Electron Dance
24Sep/2156

Discussion: The Forbidden

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Each creates an arena for tiresome debate although YMMV. I file them under Parkinson’s law of triviality: questions so trivial to understand that everyone will have an urge to share a strong opinion, even when it might be better to keep our mouths shut.

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  1. Love all these weird spaces in the newsletter that didn’t appear during what Mailchimp adorably calls “preview”.

  2. Joel, I can’t deal with my semantic nihilism right now, why would you do this to me

  3. I wrote this prose-y poem (or poetic prose) that tries to get at what I think I love about games, which I think is the closest I or anyone can really get to defining games. Games have become the grey goo of art forms, consuming everything that doesn’t already have a name. If I felt even slightly more confident, I’d give up on the word game entirely and just say I make art. Anyway, here goes my almost-definition…

    “I act on impulse most of the time, and otherwise do what I can to design a life that rewards my impulses with beautiful outcomes. I think designing games is like that: designing little spaces that reward my avatar’s impulses with beautiful outcomes. Only, when I make a game I can share the experience with you; you can inhabit the same space, embody the same avatar, perhaps act on the same impulses, and – if serendipity allows – behold the same beautiful outcomes.”

    But, I’ll be clear, I’ve long given up on having an answer to “What is a game?” All I have anymore is answers to “Why do I make games?” “Why do I play games?” and those are obviously more subjective and personal.

    I’m interested in other people’s definitions too. :)

  4. Anyway, the game police totally still exist, though maybe in a form that spreads itself thin across a million strangers, makes itself quiet. There are other definitions of the word “game” that I would use if I was thinking more wisely about exposure. Even then, it’s more like a collection of loosely related genres. There are islands of familiarity — making something that belongs in one of these islands is much more important than defining the coordinates of the archipelago. If you do that, you can still find a watery grave to drown in.

  5. Oh boy am I ready.

    There’s a reason why it’s “videogame” and not “video game”, right? A “video game” is a game noun with a video adjective. I know some people used “video game” as a contrast to “computer game”, but that distinction is meaningless. A computer game is a videogame on a computer. A console is a computer to play videogames on.

    A “videogame” is a whole other noun from “game”.

    The beauty of this is that we can take all our overlapping definitions of a game – a challenging or competitive passtime, a voluntary system of rules, win states, fail states, edge cases, learning curves, agon, ludus, product – and say the videogame inherits these definitions, but is also free to be it’s own thing.

    Behold! I take a rigid and formalist definition of what-is-a-game and I make my prouncements: Her Story is Not A Game; Proteus is Not A Game; The Witness is only A Game in as much as it is a currated collection of Games. Bandersnatch is Not A Game, and by that token neither is Life Is Strange; Townscaper is Not A Game.

    BUT, and it’s a big but, just because they’re not games, doesn’t mean that they can’t be videogames. All of those *are* videogames. Videogames don’t have to be video games, don’t have to be games at all. We have something new here and gaminess is only part of it. It’s open and permissive. It’s not always ludic; it’s not always narrative; it’s often neither. It means something close to “digital entertainment product for one or more people that may or may not contain some interative systems”.

    I propose that most of the time, by a certain definition of “we”, when we say “games” what we mean is shorthand for “videogames” and not games in general or games that are video, which are all very distinct categories. I will die on this hill.

  6. “I feel like Game Twitter isn’t interesting any more, unless you want to read about the latest AAA release”

    so much this. i find myself scrolling rapidly past nearly all the games tweets these days, and deploying month-long mutes on key words if i see it more than three times.

    there are still interesting and thoughtful discussions happening—theyre just buried in the noise. sometimes the tactics above allow me to still find them.

    but for the past month or so ive been on twitter less anyway, with the longlasting depressive nothingness replaced with manic activity on this thief mission im making. so in a way im too busy making a game-thing to stop and read the games discourse, or even to play games anymore. tides ebb and flow though, so i expect ill be back to the scrolling before too long…

    thanks for the link roundup, joel! some good stuff there added to my instapaper queue for those late night insomnia sessions!

  7. MrBehemo: When I was reading the Nemesis system patent I noticed a lot of language like “which may or may not contain X.” I swear I’m not getting into a fight over definitions here, I just want to understand, what’s the purpose of these two bits of your own almost-definition of videogame? What are they trying to communicate that couldn’t just be excluded?

