common characteristic that with sustained playing of the same game, the player may become less interested in the representational/fictional level of the game and more focused on the rules of the game.
After citing to this paper, which described how Quake III players would turn down graphics detail in order to get higher frame rates, Juul says:
Experienced players shift their focus from the fictional world of the game to the game as a set of rules.
Juul references Haider and Frencsch and posits that this is a form of intentional information reduction designed to improve task performance.
Imho, in the FPS (first person shooter) setting, that seems true enough. The reader can offer his or her own experience, but I think the "eye candy" of many FPS games is appealing but ornamental in terms of game play. Perhaps the agonistic drive to win leads many players to turn down graphics quality to maximize the tactical advantage of higher FPS (frames per second). It seems to me fair enough to interpret this as game players sacrificing some of the richness of the fictional FPS world (so far as it is a "world") in order to maximize the precise inputs that are instrumental to victory (defined by the rules).
What I'm curious about is whether that type of tactical behavior generally extends to MMORPGs, and in particular whether there is a difference between the early stages and endgame play. My hunch is that when we see rules crowd out fiction in MMORPGs, it is likely that some form of social pressure is at work.
MMORPGs are generally not (directly) competitive games. So it would seem to me that most experienced players soloing the early stages of the games are probably not inclined to tune out the fiction in order to maximize instrumental play. While information reduction tactics might make the dreaded grind more efficient, it would probably make it correspondingly more miserable. For solo video games, I'd have the same hunch. If I could reduce the Katamari graphics to a gray ball and countless gray squares rectangles, I'd probably improve my score somewhat, but why would I want to play that game?
Toward the endgame raids in MMORPGs, however, it seems pretty clear that the broader group's demands for precise social coordination probably *do* have a tendency to downplay the fiction in game play, making the individual player focus more on game objectives. Players likely adopt tactics like information-reduction in order to better service group objectives.
As TL Taylor noted in Play Between Worlds, achievement-centered "power gamers" are, in a way, more social beings than the casual gamers we call "socializers." It's probably the primacy of shared group goals (including, as in FPS gaming, playfully shared antagonism) that leads to highly instrumental play and corresponding withdraw from fiction. So, in many ways, MMORPG endgame play is the most inimical to the RP (role-play) in MMORPG. As Tim Burke has noted here before, MMORPGs are essentially two very different types of games. (Cf. recent stuff by Dave Myers, exploring the differences between group and solo play.)
For players, is this right? How do you manage the balance between instrumental goals and world immersion? Are your strategies different at various stages?
Comments on Rules v. Fiction:
I would like to add a major distinction between MMO played for the "fun" (discovery, team play, role play) and those played for the "win" (especially for extremely rare drop, player vs player competition...). Those 2 aspects could be found in the same game at different moments or worlds but the point remains the same. The fun aspect may require less performance and more immersion in the game (graphics and sound provide help in this sense) and the "win" aspect may require more performance skills and less graphics (as in the quake III example you gave).
So, to name MMO as a unified category for the question you ask is not, to me, a very good way to find the answer.
Posted Oct 4, 2007 7:15:30 PM | link
"Experienced players shift their focus from the fictional world of the game to the game as a set of rules."
I can't be experienced then, I just see targets and goals (and only thereafter things that get in the way).
Posted Oct 4, 2007 7:44:29 PM | link
Yes, that seems a fair point. The MMO is kind of a platform on which various sorts of play occur, with different players pursuing different objectives (fun vs. win) in the same setting.
What I'm suggesting, I guess, is that the structure of MMOs shapes the way players approach the game over time. The early game in many MMOs can be performed solo and doesn't demand heavy social coordination. Hence it favors a non-instrumental approach to play. The end game, otoh, really can't be played well without careful social coordination, hence it trends toward instrumental, non-RP approaches.
I don't want to be completely binary about this -- I know that folks power-level and dual-box in order to get through the early game, which seems very instrumental. I *imagine* that some endgame raiders RP, but I'm interested in hearing if that's the typical experience. (I suppose I might also find discussions of this in the game boards.)
Posted Oct 4, 2007 7:48:58 PM | link
I have had some experiences with power gamers that support what you are saying, but I have not found instrumental play to be indicative of leaving the fiction behind. On the contrary, the power gamers I played with were well versed in the WoW fiction and often discussed the world's history and storyline while discussing the endgame encounters. These same people also turned downed their graphic settings, but that did not seem to indicate a crowding out of the games narrative. In fact, I would say it seems that the power gamers I have known have almost seemed more immersed in the game narrative then new players. Perhaps this is do to all the time spent in game and in researching the game as power gamers are known to do.
