downfall

The Wrong Ending

November 15, 2011 - Features / Tragic Ends

Mass Effect screenshot

So the blog’s been a bit on the sporadic side lately and, in all honesty, it probably will be until after Thanksgiving. My apologies! On the upside, something pretty grand has been happening while I was away. Dan Cox of Digital Ephemera, with the help of commenter Ari, has taken some rough ideas in my post on Moral Incentives and Story Structure and made something terrific out of them. In a series of posts  at his blog, Dan and Ari have been seriously tackling a question that I raised sort of tangentially: can a videogame be a tragedy? If so, how would you design such a game?

Some highlights from this rich discussion include What Happens Next, in which Dan takes on the issue of asymmetrical knowledge in tragedies, game-based or otherwise; Tragedy Drivers, which discusses some of the design constraints on a tragic game; and Flaws in Virtual Tragedy, which directly applies concepts from Aristotle’s Poetics to the debate. It’s all awesome stuff, go read it. A lot of what we’ve been talking about so far, both at Digital Ephemera and here, boils down to how interactivity philosophically clashes with the basic assumptions of tragedy as Aristotle saw them. I’d like to jump off Dan’s thoughts on asymmetrical knowledge and talk about some of the practical issues with designing tragic games.

To start with, let’s lay out some basic premises about tragedy in games:

  1. The emotional impact of tragedy comes from a cosmic punishment of an essentially sympathetic protagonist’s fatal flaw.
  2. In games, punishment of the protagonist lacks impact unless the player is punished as well.
  3. Players tend to optimize systems, all else being equal.

Premise #1 comes from Aristotle, basically. Premises #2 and #3 are perhaps more arguable, and are certainly not universal. However, they do represent important general differences between game players and other sorts of audiences.

When you take these three premises together, you start to see some of the problems that games have with presenting tragedy in a meaningful way. You can have something tragic happen to the protagonist without any consequences for the player, as in Shadow of the Colossus. Your feeling of hard-earned victory contrasted with Wander’s inevitable downfall creates a dissonance between the player and the avatar that Colossus uses to great effect, but it isn’t quite the same thing as classical tragedy. The effect on the audience of classical tragedy derives from sympathy with the protagonist; if you and the protagonist are pulling in different directions, this effect can’t be recreated.

The solution, then, is to punish the player as well as the protagonist. But how do you do this? You can’t just change the emotional tone of a cutscene and call that punishing the player. The player is in this for engagement, and sad things can be just as engaging as happy things. To punish the player meaningfully, you have to affect gameplay. You can take resources away, forcing the player to change her strategy. You can take content away, so that the player sees less of the story or game world under certain circumstances. You can make the game more difficult (which may be a punishment or a reward, depending on the player). You can make the player’s quest goals go unfulfilled. There’s a lot you can do, and many games have tried these tactics and others.

That said, as Dan points out, if something bad inevitably happens to the player, there’s no cosmic punishment. For the full tragic effect, the downfall has to be a consequence of the hero’s flaw or mistake. There needed to be a point where the downfall could have been avoided. But as soon as that’s the case, premise #3 jumps in and ruins everything: if there’s a sequence of events where the player gets less stuff, however stuff is defined, players will always view that sequence as “wrong.” This is a common complaint in RPGs with morality systems: usually, being a dick means you take on fewer quests, so why would you want to be a dick? If you get punished for some behavior in a game, well, that wasn’t what you were supposed to do. To optimize the system, you have to avoid the mistake.

It’s not that players won’t sometimes pursue a “wrong” path, for kicks or to get an achievement or to see different versions of the story. The problem is that their reasons for doing so have a tendency to be lighthearted, precisely because the path seems wrong to them. It’s a diversion on the way to to the correct ending. Dan’s post describes a common experience with Mass Effect 2, in which the player initially gets an ending where several team members die and later goes back for a second playthrough where the team survives. Since this ending will be imported into Mass Effect 3, getting it right is particularly important to many players.