    – “for one or more people”

    – “that may or may not contain some interative systems”

  8. droqen – that’s what we’re here for, right? all in good faith, and good fun :)

    Those could both absolutely be excluded from the definition. I suppose I included them to pre-empt an imaginary opponent who would insist on including rules generally associated with ludic gaminess. It’d be a more elegant definition without them, for sure: “a digital entertainment product”.

  9. No opponents here! :) Interesting to see what it looks like without the defensiveness in place. I like it.

  10. I love the game police! Everything that gets labeled as a not-game with so much fervour is bound to be of interest to me. So thanks, game police!

    (I literally do not give a single, tiniest shit about what a game is, sorry)

  11. I’m going to experiment with responding to commenters in separate comments for a change, instead of dropping massive comments that reply to 20 people.

    Droqen Sorry, I probably should have included a “what do words mean anyway” content warning on the newsletter.

    I’m actually pretty happy with giving up the term “game” myself because it has so much historical baggage associated with it. I grew up with Space Invaders and the Atari console and Star Raiders: these came to define the popular meaning of the word “game” and trying to fight the will of people is like trying to stop a flood with your bare hands (cf. roguelike). The word “Art” also has its own baggage, of course. I don’t drop the A-bomb as much as I used to because I’ve found it a bit of a writing crutch like the word “experience”.

    Your prose-poem-definition is unusual because it’s centred around the creator or the act of creation, rather than the creation (e.g. “games have goals”) or the person appreciating that creation (e.g. “player agency”). Its right on the money as a description of “the work of droqen”, though.

    Aside: Do the game police have anything to police anything any more?

  12. I miss the historical baggage. I’ve tried to put into words my heartache many times: there is no word that means what game used to mean.

  13. Andy

    Yeah, for me, a lot of interesting people have been withdrawing from Twitter, and the “discourse” is overweight with memes, viral questions, stuff to make you feel powerless or Let Me Explain This (1/39). My bad puns are contributing to the problem. I’m also seeing a lot of gamedev tips which is not as useful for me as it is for others :) And the worst thing is I still keep checking Twitter whenever my brain gets a breather.

    In truth, I have that kind of burn-baby-burn/abyss cycle too – becoming laser-focused to Thing I’m Creating for a period and avoiding sleep, breaks and food just to get the thing over the line. Of course, I run out of Steam(TM) before I reach the line. My father is still waiting for an update to the youtube-dl GUI wrapper I wrote…

    I probably should have deployed a #Deathloop mute to ten of my TweetDeck columns.

  14. i didn’t have good sleep and i feel very ‘i don’t care’ about the definition
    i mean, i also feel that way in general with art as well.

    also, i lectured about videogames in my art class (about an hour): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POq40JIjucc (and here’s the slideshow that you can just go through quickly, if any of this interests: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1bo16SFO4Fys06EJrU2Gm6QS-B90CNwvOz2HEWlL6li4/edit?usp=sharing )

  15. I’m liking these definitions. As circular and impractical as these discussions usually end up being, I find them satisfying.

    @Droqen, I particularly like your poetic definition of a game as a thing that gives beautiful outcomes to inputs. Which raises the question: when you round a corner in a horror game and are set upon by zombies, is that beautiful? I’d say yes.

    It also lines up with my own, also poetic, definition:

    A game is imagination made material, and malleable. A game is a machine the designer crafts and tweaks to respond to play. When the designer asks the game “What can you give me now?”, the game answers “A little more than you thought”.

  16. MrBehemo

    I guess something I wasn’t forward enough about in the newsletter is that I don’t actually have any definitions for anything. I tend to assign labels by feeling and that feeling can change over time. I tend to choose the word “game” if it feels appropriate when conveying what something is… which also means I can change the assignment depending on the audience. For example, if I talk to people outside of games, I’ll be careful about how I describe Proteus or Her Story and may avoid the word “game” altogether for fear of setting it up for a fall.

    And I had completely forgotten about the sleight-of-hand trick with using “videogame” to help get around the word “game”; it’s surfaced numerous times over the years. I think it’s true that game is shorthand for “videogame” and there’s also unacknowledged confusion that “game” meant multiplayer which is clearly not the case in many Computer Games.

    I applaud your attempts to encapsulate the paradoxical nature of Ye Videogame into a single term. It might not catch on, but at least we know where you will die :)

    I guess I’ll throw out one question into the comments, and it’s not directed at you specifically Mr B, but anyone. Is there a need for a catchall term that somehow represents Ladykiller in a Bind, Townscaper, Proteus and Half-Life? I guess it would make it easier to describe websites (At Electron Dance, we discuss thorxbarfs for all platforms) and legal people might like it, but is there a cultural requirement for it?