Posted Oct 4, 2007 9:15:07 PM | link
I do think that the type of player -- play for fun versus play to roleplay versus play to win just to name three major ones -- has a lot of influence over how MMO players engage with the game, but just on observational and personal experience I would tentatively say I agree with Juul that there is a consistent difference between the phases of play that does parallel the phase/focus shift in other types of gaming.
I think in an MMO this is most closely trackable to playing one character or many. Most players when first exposed to a game will initially play one character and develop an avatar-level attachment to it. If they stick with the world/game, they will eventually branch out into secondary characters to whom they have much less attachment. I think this is the phenomenon Juul is describing, and I think it occurs across all the player types, it just may occasionally take longer to do so or happen at different times depending on the motivation that brings the player to the game initially.
What's interesting to me about people who roleplay online is that there seems to be a certain standard for roleplaying behavior -- a subculture that is cross-Internet -- that applies to the majority of roleplayers regardless of *where* they are roleplaying. To me, from a fiction standpoint (and probably my roots as a world builder) if I am going to roleplay it will be entirely dependent upon the world in which the character exists, which will shape their perceptions. But from what I've seen of roleplayers in 3D worlds (which I think at this point are still heavily handicapped by the technology), instead there is some sort of meta-roleplaying that they're doing, as if "to roleplay" is one verb for which there is a common standard, rather than doing something specific to that world, and they will roleplay the same way in a variety of different environments, utterly ignoring, frequently, defining world characteristics to do so.
Posted Oct 4, 2007 10:51:38 PM | link
The thing is that nowadays once someone very competitive figures out how to bend the rules of an MMO to their advantage, a short time later some how-to lands on some website. Then people who want the same advantage emulate that, if they can (it might be that the hack requires extraordinary skill and not just good knowledge of the rules).
In my experience, a fairly larger portion of players do want competitive advantages, even if it's just to reach their personal goals faster, i.e. even if it's not to directly compete. Very few pass up a free lunch, so to speak.
So with most rule exploitations, it's usually a matter of time until they become part of how everyone plays the game.
That's not exactly the same as turning down detail in an FPS, though, it's closer to running diagonal in Doom because you then run faster. If it helps fight mobs, many people will do it, I think.
Posted Oct 5, 2007 3:03:10 AM | link
Laurent>I would like to add a major distinction between MMO played for the "fun" (discovery, team play, role play) and those played for the "win" (especially for extremely rare drop, player vs player competition...).
Except that those played for the win are, fromt he point of view of the people playing them that way, being played for the fun.
Posted Oct 5, 2007 3:50:45 AM | link
Erin: That's interesting. I imagine that it has to be true that a player with several avatars must feel less identification with any of them and perhaps take a more "instrumental" approach to gameplay. Juul doesn't really spend any time on the relationship between player and avatar, and it strikes me that "immersion" in the fiction of an avatar is a much different thing than "immersion" in the fiction of a world.
Krista-Lee said: "I have not found instrumental play to be indicative of leaving the fiction behind. On the contrary, the power gamers I played with were well versed in the WoW fiction and often discussed the world's history and storyline while discussing the endgame encounters."
This is interesting to me because it might that Juul's observation doesn't hold true in MMORPGs. In MMORPGs, perhaps world-immersion and rule-focus are orthagonal or even complimentary. Of course, much depends on what Juul means by "fiction" or "representation" as compared to "rule." You seem to be saying the power gamers are deeply interested in the lore of the world (which I would call fiction). Of course, perhaps one good reason they might be more deeply engaged with the lore is that it is instrumental to solving or interpreting certain aspects of the game, or predicting the shape of new developments.
So I'm actually starting to think that there may not be much to this type of fiction/rule "progression" beyond what would be obvious: "I've seen that tree 100 times and it has no game value so it no longer registers as a significant object."
What I do think is interesting here, though, is what Dave Myers has been interested in -- how group structures tend to place more pressure on making play styles uniform. Though I think this is probably true in power gamer communities, I'd be kind of interested to see how that plays out in RP communities... is anyone out there studying how RP gamer communities "regulate" play styles within the group? Any links to bylaws for RP guilds?
Posted Oct 5, 2007 7:15:24 AM | link
Richard Bartle> I agree that "win" player search for "fun". Perhaps my fisrt category would gain to be changed in "mood" player (in quest for a special environment).
Typially I based mydichotomy win/fun on my experience of MMO where I usually meet, when i want to play in, say, a dungeon, 2 kinds of people: those who want to play with humans no matter if they fail to reach the end of the quest (fun player) and those who prefer to play with bots (called henchman, heroes, mercenaries... depends on the game and if they exist at all) because they want to achieve their quest at any price (here the price is social relations "in game") = win player...