That sense that the happy ending is the one where you got things right is pervasive in games stories – and really, in how we talk about other kinds of stories as well. Indeed, much of the emotional impact of a tragedy comes from the audience’s perception of other, better paths the hero could have taken. If only Lear had trusted Cordelia. If only Romeo and Juliet had coordinated their plans better. If only, then things would have turned out right. The line between tragedy and comedy (in the classical sense) is often one false move or twist of fate, and both the relief of a happy ending and the anguish of a tragic ending come from the audience’s knowledge of the other turn the story could have taken. Tragedy is the wrong ending.

So how do you get a player to pick the wrong ending? More importantly, how do you get her to do that and still care?

I’ll take that question up in a subsequent post. For now, I’ll leave it at this: the trick is to get the player to be willing to go down the wrong path, with the right path still in sight. Getting that to work is a balancing act that few games have figured out how to pull off.

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› tags: mass effect 2 / player manipulation / shadow of the colossus / tragedy /

  • Dan Cox

    I’m a little iffy on you saying one ending is “wrong”. Doesn’t that imply that other(s) are the “right” ending(s) and is at best an interpretation? However, I understand the need to think of — between outcomes of a choice — one of them being the /right/ one and another the /wrong/ one. If you treat your companions as your friends, then, them living at then ending of the game is definitely the /right/ ending.

    My own shorthand for understanding Poetics is this sentence: “For the deed must either be done or not done — and that wittingly or unwittingly.” [Additionally, that “deed” must be: “between those who are near or dear to one another.”]

    I was going to write about the dissonance of Shadow of the Colossus at some point, but I can do it here instead. Basically, the game cheats. It gives (nearly) the same information to the player that it gives to the character Wander — the only main difference is that Wander knew to come to the area before the story starts. However, we, as players, do not understand the language they are speaking and so we /assume/, as we have learned from other games, that killing things is the “right” thing to do. The beauty is how the game does nothing overt to dissuade us of this notion until it is too late.

    In my opinion, similar to that of BioShock, the tragedy arises not out of player choice but player ignorance. Playing as Jack (the first time), I did not know that “Would you kindly…?” would trigger actions. The same is true for Wander. I did not know my actions would cause what finally happens. Shadow of the Colossus is closer to Aristotelian tragedy in that way (“done… unwittingly”), however, as you said, “[the] feeling of hard-earned victory contrasted with Wander’s inevitable downfall creates a dissonance between the player and the avatar.” By giving the player a choice in the decision, Premise #3 (e.g. not “consistently inconsistent”) come into, well, play.

    I don’t know if you have started in on your next post yet, but consider looking at (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eucatastrophe). It’s J.R.R. Tolkien’s word for “bad situation suddenly revealed to be fortunate” (i.e. Aristotle’s peripeteia: “action veers round to its opposite, subject always to our rule of probability or necessity”). From within the framework of the story, even “wrong” endings can, in the end, be seen as “right”. The hero died, but a truce was called. Tragedy can teach.

  • http://thepretentiousgamer.blogspot.com Rachel

    Hmmm… I think Bastion does a pretty good job of being tragic, even though there are only two narrative choices in the game. I blogged about it (http://thepretentiousgamer.blogspot.com/2011/11/bastion-as-tragedy.html), basically, I feel like it’s a tragedy because I chose the “wrong” ending without meaning to be the bad guy. But I could be wrong.

  • Ari

    Welcome to the ongoing discussion, Rachel! It’s always fun to throw another point of view into the mix.

    After having read your blog, I concluded that a game can indeed be tragic if the player is led to believe that what they’re making the character do is really the right thing. A tragic character makes a wrong decision at the point of no return when his better judgment is compromised by his fatal flaw.

    But here the asymmetrical knowledge problem rears its head: wouldn’t the player, with their more expansive view on the situation, already know or suspect that the decision is wrong? The player is responsible for the character’s actions: if the player knows better, why doesn’t the character?

    The game could lead the player to believe that the decision is actually correct, either by outright misleading, or by withholding information, but this could very easily be seen as cheating on behalf of the designer. Even if you could find a way to do this without cheating, as Shadow of the Colossus seems to do, the effect loses its punch after the player beats the game the first time, or if they somehow find out (e.g. through spoilers) that a given decision will end the game in tragedy. Is foreknowledge of tragedy really that tragic?

