Recess! 11 – Restate My Assumptions

Recess! is a cor­re­spon­dence series with per­son­al rumi­na­tions on games.

Dear Alper and Niels,

My apolo­gies, I fell off the Recess! horse there for a minute. But I’m back in the sad­dle. Let’s see, what were we talk­ing about again?

Alper obses­sive­ly played Ultra­tron for a while, got bored, stopped and felt guilty for spend­ing 11 hours on it.

Niels helped make Toki Tori 2, got all con­flict­ed about his feel­ings for the game and went on about how ele­gant­ly its world con­veys his sto­ry.

Sigh. I hope you’ll both excuse me while I don my schoolmaster’s cap and pro­ceed to school you.

It’s telling Alper feels Moves offers more mean­ing­ful play than Ultra­tron. He’s stuck in what Sut­ton-Smith calls ‘the rhetorics of ani­mal progress’. The idea that play is only mean­ing­ful when it con­tributes to ‘indi­vid­ual devel­op­ment and group cul­ture’. Alper, you should light­en up and maybe sub­mit to the rhetoric of friv­o­li­ty. Put sim­ply, you should allow your­self to play the fool. Because “unlike the rest of us, who are all losers in most of the con­ven­tion­al sens­es, and most sure­ly in the mor­tal sense, the fool tran­scends triv­i­al­i­ty.”

Niels, on the oth­er hand, should do him­self a favor and read Reme­di­a­tion because he seems to think ‘imme­di­a­cy’ is the holy grail of media. The medi­um should dis­ap­pear, it should not get in the way of the audience’s expe­ri­ence of the mes­sage. Well Niels, I have news for you: imme­di­a­cy is only one pos­si­ble media mode and its draw­backs are con­sid­er­able. Most impor­tant­ly, it pre­cludes crit­i­cal engage­ment of an audi­ence with a medium’s mes­sage. Hyper­me­di­a­cy, on the oth­er hand, fore­grounds the work­ings of media. It fore­goes ‘immer­sion’ and ‘seam­lesness’ in favor of brico­lage and seam­ful­ness (PDF). In doing so, it allows for active audi­ence engage­ment. Don’t you wish that for your sto­ries?

In short, let’s restate our assump­tions. I’ll go first:

  1. Play can be mean­ing­ful and use­less at the same time.
  2. Games can tell sto­ries with­out being immer­sive.

Kars

The experience of playful IAs

Solving a Rubik's Cube

It’s time for a short update on my think­ing about Play­ful IAs (the top­ic of my Euro IA Sum­mit talk). One of the under-served aspects so far is the actu­al user expe­ri­ence of an archi­tec­ture that is play­ful.

Bri­an Sut­ton-Smith describes a mod­el describ­ing the ways in which games are expe­ri­enced in his book Toys as Cul­ture. I first came across this book in (not sur­pris­ing­ly) Rules of Play. He lists five aspects:

  1. Visu­al scan­ning
  2. Audi­to­ry dis­crim­i­na­tion
  3. Motor respons­es
  4. Con­cen­tra­tion
  5. Per­cep­tu­al pat­terns of learn­ing

Of most impor­tance to my sub­ject is the 5th one.

Game design, like the design of emer­gent IAs is a 2nd order design prob­lem. You can only shape the user’s expe­ri­ence indi­rect­ly. One of the most impor­tant sources of plea­sure for the user is the way you offer feed­back on the ways he or she has explored and dis­cov­ered the infor­ma­tion space.

Obvi­ous­ly, I’m not say­ing you should make the use of your ser­vice delib­er­ate­ly hard. How­ev­er, what I am say­ing is that if you’re inter­est­ed in offer­ing a play­ful expe­ri­ence on the lev­el of IA, then Sutton-Smith’s per­cep­tu­al pat­terns of learn­ing is the best suit­ed expe­ri­en­tial dimen­sion.