After, i dont know if it is a widely shared conceptions of players description and, to answer greg, what is the typical experience of the gamers...
By the way, Mr. Bartle, thank you for having created the IJRP... it will be undoubtfully a very delightfull and instructive reading
Posted Oct 5, 2007 7:32:20 AM | link
Mm... the audio-visuals (and descriptive text) in games are static. After receiving the same message 100 times it becomes less important, and even slightly annoying. Players figure out what is fluff and what isn't after "internalizing" the game-world.
(RPers turn off repetitive messages too.)
Posted Oct 5, 2007 8:30:01 AM | link
One of the RP/fiction issues I have been dealing with is combat feedback.
In a 'real' fight, there is a physical feedback mechanism. I can feel how hard I punch someone.
But in the game world this isn't possible.
In EQ2 there is a overhead combat feedback system. When you strike an opponent a little number floats overhead that displays the amount of damage done. In addition, you have all the nice little eye candy spell effects.
When playing solo I can have all these settings in full mode and I get a robust gameplay experience. However, in a raid zone with 23 other players lag becomes unbearable with these settings. So, I sacrifice combat feedback in exchange for framerate.
What is interesting is that when the raid is going well - the raiding itself is immersive.
It seems that perhaps good graphics help immersion when gameplay is weak. With good enough gameplay graphics are less of an issue.
If that makes any sense....
Posted Oct 5, 2007 10:22:13 AM | link
I think that makes a lot of sense.
Maybe what it points out is that, with regard to things like frame rate and visual information, the reasons those are turned down is not that the player wants to "focus on rules" and not on fiction as Juul suggests. Cutting that visual information out is probably recognized as a kind of loss and most players would prefer to have the eye candy at all time. However, game goals do control -- especially in large groups -- and, unsurprisingly, most players are more than willing to ignore the nice scenery in order to focus on game objectives (just as they do in offline games).
Posted Oct 5, 2007 10:56:24 AM | link
I might add that, in City of Heroes, playing in a PUG facing a complicated challenge involving really heavy pyrotechnics was the high point of the game for me.
Posted Oct 5, 2007 10:58:27 AM | link
@ greglas - I think you make a good point about the fiction being instrumental to figuring out strategies, but I also suspect that some of the delving into the lore is also for the fun of the lore itself. Maybe this is unrelated, but many of the people I talked to also have an interested in fantasy and sci-fi literature, which to me often seems like the fiction of a game, without the game. So, perhaps the game then offers two levels of enjoyment, the win factor and the lore factor. (Note I am reading the lore as the "fiction" mentioned, but unfortunately I have not read Juul's book, I am going of of this post and comments here only.)
Posted Oct 6, 2007 4:11:36 PM | link
The idea of the fiction of the game is something that I find interesting. Whilst I might engage in actions that are more suited to the instrumental end of playing a MMO I find that it merely is displacing the fiction being created. There seems to a shift from the ready made fiction of the world itself created by the developer to a more personalized fiction about your own story, your own achievements. Power gaming whilst ignoring much of the flavour and richness of the surrounding world in the end appears to add to the story of the character through the hard to find rare drops. These achievements acting as trophy's or bullet points in your own fiction. Not sure if Ive been clear. An interesting idea in any case and I plan to take a look at Juul's work after reading this
Posted Oct 7, 2007 4:42:12 AM | link
Larent>those who want to play with humans no matter if they fail to reach the end of the quest (fun player) and those who prefer to play with bots (called henchman, heroes, mercenaries... depends on the game and if they exist at all) because they want to achieve their quest at any price (here the price is social relations "in game") = win player...
What you're describing is a difference in motivations. Some people want to play for social reasons, and others for achievement reasons.
>After, i dont know if it is a widely shared conceptions of players description
It matches my player types model fairly well.
and, to answer greg, what is the typical experience of the gamers...
>thank you for having created the IJRP...
Sadly, I didn't create it, I'm just on the editorial board. It was created by Anders Tychsen. I'm not even the only TerraNovan on the editorial board: Jess Mulligan is an editor, too.
Posted Oct 7, 2007 5:21:02 AM | link
Experienced PVPers in Eve turn off sound, and turn down a whole load of graphics settings to reduce CPU load in heavy fleet fights.
Some players in Eve will prefer to be the ones who jump through a gate into an enemy gang, because they get a few seconds of invisibility to load the models of the other group, while the others have to load them the moment the gang decloaks (locking up the client for a little bit).