    For the theater audience, it is: theatergoers know from the beginning how Oedipus’s tale will end, but it’s the tension of watching him slide toward his doom that gives the play its emotional impact. The fundamental difference, of course, is that theater isn’t interactive, whereas games are.

    I’ll try to have replies for Line and Dan later tonight.

  • http://thepretentiousgamer.blogspot.com Rachel

    Hmm… you’re right in that there’s not really an overt foreknoweldge of the tragedy in Bastion, but you are informed of what will happen for whatever decision you make just beforehand. I wonder if you could play a game that had only a tragic ending, which was revealed to you from the beginning–if that could be a tragedy.

    It seems like there’s this inherent assumption that completing a game is the same as winning or getting a happy ending; it would be interesting to see a game that doesn’t do that (and not just for the sake of setting up a sequel). But would someone play a game where a win condition doesn’t exist?

    • Ari

      @Rachel:
      I asked myself (and Dan) that very question not too long ago, here: http://videlais.com/2011/10/25/tragedy-drivers/

      Allow me to quote myself:
      “Should the designer set the game on a straight track to tragedy, such that the player is ensured to get a tragic, impactful ending? I thought it was a good idea, until I realized that it wouldn’t be that different from setting the game on the track to success, which the vast majority of games do today (and have done in the past). If the player fails a mission, they must retake it until they succeed.”

      “While a tragedy game is feasible, a game in which tragedy is the only possible outcome is, I feel, not the best solution. Without the option to do evil acts, players can’t choose to do good. Without the possibility of a happy ending, players can’t feel responsible for a tragic one.”

      As for the happy ending scenario…
      “I also came across an interesting paradox, mainly the fact that, in most games, the player wants the best for his or her character. But again, here we’re optimizing for tragedy, so how exactly does the game handle this? Do the rules lead the player toward the fall, or do they offer fleeting chances to try and save the character? If saving the character from the fall becomes ever more difficult as the game progresses, wouldn’t a player rise to the challenge? And if they accept that challenge as being the main gameplay feature, how do we lead players toward tragedy?”

      A tragedy game wouldn’t be one in which a typical ‘win scenario’ exists. You win when you succeed at getting the tragic ending.

      • http://thepretentiousgamer.blogspot.com Rachel

        yeah, I’ve been skimming your blog posts in my RSS, so maybe those ideas have been floating around in my head :-)

  • http://linehollis.wordpress.com Line Hollis

    Thanks for the links, guys! I’ll check those out before I get to part 2. One point of clarification, @Dan: when I talk about the “wrong” ending here, I mean “wrong” in terms of how a hypothetical optimizing player would view it. I don’t want to attach any absolute value judgments to one ending over another. For my part, I love tragic endings and wish I got more of them, which is much of my motivation for participating in this discussion.

    I haven’t played Bastion, but I think I had a similar experience on my first playthrough of Dragon Age 2. In that case, however, my character consciously chose a path she knew would end badly, but which she felt morally compelled to choose anyway. That’s a case where I as a player definitely had foreknowledge that *something* bad would happen, but the tension was still there in seeing how things would go down. Ari, what do you think interactivity changes about a situation like this?

    • Ari

      Quick reply for now, to Line:
      I love how you stated the problem here at the top of the page: “The effect on the audience of classical tragedy derives from sympathy with the protagonist; if you and the protagonist are pulling in different directions, this effect can’t be recreated.”
      Bingo. We’re talking about the player empathizing with the character vs. the player optimizing for tragedy, by steering the game towards a tragic ending. In order for this to work, in order for the player to move the character toward a tragic ending rather than away from it, their empathy for the character must exceed their desire to optimize, at least for a time. By empathy, I mean that they must want what the character wants, and help them to achieve their goal, even (especially) at the cost of a tragic ending.
      Optionally, the player must belive that the steps that lead to optimizing for tragedy are the way to bring about the best ending. Tragedy need not be the only way to go, but it should be somehow desirable to the player.