  17. I’d almost rather there wasn’t!

  18. @Joel: I mean, cynically I think the main reason we need a term is for business purposes?

    “What does Netflix sell? TV shows. What does Steam sell? Videogames.”

  19. Ketchua
    Ah, yes, that reliable rule-of-thumb: the non-game is always worth checking out. Even amongst the disappointments there’s usually something of value.

    “(I literally do not give a single, tiniest shit about what a game is, sorry)”
    Sending love. It was tricky convincing myself into writing about Dat Game Question, which I’m conditioned to ignore (or belittle).

  20. daniel

    Important Announcement: No one should be thinking about definitions when they haven’t had good sleep.

    To be honest, I was interested in where people might be drawing their own personal lines, so I went into detail about which “games” I found difficult to call games. I’m not really seeking a list of definitions but just how people sorted titles within the safety of their own minds. Like, I would totally be happy with a paragraph along the lines of “NaissanceE wasn’t even a game for me, more like a passive-aggressive relationship that I should’ve left after three minutes”.

    Thanks for those links. I’ve browsed through the presentation and, slide 2, whoa, that’s two Horsequestions right there. But some sample excerpts for everyone else:

    • Videogames are basically entertainment or digital sport
    • To be art, the idea must come first
    • Does it matter if [games are] considered art or not?
    • We can call some of it art, some of it not, even within the same game.
    • Criticism of the term “art games” – Implies a superiority to non-art games
  21. James Patton

    “A little more than you thought” :)

    Glad you’re enjoying the comments on this one – and enjoy it while you can, because it’s a one-time deal. Anyone talks about what a game is in another thread, boom, that’s it, your ass is banned.

    On your point about needing a definition of videogames… hmm, Steam also sells soundtracks, audio editors, movies, boardgame creators, game engines and even books if you squint hard enough. People will say Steam sells videogames but it’s not formally definitive (just like itch).

    A point raised many years back is that Apple labelled everything as an “app” which relegated the “game or not” question to the individual products. Of course, taxonomy doesn’t work the way it used to: AI effectively creates personalised “what you like” taxonomies.

  22. alright, i’ll take my shot:

    if we say that art is “any designed thing that is loved and inspires conversation”

    then a particular type of game that does not have a name is “any art whose inspired conversation is about what you did, perhaps in addition to other topics (e.g. what it was about, what was said about it, and/or what it did to you)”

  23. re James Patton’s: “is that beautiful? I’d say yes.”

    as i use the word, beauty is fundamentally in the eye of the beholder :)

    i love “A game is a machine the designer crafts and tweaks to respond to play.”

  24. In the “Thinky Puzzle Games” Discord server, there used to be a channel where all discussion of “What’s a puzzle game?” was relegated. Nobody was allowed to post to that channel.

    The question of “What is a video game?” rarely gives me pause, but “What’s a puzzle game?” is something I think about a lot. Since I design and play a lot of (really nerdy) puzzle games, the way that “puzzle” is used as a catchall term kind of annoys me. That isn’t to say that more casual puzzles aren’t “real games” or anything, I just think we need better genre terminology. If Braid, Untitled Goose Game, and Tetris 99 can all be described using the same “puzzle game” moniker, then we should probably rethink what a “puzzle game” really is.

    Then again, I’m planning on writing a blog post about Deltarune’s assortment of (non-bullet-heck) gameplay challenges in its overworld, and I can’t think of a better term for them than “puzzles”. I guess I’m becoming the problem, or at least being complicit.

  25. Ethan: Sounds like a very similar problem to what i have with “What’s a game?” actually! And maybe the whole “roguelike” thing too! You build up a relationship to what a word represents at the time, and then other people come and take the word and make it mean something else. Here comes the flood. And then the old meaning is lost, and it’s difficult to maintain the old relationship when the concept is tightly bound to a word that has been taken away by forces outside of your control…

  26. Words just need version numbers and changelogs, so we can say “I mean ‘puzzle game’v2015.1.2f’!” :P

  27. Ethan Clark

    Re: Thinky Puzzle Games channel – I love that kind of joke! Brilliant.

    I did actually have to make a show of tackling “what is a puzzle game” back in The Ouroboros Sequence because I wanted to make some pronouncements on puzzle game design and, yeah, it can be difficult. Tetris in the same bucket as The Witness? Perhaps I shouldn’t occasionally describe arcade challenges as puzzles to solve :)

    I think if you’re going to write an essay about Contentious Term X, you probably have to be clear somehow what the target is either by being explicit or via context (e.g. everyone knows you write about first-person shooters, so it’s unstated assumption that you’re talking within the confines of the FPS). If you’re going to write a review about a game, I don’t know if you have to be precise about X.