In WoW, you throw out the standard UI for one that gives you more information and faster responses.
Posted Oct 7, 2007 6:04:30 AM | link
In support of what Krista-Lee Malone wrote, I recently completed some analyses of the motivations people have for playing multi-player RPGs, both tabletop and digital. Now, I know that playing Neverwinter Nights with a couple of mates is not the same thing as playing an MMO, and yet there are some similarities. However, what surprised me a bit is that the traditional "hard-core"-gamer motivations, actually correlate extremely well with the desire to be immersed in a virtual world.
It is quite interesting actually, because it seems to go against what one might think about power-gamers and the way/the why they play.
Posted Oct 8, 2007 12:03:41 AM | link
Sounds like great stuff, Anders.
I guess to me it's not a surprise that we're having trouble sustaining the contrast between rules & fiction (or story, or lore, or whatever). I think what we have here is the smuggling in of some categories that we think have some kind of transcendent realness (stories, rules) when in fact the game experience doesn't necessarily break down that way in practice.
When you think about it, the lore can govern a game to a great extent. Take the categories of energy, or dragonflights, or beings, or whatever in WoW, for example. The (law-like) rules don't have a monopoly on setting constraints on the game. And to a certain extent the makers of the game themselves become bound by the accumulated lore. Sure, they can retcon, but that has its costs.
So in a way learning the lore is just another way to get a sense of the things that are shaping the limits of a complex system. Other ways players do that is by coming to understand and incorporate things like latency and other constraints into how they act in the game, or what is socially acceptable in PuG, and on, and on.
Do players do that to get an edge? Do they do that because they simply enjoy it? Can't it be both? I don't think we can separate the instrumental from the for-its-own-sake, though that may be a useful continuum for thinking about it. I guess I'd just hope that when we think "game" we don't think of rules in a narrow sense, and that we also remember that meaning itself can rule.
Posted Oct 8, 2007 1:01:44 AM | link
I think that's right, Thomas -- especially about the instrumentality of lore knowledge. But rather than throw out this whole distinction, I'd prefer to see what's left after tearing it apart a bit. Let me wind things back a bit, though, to get to the place where I thought Juul's point made sense.
First, take Chess. I think Juul would say it has a very thin fiction to it (horses, kings, castles). For people who have never played (if you can think back to your first encounter with the game) these images can promise some possibilities. After play, however, the piece quickly loses much (though not all) of its representational gloss. The bishop is the piece that can capture diagonally, and very little more.
Now take the Quake example. Juul makes the point that experienced player realizes the wall textures are meaningless to the game and sacrifices them for better frame rate. He takes that to be a turning to rules and away from fiction.
I guess what I'm wondering is what Juul would put into the realm of "fictional world." I think, and I may be wrong, that he's framing the experience of a fictional world as essentially passive "readership" and/or a sense of broad presence and potential agency in the fictive environment -- kind of like Caillois's concept of mimicry.
Perhaps the problem here is a misunderstanding of what fiction, in the abstract, entails in terms of the reader's attitude. I think, for instance, plenty of people take somewhat instrumental (mental) approaches to paradigmatic fictional texts (say Harry Potter) while reading. Perhaps the fact that games & video games, a *player* can *be* more openly instrumental is the only reason people approach them in the way they do.
S the instrumental player actually *knows* the game better than the non-instrumental player who is using the game as a tool to role-play, fantasizes, what have you. Turning down the frame rate on Quake, in other words, means you're more deeply immersed in the fiction of Quake...
p.s. Lest I give any kind of false impression, this whole bit about Quake is really just on one page in Juul's book, though the broader concept of "rules v. fiction" provides a framework for the book's broader structure.
Posted Oct 8, 2007 6:38:43 AM | link
...(cont.'d) -- I guess, to put it more succinctly, the problem is with the whole concept of fiction, which I blended with "immersion." It's completely possible to be immersed in a complicated rule set, and that is to some extent, the nature of the experience of fiction.
I guess I'm not sure how we would separate games from fiction, except to say that the semiotic process of game play doesn't operate in quite the same way as the semiotic process of traditional narratives (which takes us back to the work of Dave Myers, Espen Aarseth, Marie-Laure Ryan).
In game worlds, a rose is just not a rose. :-)
Posted Oct 8, 2007 6:51:46 AM | link
Well said, Greg. I also think of Gordon Calleja's work in connection with this discussion, especially as you've framed it now. He does a great job tackling the limitations of the concept of immersion and proposes instead a model of incorporation.
Posted Oct 8, 2007 9:09:21 AM | link
I've got to dig up that paper of Gordon's.
Thx also to Anders, Daniel, and Gerard for chiming in on this.