      • Ari

        Blah…I said it wrong. Empathizing with the character would lead *to* optimizing for tragedy, not *away from* it. I empathize with the moth, so I lead it to the flame, knowing full well what’ll happen next.

    • Ari

      @Line:
      I love your example from DA2 about having been morally compelled to choose a path you knew would be bad…but was that related to tragedy, or was it more along the lines of your character doing the right thing regardless of the cost to herself? In either case, great example of empathy there, of thinking as the character instead of as a player. I’ve been trying to come up with more ways to reward the player for playing that way (other than through the ubiquitous achievements): the fact that the tension was present is probably the best sort of reward. It kept you engaged and it rewarded your involvement.

      With interactivity, you were able to define the character the way that you wanted. You were presented with a situation, and your reaction to it helped flesh out the character not only in your mind, but in the game as well. I’d love it if games would let you choose not only how you react in a given situation, but why, i.e. letting you define a character’s motivation.
      Was that a sufficient answer to your question? I may not have covered it properly.

      • http://linehollis.wordpress.com Line Hollis

        No, she definitely ended up doing the wrong thing! I think Mallory’s storyline works as a classical tragedy, where her fatal flaw is feeling compelled to put her family (however she defines family) above everything else, even her own moral judgement. A Michael Corleone kind of tragic figure, in a way.

        Of course, that motivation is something I bring to the table as a player – like you say, there’s not a lot of room to define your motivation within the game. DA2 is a great move in that direction, but it still basically adopts the position that your motivation doesn’t really matter in functional terms. It lets you choose how to act, and leaves any internal struggles in the player’s mind, if they’re interested. That’s not a bad strategy. But maybe if you force a player to think through their character’s motivation by making it part of the game, you would increase that empathy you’re talking about. There are a few times in both Dragon Age games where a character asks you why the hell you did something, and I really wish those conversations were a bigger part of the game. It’s a great tactic for character-building.

  • Dan Cox

    @Rachel: I really, really like Bastion but there are some majors problems with its use of knowledge. (Most of which I highlighted in this spoiler laden thread from a couple weeks ago: https://plus.google.com/112826423224865921778/posts/1gkVHU3v9nE#112826423224865921778/posts/1gkVHU3v9nE). In summary, the narrator is not just “unreliable”, as you said Rachel, but /highly/ unreliable. The problem though is how the player comes to know that, via the dream sequences — which are all optional. It leads the player, /if/ you believe the narrator, into choosing, as you said, the genocide or “bad”/”wrong” ending.

    You didn’t know that ending was “bad” though /unless/ you were aware of the other possibilities. Your ending is just your ending. Assigning it a value judgement can only be done in context with other choices, /knowledge/ of other choices. That brings us, of course, back to the problem of knowledge asymmetry in multiple playthroughs and in-moment decision-making.

    @Ari: That knowledge asymmetry is crazy, right? The fundamental issue — “if the player knows better, why doesn’t the character?” — is at the root of this whole problem. Essentially, at least how I see it, *ALL* games with a narrative are affected by this. If you are ever given a choice, as a player, then this comes into focus and you must, as a designer, find some way to deal with it. With sites like Kotoku (and others) announcing in their headlines spoilers from a game, how do you avoid it? Some games even advertise the number of endings on their boxes! Having that knowledge affects planning which affects choices which affects play.

    I still haven’t played Dragon Age 2 — still working on Dragon Age: Origins — and yet Line just shaded my future experience by telling me it has a (possible) tragic ending. [Not to worry, Line. I have been more affected by your Twitter in that regard than than this single line. Also, I’ll probably forget what was said by the time I get around to the game anyway. Please don’t worry about it.]

    Knowledge brings with it a choice. Choosing /not/ to take action is still a choice. That is the direction I feel designers should look at this. Understand that this is an issue and then work from there. Yes, knowledge asymmetry is a problem — *all* stories start in media res for the reader. Delivering exposition, via unreliable narrators, should start from this base assumption and tell the story in such a way that the players have the knowledge they need (or not) as *their* /narrative/ demands. Let me make my own choices and, through that, have the story move to support (or not) what I experience.

