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A Theoretical War, Part 3

This is the third article in The Academics Are Coming series.

7. insurgency

"Why contain it? Let it spill over into the schools and churches, let the bodies pile up in the streets. In the end they'll beg us to save them."

Bob Page on the Second Ludology/Narratology War (Deus Ex)

Today, anyone and his granny can make a game and a new breed of street developer has emerged. Some of these new designers see the prevailing game paradigms as too constricting. Why the need to win or lose? What is the point of points?

Tale of Tales' Michaël Samyn views the conventional single-player experience as nothing more than a "test" and, a couple of years ago, he proposed the notgames "design challenge" – something he refuses to call an agenda or a movement. He wanted to encourage developers to put aside goal-directed play and aspire to make art with games.

Despite opposing notions of ludology, Samyn's restatement of the single-player formula as a test is a classic ludological, reductionist argument - tear away the shallow exterior, and you are left with nothing but naked hoops to jump through. And just like ludologists, Samyn is interested in crafting significant, unique work in the medium of games. Take a look at these "opposing viewpoints" on Myst:

Espen Aarseth in 2004: “Most critics agree that the Miller brothers succeeded eminently in making a fascinating visual landscape, a haunting and beautiful gameworld, but to experienced gamers, the gameplay was boring and derivative, with the same linear structure that was introduced by the first Adventure game sixteen years earlier. Nice video graphics, shame about the game.”

Michaël Samyn, the Notgames Fest 2011 keynote: “Why had people not realized that most of us were playing Myst for its world and its stories, and not the arcane puzzles?”

Aarseth and Samyn both make the same point, differing only in emphasis. Aarseth sees failure, but Samyn sees inspiration. Ludology says games are based on mechanics and goals; the notgames perspective calls goals and challenge out as clichés that hobble the greatest of video game art.

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