Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Don't Really Play Games Much Anymore?

Here is an essay by the always-delightful Matt Sakey about how devs don't really play very many games. He points out that many (perhaps most) developers don't play very many games. A large part of this is probably the fact that they have a job, which eats up their available time.

My first thought on reading it was, "hey, you know, I don't really play very many games any more." My second thought was a connection to Einstein and Carla Speed McNeil that I won't go into, because it doesn't really apply to this conversation.

My third thought was, "Wait, are you high? You just finished two AAA titles last weekend, and you spend at least two hours a day playing various casual games. You play tons of games."

At first I thought that maybe I was just playing not as many games as before. But that isn't really true, either. Then I realized what it was: I wasn't playing social games any more, because there's precious little social available at the moment.

When I was in college, the things I considered to be "games" were the things I sat down (or jumped around) with other people to play. Cosmic Encounter (Blind, of course, for quotes like "As the power of chronos, I retroactively win the game two turns ago!"), short LARPs, tabletop RPGs, Apples to Apples, occasional bouts with wargaming...

Computer games - I played about as many then as now, if perhaps for slightly larger blocks of time. But I never really considered them games in my heart.

Is it because they aren't social? Perhaps. More likely, it's because they aren't creative. By which I mean that I cannot create while participating. All of the games I miss most were either highly creative (Apples to Apples, LARPs) or I created them in the first place (as the game master or game designer).

How does this relate to Sakey's article?

Don't play video games.

Or rather, go ahead and play them, but realize that there is a world of other games available to draw on. Can you find a game like Apples to Apples on the computer? Such simplicity and depth - no, it means nothing when you aren't face to face. Can you find a computer game which turns good friends as horrifyingly evil as a game of Diplomacy? I doubt it - I haven't. Can you find a game as beautifully cooperative as the Lord of the Rings board game? Pshaw, you can see a shadow of a shadow of it in that Final Fantasy Chalice game thingie. Can you find a game as stunningly mind-boggling as Nobilis? As entertainingly zany as Kobolds Ate My Baby? As bizarrely tongue-in-cheek as Baron Munchausen?

These games capture an essence of creation which computer games have not yet matched, largely because computer games have slow, narrow, unempathic communication when compared to games in person.

It's not about creation. There are lots of games which let you create. The only ones which are successful are the ones which let you share what you create. The Sims is an excellent example. Not only does it let you interact ("share") with fake people, it also offers a huge community of real people. You are never far from a person while playing with Sims.

People are driven to create in every game - even games which expressly prohibit creation and implicitly crush creativity. Like almost every MMORPG ever. They route around this and create "on the side".

So, yes, by all means play games. But don't forget there is a world of games outside the games you play. Think you're an experienced player? Well, how about limrick-games, drinking games, and dodgeball? Played any recently? How about charades? And, of course, if you haven't played METEOR! or Almost Noble, you haven't lived.

Every time I play a game outside my purview, I gain new insight into a facet of gameplay I wasn't aware of.

Sakey is absolutely right. In fact, I think he's understating the matter.


Craig Perko said...

Addendum: This is a really huge topic that could make a book.

For example, the fact that computer games have such restricted communication means that they can't use the exact same methods. You can't write a "face-to-face fun" game for the internet, because the feedback is too limited. It would be a shadow.

You have to use slightly more indirect methods - offering different rewards and either very fast or exceedingly slow social play.

(This is one of the reasons I think The Sims Online died. They tried to base the game on a method of communication, but the game couldn't implement a channel anywhere near wide enough.)

Patrick Dugan said...

I've considered playing as many games as possible to be part of my education, and from these endeavors I've come up with some interesting theory cues, as playing lots of table-top games has done for you. I've got most of the old console games under my belt, which has taught me a lot about level design principles, and I've learned a bit about PAC from the brief times where I've run table-top games. Your post makes me think that I really ought to play more of the games that you describe, while I have the chance, since scultping social challenge, even if its with virtual people, is where I'm trying to go with my career in the near future. I think I'm gonna order the LOTR board game for Christmas and play it with my family, that should teach me a lesson about gameplay and provide some much needed quality time.

Great post Craig.

Craig Perko said...

You'll need at least three players, but it's definitely an experience.

Anonymous said...

Cool people have taken over video games, so with nothing left dorks are seeking out *gulp* the real world.

In elementary school back in the days of Super Mario and Donkey Kong, oh man I was all for it. But now? I find gaming boring. Sure, it's more dynamic than it used to be and the graphics are incredible, but I don't want to spend my life in front of a gaming console.

In terms of traditional bored games? Blaugh.

Craig Perko said...

I agree with you, Anon. Once we start catering to the masses, we lose the experts. That's how it is in every situation.

Of course, not everyone has to cater to the masses. There's room in this industry for both types of games.

Kestrel404 said...

Winning the game retroactively had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I was Chronos. It just became exponentially more appropriate. :p

Craig Perko said...

I never said it did. The quote is fun, though, don't you think?