    Playing through Dragon Age: Origins, as I mentioned above, I have come into this problem over and over and over again. As I am sure dmccool would point out, players have been /trained/ to trust that the dialogue choices that a game gives you are truthful ones. How do you know that though? I have noted down several examples where the dialogue choices are not just interpretation differences but radically different in how they approach a problem. Taken from a meta-narrative point of view (i.e. me as player), I have to entertain paradoxical interpretations of the events or conversations in question /before/ I can choose something. I have to try to understand why any of the choices *might* be valid before I can choose any of them — in the process diverging the narrative (at best) or breaking the fourth wall (at worst).

    [There, Line. You said I could leave a 500+ word comment. I just did.]

    • http://linehollis.wordpress.com Line Hollis

      LOL yeah, Twitter’s pretty bad for spoilers. I pretty much had to shut it off for a few days last week so I could come to Skyrim with relatively fresh eyes. Sorry to contribute to the problem!

      I’m curious about the conflicting dialogue choices you mention from DA:O, and how they tie in to the problem of asymmetrical knowledge. What are some examples?

      • Dan Cox

        I still plan to get you some examples — I wrote down to do it. However, it might be some time (e.g. weeks) before I get around to it. I haven’t — as it often the case — played /any/ games, let alone Dragon Age, in a couple weeks.

        I’ll make it a post and link back to your question. It might be interesting to look at the effect of knowledge asymmetry in this aspect of many game experiences.

  • http://linehollis.wordpress.com Line Hollis

    Rachel :

    It seems like there’s this inherent assumption that completing a game is the same as winning or getting a happy ending; it would be interesting to see a game that doesn’t do that (and not just for the sake of setting up a sequel). But would someone play a game where a win condition doesn’t exist?

    Yeah, this is a tough one. It’s odd, because sad stories in other media can be extremely satisfying. But if you give people a choice, it’s hard for them to choose something bad happening to a character they identify with so much. I think your comment really gets at the point: as players, we tend to identify completion with winning, and winning with a good outcome.

    I’ll get to this more in the second post, but the simplest answer I can think of is to make the choice less obvious. It still has to be a choice, but it can be a choice you made long ago with unforeseen consequences, or a choice that you didn’t make consciously but that the game picks up on through your behavior. Then you just need to make sure the ending is satisfying, even if it isn’t happy…

  • Ari

    Man, I need to get my own blog up and running…

    I still feel at times that trying to put tragedy in a video game is, as I’ve told Dan, like trying to put a square peg into a round hole. Video games ideally offer the player a multitude of choices, yet tragedy works when the tragic character’s choices are gradually lessened until he has lost the ability to change. Their flaw subsumes their better judgment, they react rather than act, and in the end, tragedy befalls them at last. Sound like any players you know? E.g. I died so many times in Ninja Gaiden because I resorted to button-mashing rather than try to think tactically and use Ryu’s various move options. I had choices, but I cast them aside. Tragedy in games can be done if we’re ready to rethink some long-standing concepts in game design. In essence, to get that square peg to fit, we have to widen the hole.

    Interactivity changes everything, and trying to bring forth the typical emotional response to classical tragedy might not cut it in games. What if the emotion we expected from players was Schadenfreude (possibly followed by guilt over having ruined the character’s life)? Not sure if this would lead to catharsis, but consider: many video games are cathartic experiences from beginning to end, purging negative emotions, relieving emotional tensions, and all that good stuff (usually through combat).

    A tragedy game will require that players put themselves in a co-author role; however, most players have come to expect a rather high degree of direction from the game. In order to beat most games today, the player simply has to complete the challenges the way the designer intended. Players can’t be passive while playing an interactive medium, let alone a tragedy game in which (bad) choices are so important. Players aren’t movie-goers; they have the power to decide what to do, where to go. Games must give them the power to make these choices, sometimes hard choices. But when making choices in games is as easy as pressing one button over another, or scrolling through a list of options, how do we simulate the real-life difficulty of deciding between right and wrong, bad and worse?