Posted Oct 9, 2007 2:42:33 AM | link
When you talk about "immersion", you have to be very careful. What psychologists mean by it is different to what players of single-player games mean by it is different to what players of virtual worlds mean by it.
Personally, I use it in the sense of closeness of your character to you: the more immersed you are, the more your character is you and vice versa; the more you are your character, the more you are immersed. For me, it's an identity thing. However, for a VR researcher it's a swamp-the-senses thing.
Posted Oct 9, 2007 3:33:04 AM | link
Humans tend to stop noticing anything in their environment once it becomes "known". In the same way you can drive home from work and not remember a single sight along the way, a game's esthetics can become completely familiar. Once this happens a player almost completely focuses on the rules and other underlying aspects of a game.
Often once those underlying aspects also become too familiar the player is "done" with the game. This is why MMOs last longer, as the social aspects of these games can't be "solved".
Posted Oct 9, 2007 1:11:56 PM | link
Read the post, but only scanned the comments, so I may be repeating something, but there are two points in your original post I with which I strongly disagree.
1. “My hunch is that when we see rules crowd out fiction in MMORPGs, it is likely that some form of social pressure is at work.” Actually, I think quite the opposite is the case.
2. ‘achievement-centered "power gamers" are, in a way, more social beings than the casual gamers we call "socializers"’ If so, then this is indeed only in some strange way; again, I rather think the opposite.
In brief, if we consider play an evolutionary construct (reasonable, I think), then we also consider what positive benefits play has on the natural history of our species (and/or other species that play). Most often recently, we seem to be getting the story that play is a useful educational tool for the individual, ie, we learn stuff through play. The problem with that, again in brief, is that often we don’t learn stuff from play – it actually prohibits us from doing so – and that education in this context is hard to distinguish from indoctrination.
My inclination at the moment is to consider the benefits play has on the “system” (eg, large groups) rather than on individuals within the group. And so we cut to MMOs.
The main benefit of play within MMOs, as I see it, is that play tests the system, it uncovers information about the system and about how humans might interact within the system that is practically impossible to learn by any other current means. Thus the universal practice of beta-testing.
My contention is that this knowledge/info seeking/discovery function of play is most obvious, useful, and efficient during what I would call selfish play.
Social play, it seems to me, inhibits this knowledge/information function in favor of sustaining a particular social system. Eg, individual play is willing to sacrifice the individual and/or the group for the sake of play; social play is never willing to sacrifice the group (though individuals, of course, may be damned early and often).
Thus, I note in passing, our fascination -- and affinity -- with Leroy Jenkins sorts.
As a demonstration of this dichotomy, I claim that individual/selfish/competitive play (represented by pvp) is ultimately more informative of the system (broadly conceived) than social/group/cooperative play (represented by pve). Succinctly: There is more info potential in getting killed by an opponent than getting kicked by a group.
At DiGRA2007, Torill disagreed with this claim as regards WoW, but then WoW, I might facilely argue, sucks and is designed in such a way as to skew our observations on these matters.
So, I wonder what sort of response I would get here either confirming or denying this in a broader context: in mmos in which pvp and pve are equally accessible as individual and group activities (I offer CoH as a better example of this than WoW) 1) pvp players will tend to be more knowledgeable of basic game mechanics – particularly character mechanics – than pve players, and 2) competitively successful solo pvpers will be more knowledgeable of basic game mechanics – particularly character mechanics – than competitively successful group pvpers.
Posted Oct 9, 2007 1:55:31 PM | link
I have been lurking on this thread, and would like to comment two things:
1) As also discussed in the book, the shift from rules to fiction is a general trend, but one that is not guaranteed to happen, has individual variations, and a trend that is very different in different game genres: In games about exploration, it may not happen at all, but in multiplayer games in single arenas (i.e. chess and Counter-strike) it seems inevitable.
2) I have just put up my DiGRA 2007 conference paper, "A Certain Level of Abstraction", which in passing returns to the question of the player shifting focus, and how it relates to the level of abstraction in a game. The argument here is that the player focus generally follows the game activity - the players turn down the Quake textures or forget the gender of the Queen because these things are not directly relevant to the playing activity. Conversely, it is hard to play any spatial game without thinking of it as containing space, or to play Sims without thinking of the characters as humans.
Posted Oct 9, 2007 6:51:21 PM | link
That's a really interesting and unanticipated perspective (which, btw, is why I dig your thinking about these things).
I'm not so sure that I disagree with what your saying as much as I think you've got a different angle on what's important here.
