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

Play, story and recombination

A bunch of Lego bricks

Dom­i­nant mod­els in IA: space + sto­ry” was one of the notes I took while at this year’s Euro IA Sum­mit. I’ll get into space some oth­er time. Con­cern­ing sto­ry: Basi­cal­ly it strikes me that for a dis­ci­pline involved with an inter­ac­tive medi­um, so often design­ing is likened to sto­ry­telling. I’m not sure this is always the most pro­duc­tive way to approach design, I actu­al­ly think it is very lim­it­ing. If you approach design not as embed­ding your sto­ry in the envi­ron­ment, but as cre­at­ing an envi­ron­ment where­in users can cre­ate their own sto­ries, then I’d say you’re on the right track. An exam­ple I tend to use is a game of pok­er: The design of the game pok­er was cer­tain­ly not an act of sto­ry­telling, but a play ses­sion of pok­er is expe­ri­enced as (and can be retold as) a sto­ry. Fur­ther­more, the com­po­nents of the game can be recom­bined to cre­ate dif­fer­ent vari­a­tions of the basic game, each cre­at­ing dif­fer­ent poten­tials for sto­ries to arise. I’d like to see more design­ers approach inter­ac­tive media (dig­i­tal, phys­i­cal or what­ev­er) like this: Don’t tell a sto­ry to your user, enable them to cre­ate their own.1 Real­ize users will want to recom­bine your stuff with oth­er stuff you might not know about (the notion of seam­ful design comes into play here). When you’ve done a prop­er job, you’ll find them retelling those sto­ries to oth­ers, which I would say is the biggest com­pli­ment you can get.

1. Or to put this in Marc LeBlanc’s terms: Don’t embed nar­ra­tive, let it emerge through play.