June 17, 2003

Game Methodology (and misc.)

Lots of folk tinkering with blogs yesterday (yes, in my little world, two = "lots"). Rain must bring out the handy(wo)man in all of us. I recall Neal Stephenson saying something like "PC people are tinkerers; Mac users are aesthetic creeps." Well, maybe he just said "non-tinkerers." In any case, I think his point was that the Mac's sealed computers don't exactly lend themselves to tinkering. What does that make bloggers? Creepy tinkerers? I don't know. It's early, so don't expect me to make sense, or have any thread of argument.

Speaking of which, I think my wisdom teeth might be coming in. I only have the bottom two, in some weird shift of evolutionary oddness. And no so the backs of my gums are sore and I find myself constantly running my tongue over what feels like rough edges trying to poke through soft tissue. Maybe not dinner time conversation, but there it is. So I think I need to find a dentist - anyone in the area have suggestions? I would prefer someone who doesn't laugh (or heck, even smile) when the tools are laid out, glistening. In fact, someone who just blinks I-Dream-of-Jeanie-style in order to remove plague and tartar. No drills necessary in that. Saw Little Shop of Horrors one too many times as a kid I guess. L's worse - she screamed during the dentist scenes in Finding Nemo, prompting one kid in the birthday party group behind us to mutter "wimp" softly under his breath. L makes my dentist phobia look like affection.

On to business - read Espen Aarseth's DAC2003 talk Playing Research: Methodological approaches to game analysis, available with other talks from the conferencehere. As I mentioned earlier, papers made available like this - although you lose the 'moment' of the conference - are a real boon to those of us who are not in the European hotbed of game discussion. The article in part continues a major discussion in game studies at this point - the question of methodology. I've written about this some before, but clearly this is an issue very much at hand that is unlikely to disappear for a while.

The basic argument seems to run thus: on the one side, we have a lot of early discussion of games that draws from traditional fields of inquiry - narratology, rhetoric, film studies, and so on. Now, because discussion of games (at least initially, and still some now) were very much integrated with discussion of early hypertext, and because discussion of hypertext sometimes went a little too far on the "we embody postmodern theory" gambit for a while, I think that some people understandably reacted against that. So, there was a call for something "new" - which is all well and good, except I think some people (and I'll likely count myself among these) have a reaction when they hear the word "new" that runs something akin to suspicion - mainly suspicion that the "new" is often something "old" with a new suit. Often these two groups are called ludologist (for the "game" people) and narratologists (which is the label usually employed when referring to anyone using an "older" theory). [remind me to come back and enter some links to the digra list discussion about ludology and narratology]

But here's the thing - I think what both sides are really looking for is a way to use some of the traditional methods/terms/etc (and ask some traditional questions) while recognizing that games - while influenced by other media (avoiding "older" here, intentionally) - are unique unto themselves. Narrative theorists want to be able to say "I'm interested in narrative in Asheron's Call" without someone hollering back "games aren't narrative!" And likewise, ludologists seems to want to say "games should be taken on their own terms" without a narratologist pointing out "they were influenced by other media."

One thing that I've found quite curious as this has played itself out over the years is that it appears as though - unlike some parts of the sciences - the humanities has very little experience in accepting failure of a hypothesis as a reasonable and (more importantly) successful aspect of scholarship. Yet it is precisely in trying and failing that we are able to experiment with notions of media, form, and methodology - letting us see what was effective and what was not enables us to draw the best aspects of various methodologies while we - at the same time - work towards forming an individually "new" one. Games are multimedia; our theories should be multimethod (that sounds more awkward that I'd hoped, but you get the idea).

Running low on time, so I'll put out a few other ideas from Espen's article that I found useful and interesting.

He offered "games in virtual environments" as an alternate name for "computer games." This also cropped up a bit on Grand Text Auto (esp. the term "virtual"), and I was pleased to see that virtual did not mean "digitally virtual" but allowed for inclusion of board games and (importantly) games like Dungeons & Dragons. Still, I'm not sure about the term's clarification potential over computer games and other specific terms (like Pen and Paper Role Playing Games), so I'd like to give this more thought.

He also referenced Bartle's typology of players:

The four types are socializers (the players who play to enjoy the company of other players),killers (players who enjoy preying on and harassing other players),achievers (players who like to win and triumph)and explorers (players who enjoy discovering the game ’s secrets and hidden mechanics, including discovering and exploiting programming

To this, Aarseth added cheaters, which I think is an important category, but inappropriate in this context. I think most of those four types have a cheater element within them, and so I would put cheater as a potential subcategory (or a flag) on each of those types. Instead I would add crafter, the player interested in making, building, and distributing /collecting craft items in the game.

More on this later - have to catch the metro.

Posted by Jason at June 17, 2003 5:40 AM | TrackBack

Interesting thoughts, Jason. I especially like your category of "Crafter."

One of my friends wanted to build a model of a (material ... er ... real ... er ... you know what I mean) house being constructed for his brother. So he used the Doom environment (I don't know the right lingo) to do it, but he didn't get around to putting in any lights.. Then he took me on a tour of the house, using a flame thrower to illuminate the different rooms.

"Now, this will be the living room." Whooosh!

Posted by: George at June 17, 2003 6:51 AM | Permalink to Comment

Dave and I go to Drs. McCarl, McCarl, McCarl and McCarl in Greenbelt. $25 coupon for your first visit should be in the the Greenbelt free weekly newspaper. OR we've got a little referral card thingy that will get US a discount next time we go in. We've both had good experiences with them, but had our wisdom teeth out at home.

Posted by: Natalie at June 17, 2003 6:55 AM | Permalink to Comment

"Now, this will be the living room." Whooosh!

If only this is how realtors showed homes in reality. I'd be busy every weekend.

Bailey - thanks, I might try them (they are close by). Are they gentle (my teeth are wimpy)?

Posted by: Jason at June 17, 2003 7:22 AM | Permalink to Comment

the last time i was having dental work done there, j, i noticed that the poster on the ceiling was a collection of baby animals. (then again, i often get put in the kiddie room). how's that for wimp-accomodation? bearing in mind, of course, that they'll likely refer you to an oral surgeon for the wisdom tooth procedure. not sure dentists do that one...

Posted by: dave at June 17, 2003 8:34 AM | Permalink to Comment

So, it's been almost a week. Found a dentist, yet?

Posted by: George at June 23, 2003 9:53 PM | Permalink to Comment
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