    The solution I’ve been working on is this one: the choices must have varying difficulty levels. Choosing may not necessarily require the player to complete a puzzle or input an elaborate button sequence in a QTE, but some choices must be harder than others.
    Also, the player should be given several chances to change his mind; it is only in giving up those chances, in refusing to back down, that the choice is at last made.
    As the game progresses and the character’s flaw dominates his personality, bad choices become easier, and yield greater rewards for him. He stops soul-searching and second-guessing himself as he becomes convinced that he’s on the right path. Although the consequences become ever more dire, he ignores them. His friends and allies stop supporting him, but he doesn’t need them – or so he thinks: he’s strong enough to stand alone. He loses their help, but he gains power. The designer is punishes the player by removing a resource, but lets the player optimize the system by making the lead character stronger. Premises 2 & 3 – covered!

    My idea for ‘optimizing for tragedy’ is to reward the use of the flaw, and to tie it into the game. Structure the whole character build around the flaw, with flaw-based powers and abilities that require FP (flaw points) instead of XP. Making choices that lead to tragedy results in a more powerful, yet more heavily flawed, character.

    Tragedy is new to games, and new gameplay experiences will require that we re-evaluate the player’s role in the game. But how do designers facilitate the necessary shift in the player’s mindset? How do we let players know that they’re going to have to think of their role in the game in a new way? I have yet to come up with a satisfactory answer.

    A game designer must keep the following questions in mind: What is the gameplay trying to say? What is the story trying to say? (Make sure these two mesh, to avoid ludonarrative dissonance) And what is the player allowed to say within the limitations of the rules? (Games, like other art forms, are about communication: allowing the player to communicate is essential. Play style matters!)

    The main problem with empathizing with a tragic hero is the uncertainty of how the players will relate to him. If they like him, why are they doing this to him? If they don’t like him, why are they playing? Empathy with the main character must be established, or there is no story. It’s possible for players to both like and dislike the character, to favor certain character traits over others, or to change their opinion of him over the course of the game (i.e. first they like him, then they love him, then they hate him). Indeed, tragedy games may even require this change in POV in order to work.

    It may seem like the game first “rewards” you for playing the character as flawed, and then “punishes” you for having developed the flaw so much. The player may rightly ask in frustration “What do you want from me?” Here’s my answer: “I want you to decide. I want you to live with the consequences of your decisions.” Would this be a form of ludonarrative dissonance? I doubt it: the game and the story are not necessarily at odds, considering that this is a tragic game. A player could very well forfeit the flaw powers as a self-imposed challenge, resulting in a harder game with a less tragic ending.

    Thoughts?

    • http://linehollis.wordpress.com Line Hollis

      Yeah, I noticed you setting up the WordPress account. Welcome to the time suck, my friend! :D

      Here’s where I take exception to your square-peg-round-hole analogy: I really don’t think we have *any* idea yet what shape the videogame hole is. It’s too early on, and we haven’t come close to mapping the design space. I think the big reason we take up questions like “can you do tragedy in a game” is precisely to test out the boundaries. I think that some of the constraints you point out are likely to be insurmountable, and they may mean you can’t pull off a classical tragedy with the same kind of emotional response, sure. But jamming that square peg in means we might figure out some unexpected corner of the space that *is* open, that we wouldn’t have found otherwise.

      I agree that figuring out that progression of empathy with the hero is probably the most important part of this thought experiment. That’s something that needs more attention overall: different ways to approach the player/avatar relationship. The naive model is that they’re in perfect sympathy, but to pull off some of these more exotic gameplay styles we gotta figure out how to complicate that while still being engaging.

      • http://gravatar.com/aristolar aristolar

        So in other words, we poke and prod, try with what we’ve got, see what works, redefine whatever doesn’t. The only way to find the walls of this dark cave we’re in is to explore it from the inside. Works for me.

        All art forms are different, and changing from one form to another (e.g. making a novel about a game, or a comic book about a movie) will necessarily lose something in the translation.

        The relationship between the player and the character definitely needs some thought. I know that Dan’s been working on that quite a lot, and I hope he’ll share his findings soon.

