The Game Design Research Symposium and Workshop on May 7th-8th in Copenhagen arranged by Staffan Bj?rk, Interactive Institute, Sweden; Aki J?rvinen, Veikkaus, The Finnish National Lottery; Jussi Holopainen, Nokia Research Center, Finland; Steffen P. Walz, University for Art, Media and Design Zurich; Espen Aarseth, IT-University of Copenhagen.
I was asked how many game developers attended the event, and it’s hard to answer because no count was made, but: The attendance had been set to a max of 25 people, and 25 people attended. As a whole, about 1/3 of the attendees appeared to have been involved in commercial game development in some form, but with only a few full-time developers present. (Perhaps the full-time developers were developing games full-time?)
I will not attempt a complete recap of the event, but rather point to a few recurring themes that connect with my personal work.
The question of content
Gonzalo Frasca presented a position statement on political game design. In a nutshell: Games that don’t want to be just entertaining. And Gonzalo went against 4 things:
-Against virtuality (all games have consequences, anger, and so on).
-Against immersion (immersion removes the critical attitude of the player – this is the Brechtian theme in Gonzalo’s work).
-Against gameplay (great gameplay renders the rules invisible – same problem as before).
-Against fun (games are real pain and real suffering; all great games have boring sessions
Somehow at odds with the last point above, Craig Lindley presented a follow-up to his presentation at the Tampere conference in 2002. Being both a formal description of games and a normative suggestion for how to make games, Lindley discussed how to use a three-act model for recursively analyzing games (well, read the paper). Truth be told, since the Tampere conference I have always pointed to Craig Lindley as the “narratologist” whenever I needed to name one. As I interpret it, part of Lindley’s work focuses on making games that are always interesting, and I agree with Gonzalo Frasca that games are by virtue also partly boring and unsatisfying.
If Lindley’s presentation had formal aspects, it was by far outdone by Stefan Gruenvogel’s presentation on using mathematical models for understanding games. I confess that this isn’t quite my field, but it centered on state spaces, mappings, and formal analysis of games.
The question of players
Hanna Wirman & Rika Nakamura (University of Lapland) presented the enigmatically titled paper “Opportunities and Disadvantages of Feminine Strategies in Computer Games”.
This was a refreshing piece in that it didn’t do what was expected of it: First of all, from a number of sources (such as “From Barbie to Mortal Kombat”), they had created a list of 11 strategies that “women like”. Here they are:
Co-operation, relationships, caring, realistic characters, female characters, player as protagonist, changing into something magical, non-violence, control of pace, own goals, realistic settings.
The surprising thing was that everybody in the audience expected them to start criticizing this as stereotyping, social constructions and so on, but that they didn’t.
Rather, they did something which I hadn’t seen explicitly performed in a paper, namely to look at whether these 11 strategies were viable strategies in The Sims, Arcanum: of Steamworks and Magick Obscura, and Warcraft III. As you might imagine, the Sims was the game were most of these “feminine” strategies worked (exception co-operation), the strategies worked the least in Warcraft III, and Arcanarum was somewhere in between.
After this, the presenters challenged the universality of the list by admitting to liking Warcraft III very much. Discussion ensued as to whether these weren’t stereotypes that should be challenged rather than accepted.
Following the presentations of John Salisbury (Middlesex University) and Laura Ermi & Frans M?yr? (Hypermedia Lab), discussion ensued on the issue of how to use players and designers in research. Can we ask players what they like and take it at face (or some other) value?
For example Richard Rouse III states that “Players don’t know what they want, but they want it when they see it.” I’ve also heard Mark Cerny make statements along the same lines.
Andrew J. Stapleton (Swinburne University of Technology) posed the question whether research through design can be justified within the scientific method – and answered this with a no, saying other models are needed.
Research and the game industry
Heather Kelly: What game developers need from game design research, even if they don’t know that they need it.
This was an informal discussion on the relation between developers and game design research. Heather asked for the following things:
-How to create more emotional involvement?
-Do people have different learning styles?
-More analysis and critique that’s not just journalism
-Better vocabulary for discussing games.
-More interesting interface technologies.
-How to create games that discuss moral issues; present the players with moral choices?
-How to preserve the history of games.
What is game design?
Eric Zimmerman presented a dynamic view of what game design is based on the more general framework from Salen & Zimmerman’s book Rules of Play.
Here’s the big quote:
Game designers create experiences, but only indirectly. The designer creates structures that the players meet. Game design is a second order design problem.
As the in-between person who game industry people often think of as academic and academics think of as a game developer, Eric explains game design research as both practically applicable and more general ways of framing games conceptually.
Much of his presentation was based on several iterations of a game design that ended up being four of the participants cast in the role of hungry sisters, picking numbers in order to race towards Heather Kelly who had food for them.
Also, we got a behind-the-scenes peek of the design process of the catch-the-butterflies-game Loop.
Research through design / for design / into design
The second day centered on three perspectives on game design, research through design, research for (the sake of design), and research into the design process.
Three (again) frameworks were presented for designing and understanding games, each of which was applied to Mario Kart: Double Dash.
Staffan Bjork and Jussi Holopainen presented the Game design patterns framework. This structural framework aims at identifying different design choices in games. For example: Powerups, boss monster. role reversals.
Steffen Walz presented his own Game Design Figures project, which aims to use rhetoric to classify if not patterns, then recurring elements of games. The goal is to collect 1000 figures. For example, Mario Kart: Double Dash contains peristasis – the showing of adversaries, diastole – lengthening gameplay by way of unlockables.
Aki J?rvinen presented a part of his Ph.D. project where he tries to connect the actual game mechanics of a game with the pleasures that the players can get from them. As can be seen on his web site, he has an elaborate scheme for describing games as procedures / components / goals / environment / interface / players / context. What makes this interesting is that he tries to connect this with a list of pleasures. The number 11 resurfaced:
- Challenge, masochism, intellect, discovery, sensation, fantasy, sadism, luck, narrative, fellowship, expression.
Different pleasures cater for different tastes and player types.
Finally, the participants where split into four groups, one playing Tetris, one playing GTA3: Vice City, and two playing the board game Carcassonne. After two hours of playing, the groups had to present the game to the whole symposium, preferably by having analyzed it with one or more of the three frameworks presented.
At the end of the day, dinner, and lots of suggestions for how to structure the second game design symposium, which hopefully will take place in less than a year.