Forgive me if I get this wrong, but as I understand, you're focusing on the game as an abstract system and the play process as an attempt at mastery of that system. Given the complexity of the system, play (like beta-testing) is the ideal way to know the system -- players know games better than their creators.
You're positing that the best solo player will master the rules more quickly than the best grouped player because the group has a tendency to discipline its members into a certain set of approves play styles and practices, restricting the freedoms that are more likely to uncover interesting information/strategies.
If I got that more or less right, then I think that's plausible. I'm not positive that it's completely right (e.g. doesn't "firm-like" information and resource sharing have some competitive edge in some places?) But let me re-explain what I was thinking (with the help of the discussion), which might actually be kind of congruent...
You can think of social play groups as exerting a kind of gravitational pull on individual approaches to game play. So the Einstein or Tesla or Ben Franklin of an MMOG is probably going to be held back by being required to adopt guild practices -- your point.
My point was that if you take a player that *isn't very interested* in mastery or rules (don't ask me what the player is very interested in -- scenery, I suppose, or role play?), then group dynamics will tend to indoctrinate/discipline that player into a more normal role.
Posted Oct 10, 2007 10:22:19 AM | link
Thanks for delurking. And doublethanks for linking to the new paper. It's a very good read.
A few reactions:
1) I'm sure you've been pressed on this before, but you seem to be placing a lot of faith on the "real" here. I don't want to bring in Baudrillard (really, I really don't want to) but it seems possible that we undergo similar processes during encounters (play) with the category of the "real." All the same, I don't think that's a very interesting point to pursue, since the there's obviously a different valence to game simulation. (Btw, I agree that it's pointless to aspire to perfect realism.
2) I think what you're driving at is a kind of special semiotic process in games, where an object in the game system is initially full of possibilities that inform the player's expectations and actions with regard to that object. As mastery proceeds, however, the field of possibilities is narrowed and the object is known in terms of its place in the system -- and yet -- it still retains its prior potency as a signifier of its "real" counterpart.
3) Interesting to see you setting virtual space apart. I'm also becoming very interested in how space and spatial thinking relates to video games.
Posted Oct 10, 2007 10:46:58 AM | link
Actually, to my surprise, I have rarely been pressed on the question of "the real". To briefly explain, I believe I deal with commentary on aesthetic/cultural categories, i.e. describing cultural categories rather than trying to change them. From that perspective, the "nature" of the real (or my faith in it) is not terribly important, the bottom line is simply that our culture has distinctions between what is real and what is not (say, fictional).
Another overall point about the player changing focus when playing a game: As a player, your relation to a game changes over time, and the game looks different in the end that it did in the beginning. However, the final impression of a game is not more correct than the initial impression - but game commentaries are mostly based on the retrospective view.
Posted Oct 10, 2007 12:42:36 PM | link
Thanks for the reply. At the risk of bugging you about this stuff:
I'm not eager to really push on the point about the "real." Briefly, while I completely agree there is a cultural distinction between what is real and fictional, I think that line can get pretty blurry at times. And I'm not talking about ARGs or LARPing, I'm talking about how games and non-game social practices are both fields of meaning which are constructed in part by abstract rules and shared readings of objects and actions. But I'll drop it there.
(But... parenthetically, this was also one thing that I found curious about reading Huizinga -- the more he broadened his concept of play to let it embrace many types of social practice, the less he convinced me that play was in opposition to a background of "ordinary life".)
And I guess your second point about initial and later readings makes me wonder too. Are you saying that games don't have an ontology apart from their social practice? With regard to that question, would you see a difference between a game like chess, where you essentially learn an "extrinsic" rule set that is "contained" in social practices and a videogame where the game rules are embedded in coded mechanics?
Posted Oct 10, 2007 1:06:37 PM | link
I guess I'm just asking you to explain a little more what you mean by "the final impression of a game is not more correct than the initial impression"
Posted Oct 10, 2007 1:12:42 PM | link
“you're focusing on the game as an abstract system and the play process as an attempt at mastery of that system.”
Well, I would say “the game as a formal system” and “the play process as source of information about the system.” A lot of information (in fact, the most and the most significant) is likely produced by non-masters, regardless of their intent.
“the best solo player will master the rules more quickly than the best grouped player because the group has a tendency to discipline its members into a certain set of approves play styles and practices, restricting the freedoms that are more likely to uncover interesting information/strategies.”
That’s good. I like that.
“then group dynamics will tend to indoctrinate/discipline that [non-interested-in rules] player into a more normal role.”
