Or find someone else who can be critical…

October 29th, 2010

My twin brother is the vice president of the Game Developers Club at Adelaide University. Just recently he gave a presentation titled Meaningful Play to his peers and further posted the presentation up on Youtube. After watching his presentation, I buzzed him an email reviewing his theory on game design (which nicely falls into the first part of the presentation, below). You can watch the presentation here, here and here in its 23 minute entirety. For now though I have included the first part of the video and my response to it.

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Firstly, I think it is dangerous to use a subjective adjective like “meaningful” in discussing games. Anyone can find anything to be meaningful. It would be better to discuss the game in regards to design and not include one’s ideas which are external to the game. This is something I have mentioned in my tweets recently.

By meaningful, I think you mean interplay. Your quotes from Rules of Play all allude to interplay but are put in a complicated way and fail to sharply address what the relationship is between reactions and gameplay. When you say things in your own words or use examples it’s clear that there is some confusion in your understanding. Here is a clearer quote for you of how games are meaningful:

“interplay is where actions and elements in a game aren’t means to an end, but fluid opportunities that invite the player to play around with the changing situation”

You can read a full description here with examples.

And one by me here

You’ll note your quote on the descriptive definition (slide) is similar to the quote I use in my post, but it goes a little further to add the “fluid opportunities that invite the player to play around with the changing situation”. Meaningful play is not simply that games react to the player (as your quote in the initial slide suggests), it is instead that the reactions lead to more interactions (interplay). And the more interplay there is between mechanics the greater depth and “meaningfulness” there is.

Your quotes exclude or aren’t clear on this point and so too is your understanding. For example, in the slide on the descriptive definition your own words say that the push and pull reaction between mechanics (interplay) allow us to understand the mechanics which are inside the game. This doesn’t say anything about the way reactions work to open opportunities for more interaction.

The evaluative definition is also very nebulous and doesn’t answer it’s own point . I would question your quote by then asking “and what is that then?” or “so what actually occurs?”. This quote is like saying, “chocolate ice cream is what happens when chocolate and ice cream come together” instead of “chocolate icecream is chocalate flavoured ice-cream”.

Your words here are again not so relevant to the quote.

The discernable part and what you then say about it irks me. How well the games makes the unfolding of interplay apparent is not a measure of how much interplay there is in a game. Putting it another way, lucidity!=a part measure of “meaningfullness”. And you certainly can’t use it as a quotient to compare with other games. Furthermore, how can we even compare the levels of interaction in an interactive medium with mediums that have no interaction as you say?

Intergrated is all fine though.

In the bullet point slide it’s clear that you are tripping up on this needlessly complex language.

The noughts and crosses board is actually a mirror and the pieces are halves. Not sure if you noticed that. In this example, you fail to discuss interplay and “discernability”. What you want to say is that when placing a piece on the board, wherever placed, this changes the game for the other player as they must alter their strategy every turn. This interplay is discernable through the representation of the pieces on the board in regards to matching three.

In your Tetris example you again don’t discuss “discernabilty” in regards to the outcome of the interaction/interplay/the terms and conditions of “meaningful play” (ok, no more “meaningful play” from here!) . That is, when you destroy blocks through making a tetris you see new block formations open up which creates new and different opportunities to interact (via your block placement). This is readily discernable as the player can see the visual structure of the collection of blocks and what happens when they remove them and the blocks rearrange.

Personally, I wouldn’t have used chess as the 3rd example as the interplay is similar to noughts and crosses (players pipping players with the position of their pieces). But more so as it actually subverts this whole notion of discernability through the “unknown implications” which you back-peddle on. You need to be clear and say that the fact that I move a chess piece and then physically release it says that I have completed the action. The releasing of the piece represents the end of the “move mechanic” and allows the players to therefore intepret moving as a mechanical feature of the system of rules that is chess.

What you say about the environment (level design?) isn’t so much about the environment itself as much as it is the things in them and how they effect the existing rule system. What you mean here is counterpoint. Again, another quote and another link:

“Counterpoint, in gaming, is a word for the way gameplay develops past optimization by layering interactive elements into a single gameplay experience. When each layer influcences, interacts, and enhances the functions/gameplay of each other layer the gameplay emerges into a medium of expression that reflects the individuality of a player and the dynamics that reflect the complexity of the world we live in.”

Basically, the way elements of games (enemies, time limits, exploding barrels) create ripples in the interplay. And here is an example.

The Killzone 2 example is a killer, but it should have been under the other heading as it has nothing to do with the environment/counterpoint and is actually about discernability (clarity is a better word, I think) and how it cushions the reload mechanic. Using the word “consequence” is a bad choice.

The Uncharted example is again a good example but it is more about camera angles as validation for chunks of gameplay than counterpoint which you asserted as “environment” at the start of this slide.

The last part on this slide about breaking rules makes no sense to me as your 2 examples weren’t about rules, but rather mechanics and camera.

The Mario slide is utterly confusing and full of holes. You ought to talk about the way the fire flower allows Mario to gun down enemies, Super Mario can break blocks and small Mario walk through tight places. These are all good examples of the integration (level design and mechanics work together).

However, I don’t like this term as tracking the relationship between mechanics, interplay and loads of counterpoint and level design is impossible to do without generalisation. Also certain parts have strong and weak integration respective of their strong/weak roles in the system of rules and mechanics.