  28. droqen

    A pingback! God those are a endangered species these days, pushed to the edge of extinction by social media. And a pingback from your blog too.

    I’ve loved the idea of games as a conversation between player and developer since I first got wind of the idea via Doug Wilson’s dissertation where he termed it “dialogic game design”. (I wrote about it in 2013 in a piece called The Author as Content.) That relationship, though, has always been in flux. Back in the beginning, Atari wanted to steal that relationship, making it between consumer and corporation, refusing to put their developers on their games. Leading, of course, to the famous Adventure Easter Egg. There’s also a less well-known authorial Easter Egg in Atari’s word processor Atariwriter which – rumour has it, Atari sued the developer William Robinson over.

    However, seems like you are mourning an idea that’s much more narrower, of a game that offers “play” with a developer, because you can’t necessarily feel the creator on the other side of a narrative game. And I do feel that with all creative works.

    Obviously, droqen, you’re just a few weeks from writing up a games manifesto.

  29. I really *can* feel the creator on the other side of a narrative game as much as anything, it’s just that we’re not connected in this specific way: through play. The gameplay, the gamefeel, the play, whatever, that all just feels like something that I have to do in order to access the work, not something that someone was passionate about. I don’t think that’s a strata above any other kind of connection, it is just a kind of connection that I wish there was a better way to search for specifically. It used to be “games”.

  30. (“The gameplay, the gamefeel, the play, whatever, that all just feels like something that I have to do in order to access the work, not something that someone was passionate about.” -> this refers to the aforementioned ‘narrative game’. it’s not always true, of course, but i’m trying to get at the idea that something might have a brilliant story for me to connect with, but no interesting play space. the ‘beauty’ is not found in the interaction, even if it is an interactive work.)

  31. I will someday write some kind of manifesto ;) the secret forum will help me get my ducks in a row. I guess you must have got a pingback from there too, eh?!

  32. For me “what do words mean anyway” nails it.

    Having to wrestle with words every day for work has desensitized me completely. I used to feel bad using a cornucopia of positive adjectives and superlatives for the marketing or descriptions of what I knew were terrible and addictive games, but after a while I realized that everyone sprinkles liberally their work with adjectives galore to try to stand out… so at the end the store description for any game is basically the same. Ironic.

    So my attitude is basically: what is X? X is just the arbitrary and ever-changing concept(s) a large enough group of people has decided X to stand for. If tomorrow enough people woke up thinking that “game” means “art”, two days from now games would literally be art and one of the Horsequestions of the Apocalypse would be “Is art art?” :D

    If something looks interesting and I have time, I’ll play it anyways. The 39 Steps, Spacechem, Her Story, The Talos Principle, or Proteus, everything is interesting in its own way and I don’t feel like I have to assign labels to them. I’ll just play.

  33. Let there be no shame in the comments today, provided no one uses the word “roguelike”.

    what the hell, man

  34. So for me, I’m pretty happy calling just about everything a game. I’ve tried to convince my students that this was a game–it appeared in a game anthology, was written in gaming language, and it certainly presupposes interacting with it as one would interact with those other games. They didn’t buy it.

    (I’m working with a student now on a big project about philosophy and games, so I should have lots of material for this discussion. I have not yet mentioned the duck penis.)

    Where I want to get definitionny is about Canabalt. For me the thing about Canabalt is that it is strictly one-dimensional in the dimension of time. Townscaper, I presume, isn’t like that; it matters not just when you click but where you click, and that’s three whole dimensions. Flappy Bird is like that I guess, Badland is almost like that (the PC version lets you press the forward and back arrows though I think you usually want to hold the forward arrow down), there is the Flash classic Gimme Friction Baby (now safely playable on the Internet Archive!) where in some way the clicks could be replaced with aiming (there’s a cannon that swings back and forth, you click to shoot) but besides the added difficulty, the temporal movement adds to the sense of oppression of a game where you’re under spatial pressure rather than time pressure.