        Ideally, yes, player and character should be in perfect harmony, and that is an ideal to shoot for. There may even be a way for the game to measure when that harmony is at its best, and when it’s lacking. How the game might adjust for the times in which it’s low, though, I have no idea yet.

  • Dan Cox

    aristolar :
    I know that Dan’s been working on that quite a lot, and I hope he’ll share his findings soon.

    No pressure, huh? I have a ton — literally an inch-and-a-half worth of printed documents — of research on the subject to look over at some point. I have a half-dozen books I plan to buy too once I get more money. (My number one loss of money is toward books every month. I end up buying at least four or five a month. At least.)

    In the meantime, have a look at this. Janet Murray, of Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace, seems to have a blog now. In fact, in reading over that link the other day, I could not help but to think about my own stab at The Third Self. I’ve been meaning, among a great number of other topics including video game weddings, to write something on that.

    I’ve also been meaning to revisit Understanding Media (by Marshall McLuhan) as well as The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects. In understanding how the medium of games changes us, in the process of play, it will be necessary to examine how it transforms how we think within its bounds and from our now changed view of the world after interacting with the medium. Because it is a medium — as I have put in other places, a “language” — and I do not agree with many of these points.

    We are already seeing the effects of gamification — a very troubling word if not also concept; something else to write about one day. In very basic summary, through the paradigm of game design (basically the ideas from Reality is Broken), we can come to challenge and motivate people toward a goal in reality — like designers do in a game. How we go about motivating people is often a major ethical issue in that regard though. I have some very strong words for the troubling take I often see of gamification = constant rewards. Addiction is still addiction even if its only giving points away.

    Anyway, yes, I am working on it. But I am also a student. And I have a job. If someone wants to pay my bills, I would gladly devout several weeks into just parsing all this material. I have considered, not totally jokingly, of writing a book on the intersection of narrative theory and game design. If I did, it would probably go a long way toward me getting into graduate school. Hmm.

  • Ari

    Books? Oooh… I’d love to see the list of your library titles. Right now my humble collection consists of Game Design: Secrets of the Sages, Gave Development Essentials, Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams on Game Design, Creating Emotion in Games, and A Theory of Fun. I’m working on doubling the size of my collection very soon.

    A book on narrative theory and game design…that’d be quite handy. I hope you get it written some day.

  • Ari

    Bwahaha…three of the five books I ordered from Amazon have come in already. Homo Ludens by Johan Huizinga, The Art of Game Design by Jesse Schell, and Beyond Game Design by Chris Bateman.

    • Dan Cox

      Three quick comments:
      1) Ari, you really need a blog. You have great ideas. You can obviously write. Please think about starting a blog. And, after starting it, let me know about it. Then I can leave long comments on your posts too.
      2) Homo Ludens by Johan Huizinga is really good. Huizinga is the forerunner for most of the modern ludology thinking. However, it also means that his book, written several decades ago, can be fairly boring in places and, at least for me, way over my head in its discussion of the philology aspects to the words “play” and “game” in other cultures and languages.
      3) I’ll see about typing up a list of Recommended Reading at some point. In the meantime, and if you still have the money to spent currently, definitely grab Critical Play, The Grasshopper and Reality is Broken. (I just added the other two you mentioned, which I have not read, to my own Wish List.)

  • Ari

    1- Oh, trust me, Dan: I have thought about starting up a blog. I want to; I plan to. I just haven’t done it yet. Won’t be for a while, but you can bet that I’ll be giving you and Line the URL once it’s up. I in fact look forward to reading your and Line’s responses.
    2- I knew you’d be familiar with the title, maybe even have read it. If I’d have told my coworkers that I’ve picked up Homo Ludens, they’d ask if it’s contagious. My friends, on the other hand, all know about my passion for games, so they’d at least figure that any new book of mine would most likely be about gaming.
    3- I haven’t read any of the books you listed, but I am familiar with Jane McGonigal through an online video of hers from TED.com. I share her optimism in a brighter future through games, though not to the same degree.

  • Ari

    Aaaand got the other two: Chris Crawford on Interactive Storytelling, and Rules of Play by Salen and Zimmerman.

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