Ah, but here I think is the interesting part: It doesn’t seem to matter what the player is “interested in” – or, alternatively, the only thing that really matters is that the player is interested in play. And, if play is what the player is really interested in (this would be the normal state), then group dynamics will tend to indoctrinate/discipline that player into a more ABNORMAL role, where they are interested in something other than play. Like fiction, for instance.
And, of course, you’re right. My comments seem out of whack with all the fiction-is-important stuff, but here’s an (egad, long) analogy: If I’m a horse, then I am probably very interested in carrots. Carrots make me happy; they become objects of my affection and desire. I strive to become a carrot connoisseur; I write papers about carrot immersion; I publish carrot crunchiness catalogs. I become so interested and intrigued by carrotness that I dismiss the importance of any sticks from which carrots might dangle and any directions in which I might gallop in order to be carrot fulfilled.
Fiction for me as a human may then be similar to carrots for me as a horse. Something in my head dangles fiction at the end of a stick and I move toward that fiction. Now suppose when I move toward that fiction, largely unbeknownst to me, I am always moving in the same direction. Maybe I am always moving toward water, or maybe I am always moving away from heat. Whatever. Suppose that whenever I am moving toward fiction (as literature, for instance), I am also always moving away from play.
That would be a curious phenomenon, would it not?
And, since I got you here, tell me this, why do academic lawyers seem to write so clearly and real-life lawyers that are suing people and stuff seem to write so non-clearly. It really is on purpose, isn’t it?
Posted Oct 10, 2007 2:35:40 PM | link
@ Dave: If Henry Jenkins were riding that fiction-loving horse, I think he might spot some play on the horizon... but fair enough, I do get the point and thanks for the reply.
On the question of lawyers, which I'm better qualified to talk about, thanks for the implied compliment, but sometimes I do masquerade as a "real-life lawyer" too, you know! :-)
I think that when we're suing people and talking with courts, we need to write in ways that are both rhetorically persuasive (which should be clear, ideally) but at the same time formally functional in pulling the rights gears of case law and statutory precedent. Briefs can be the legal equivalent of "White Queen to e4, Black King to c8". The latter often takes precedence over the former. If you're not familiar with the game, it's hard to understand the moves.
Posted Oct 11, 2007 12:40:18 PM | link
This is a very interesting post.
Personally I am very interested in the achievement side of gaming and often get frustrated by the feeling that casual sensibilities are making moves on "my turf". However, almost all of the games that I play to a high level would lose their attraction if I didn't know that there are people out there who can appreciate what I'm doing. So when I 1-credit Ikaruga, I'm glad that the journey has been a beautiful procession of whizzy graphics and pyrotechnics because it gives an observer an entry point to understanding what I'm doing. Once they've been pulled in by the shiny graphics, they stay for the game mechanics. Similarly when I pull off a charge partitioned unblockable aegis combo with Urien in Street Fighter III: Third Strike, it's important to me that this whole set piece looks good, commensurate with the difficulty required to do it - it gives a spectator cues as to what's happened. However, I do probably overestimate the average spectator's ability to make inferences from graphical representations as I have frequently been put out by people saying how old Street Fighter III (and even Ikaruga!) look, failing to see the artistry in the graphics and only counting the dimensions, noting the absence of 3D graphics (even when they are actually present, as in Ikaruga!).
Posted Oct 12, 2007 6:06:04 PM | link
Fwiw, just chanced across this:
Caillois at 8, discussing mimetic play: "Despite the assertion's paradoxical character, I will state that in this instance the fiction, the sentiment as if replaces and performs the same function as do rules. Rules themselves create fictions."
Posted Oct 15, 2007 8:44:16 PM | link
Wow, score one for Caillois. He's still generally wrong, though :P.
Posted Oct 15, 2007 9:06:00 PM | link
I agree! I'm so much *not* a big fan of Caillois at the moment. Besides, he stole all his good stuff from Huizinga.
Posted Oct 15, 2007 9:42:26 PM | link
Lol! Yes, exactly!
Posted Oct 16, 2007 5:52:22 PM | link
Immersion and fiction
There seems to be some confusion between fiction referring to clusters of signs (textures on CSS walls, the shape of the Queen piece in chess etc) and meaningful sequences thereof (narrative) with their experience. The latter includes both their interpretation and interaction within the performative practice of game-play. It doesn’t help to slide immersion in and out of the discussion to refer to everything from identification with a game character to the building of a personal narrative or general engagement with the game (which could mean anything from number crunching a Sudoku game to leaping from building to building in Matrix Online). The two terms are being used loosely enough on their own. When we start equating fiction with immersion, two abused eggs result in a rather bewildered omelette.
