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Oct 11, 2004



My first reaction would be that originality in domestic video games is hard to find because it's hard to produce (risk-averse financers & game dev culture), and hard to promote (games are an experience good that consumers don't understand, they trust licenses and genres more). So there's kind of an anti-originality syndrome in (mainstream) game production and distribution, just like there is in (Hollywood) film-making. Which presumes there is such a thing as originality, btw.

But I think your suggestions about culture and originality are much more provocative. Because the interface of play with older video games and contemporary console games is so simple (much more simple than language), games are a universal language where we can "speak" (in a sense) with another culture. My early arcade experiences back in the 70's & 80's were full of attempts to "read" Asian games -- and obviously that's still going on today -- try figuring out Serious Sam. (I'd be wary of attributing *that much* of Serious Sam to Croatian culture!)

But I do think cross-culture design/play is often a good way to introduce "originality" into game design, but (as you note) it makes the question of originality problematic if you believe originality is somehow required to be associated with a certain type of authorial creativity.

Is anyone aware of any online papers investigating these kinds of cross-cultural interpretive issues in game play? It seems like it could make for some great reading and theorizing.


Burke> ...simple-minded devotee of dumbed-down forms of evolutionary psychology...

{meekly raises hand}

That's me, I'm a recent fan. Anyone have references for non-dumbed-down evolutionary psych?

I agree, though, that the adaptive things are
a) the capacity for play, and
b) the mental structures that play produces,

I might quibble with the idea that all play structures are epiphenomic (warning: writer does not completely understand word. writer is mimicking). I think that games of resource competition are probably adaptive and universal. But football and Civilization are not.

Let's see, guess about other play-forms that may be adaptive: Chase and Evade, Find the Hidden Thing, Act Like Grownups, Complete the Collection/Puzzle, Do Something as a Team, Get Past the Obstacle, Explore.


Dumbed-down evo psych, to my mind, first off misses the important qualifier in even the most committed and strongly formulated evolutionary psychology that before speculating about the adaptive character of particular human behavior you first have to demonstrate with some rigor its universality (which ideally ought to be both temporal and spatial, e.g., not just widespread today but widespread over recorded history). Second, it misses the point that particular behaviors may not be directly adaptive but be the epiphenomenal result of some other adaptive feature of human psychology and physiology. This isn't quite what Gould means by "spandrel", but it's close.

Anyhoo, in this context, I would say it's a mistake to confuse "play" and "games", to open a ludological can of worms. Play is clearly an adaptive part of how many animals learn important behaviors, and I'd actually say it's one of the things you could most clearly make evolutionary psychological claims about that even I, evo psych skeptic, would not question. The relation between "play" and games strikes me as enormously complex, however. It's a pretty close relation when we're talking about Hide and Seek, or even, as you suggest, "Let's Act Like Grownups"--it gets vaguer when we're talking about football, and it gets very, very distant when we're talking about chess. But games like chess, checkers, go and so on are as universal as playing something like "Hide and Seek". It's that universality that I would be disinclined to make evo psych type claims about the adaptive value of, that really seems an epiphenomenal consequence of some other cognitive capacity of human beings.

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