To address the question Greg put at the start of the thread “how do players set the balance in MMORPGs between world immersion and game/rule objectives?” is to engage with one of the threads that underlie Juul’s discussion of the interaction between rules and fiction in Half-Real: the player’s experience of the designed objects we call digital games. Now as Juul states the nature of engagement shifts over time. But the shift is not in one direction, nor is it determined for a particular genre. It shifts fluidly and frequently between different aspects of the game depending on the variety of activities the game environment allow rules (game rules and coded structures). Attentional resources are constantly being re-deployed depending on the needs of the moment and the current disposition of the player as well as the social context. This cannot be attributed to properties of the specific game or game genre so it’s not particularly helpful to make sweeping statements about games at large. Sure it’s easier to pin this down for games like chess or Tetris because the activities and interactions they allow are far tighter in scope than say an MMO. So the difference with MMOs is that they tend to offer a wider variety of elements to engage with. They tend to cater for a wider set of experiences and forms of involvement than a lot of other digital games. But this is not a clear divide between MMOs and non MMOs, its more of a continuum about the affordances that any particular type of game environment allows.
Where one draws the line between rules and fiction seems to be less important than what forms of involvement game elements enable, if we are looking at player experience. Is jumping from one platform to another to land behind a player in a multiplayer game of Halo 3 a case of engagement with fiction or rules? There is the performative element (timing the jump, estimating distance etc) , the tactical element (getting behind the opponent to avoid being shot back and ensure the kill), the social and emergent story this creates (hehe got you from the back again…) and the overall effect on the game (5 – 2, I win…). The first deals with fiction/representation (the visual layout represented on screen) and rules (both in the sense of rules as physical properties of the world and game rules) , the second relates to fiction/representation (this is the player’s back) and rules (back = easy kill), the third deals with fiction if we take this to relate to the shared story and the fourth deals with rules (although one could be pedantic and argue these only have meaning within the “fiction” of the game and thus are in fact an important part of the fiction themselves…)
It’s difficult not to see the presentation of real rules and fiction as binary opposites and I can’t say that binaries work too well in a phenomenon which depends on its configuration upon an intervening human consciousness. Taking this on a broader cultural and social level I also find it difficult to see how rules, whose quintessential quality is the fact that they are designed are not in fact fictional, or, for that matter, how representation/fiction, that is so pervasive in contemporary culture is not real.
Posted Oct 17, 2007 12:56:20 PM | link
I'm late to this party, but as an avid player of Counterstrike who has monkeyed with the settings, I find this post very interesting. First, I think the effect noted by Juul is driven primarily by the nature of Counterstrike and other multiplayer shooters as competitive games rather than simulation games, to use Callois's classification. Some detail, or textures, or effects (e.g., the infamous smoke grenade issue) may be turned off in order to obtain a competitive edge. However, there's a definite trade-off here. Reduce the resolution, for example, and you'll get better framerates on a slow computer, but you'll be less able to distinguish a very distant enemy from background foliage. The trade-off therefore makes the most sense on maps where you know the layout and likely enemy strategies by heart, much the same way an expert sports player does not have to visually survey the entire field in order to figure out where his or her teammates are or where the ball is.
For non-competitive games, e.g. MMORPGs or single-player games, sacrificing detail to get a slight advantage in computer performance makes much less sense, particularly if the fun to be had from such games lies to a substantial extent in the immersion in a fictional world. Sacrificing detail for a split-second advantage during a first-run of Half-Life 2, for example, would seem to make little sense, as it would detract from world detail that is part of the narrative of the game, and it would not add much value in combat situations and puzzles, where the major obstacle to overcome (during first-time play) is going to be figuring out what the situation is and how bet to respond to it. In repeat play, such decisions are nearly automatic, and the challenge, as in sport, is going to be in the quality of execution, or at most in making very fine-grained decisions (passing the puck at a precise moment and direction; shooting at an opponent's head rather than body).
I suppose what I'm saying here is that the distinction between game types may be critical, or we may wind up doing the equivalent of comparing football to Shakespeare.
Posted Oct 17, 2007 6:50:13 PM | link
P.S. Where in Quake is that photo from? I thought I finished it, but I don't recognize that scene.
Posted Oct 17, 2007 6:53:53 PM | link
Gordon and Bruce --
Yes, and thanks for the comments.
I fear the problem was with my original question, which delved too greedily and too deep.
I now know what I awoke in the darkness of Khazad-dûm. Shadow and Flame, abused eggs, football and Shakespeare.
Posted Oct 17, 2007 8:19:58 PM | link
Bruce -- I think it is a custom level. The GPL'd the Quake III engine code in 2005.
Posted Oct 17, 2007 8:20:58 PM | link