    But another person might take a Canabalt-like to be a forced runner like Bit.Trip Runner or Fotonica (which I guess is also one-button). Or, like you, you might use it to mean a radical simplification of interaction mechanisms, so we could even call Brogue the Canabalt of *bang*

  35. Joel, I think the thread has cracked it! Games are things you play on Steam, including but not limited to “soundtracks, audio editors, movies, boardgame creators, game engines and even books.” Gaming will have its own Citizen Kane, Moby Dick, or Mona Lisa as soon as developers release them on Steam.

    daniel, I enjoyed watching segments of your lecture. By chance I happened upon the “what are indies vs. AAA vs. solo developers” segment, and really loved how you were eventually like yeah of course there’s more nuance here but… ok?

    matt w: A prompt for a sequel? “You hear a sound. Do you [L]ook or [T]urn around?”

  36. If I were feeling arsonistic, this is where I would shift the definition game to ‘what is policing?’

    “Still, a word without an agreed definition can still be handy; just look at how “roguelike” has been appropriated to mean PCG + permadeath, rather than “a game like Rogue” […] yes, Dark Souls does need an easy mode”

    I think we can all agree that one thing that is definitely a game is getting all the way through this newsletter resisting the temptation to jump straight to the comment form and start typing. I lost, btw.

    I realise that the brief life that ‘not-game’ lived circa 2012-2016 was both variously ironic and weaponised in its deployment, but I genuinely found it the perfect way to square this particular circle, like so:

    Not-games are that subset of games that aren’t games.

    Do you see?

  37. Dan K–there is in fact a game for every song on the album–hey, there’s Jake Eakle of the Cinco Paus record-breaking streak! Unfortunately IIRC his game gets buggy halfway through.

    Anyway, the Fingertips are all games that can be finished in one move, theoretically, approximately (some don’t count examining or something like that). Michael Hilborn’s “Fingertips” is especially good! Nobody else took the mickey quite as much as I did.

    Joel probably doesn’t want me to link this but there is an official Electron Dance answer to the question “What is a game?”

  38. There used to be electrondance FORUMS?!

  39. I think my ED lore quotient just increased.

  40. Given that Behemo and droqen just leveled up, it’s clear: If the Electron Dance comments don’t make the cut under your definition of a game then your definition is wrong and you live in a mad world.

  41. droqen Mr Behemo

    I was persuaded that maybe Electron Dance should become a little community around the early 2010s because we always had lively comment discussions and began thinking of ways in which to encourage that. I felt the tone here was different to other places – distinct from RPS and Critical Distance.

    I tried the Open Mike pages which was a free-for-all page but their comments declined over time (compare the first Open Mike to the last Open Mike). Although I had nothing against readers hijacking the comments, there was no place for people to air a question or point for discussion.

    Next move: I implemented a forum for Electron Dance. Although this was against my better judgement… I worried that it would become another thing “to manage” and potentially “police”, plus the danger of the forum becoming a ghost town and reflecting negatively on the site.

    This was where I spun up the idea of writing an Electron Dance book.

    Within one year, it did become a ghost town and decided to close it. There’s more details on the final thread.

  42. Oh hey the first Open Mike is the origin story of my imaginary paparazzi first person shooter!

    And looking at the last one, it seems like I drove everyone else away with all my walls of text. The Bundle Fatigue rant wasn’t even in an Open Mike!

  43. matt, I love how even in that link from 8 years ago Joel is trying to avoid “what is a game?” and yet…

    http://www.electrondance.com/open-mike-5/#comment-29649

  44. i’m up hours past my bedtime and i’ve been reading ian bogost’s ‘play anything’ but i’m sure i’ve cracked it, and i definitely won’t regret this comment in the morning:

    a game is an invitation to play

    but, the etymology is complicated. to play you have to play with something. there must be material with which to play. at some point a game came to be bundled with its materials like a softonic installer: a game was no longer just an invitation to play, but also actually defined some of the materials with which one was invited to play.

    a game is an invitation to play with materials, as well as some or none of said materials

    but, the etymology is complicated. chess is an invitation to play with the rules of chess. words become other words and then people die and then words have always been those other words. we called chess with its chessboard and its pieces ‘chess’ and chess is ‘a game’ so what happens if we take the chessboard and its pieces and do something else with it? what if we set up a chessboard with no intention to play it? the chessboard and its pieces are chess; chess is a game; can an object stop being itself just because we aren’t using it for its intended purpose?

    a game is some materials, as well as – perhaps – an invitation to play with those materials in combination with other materials

    the invitation is optional, and a person can choose to play with anything they damn well please.

    therefore: a game is some materials.

  45. (people are materials)

  46. I rather like the idea that a 1000-year-old chess set behind museum glass, which hasn’t been touched in years or played in centuries, is still inviting people to take it out of its cage and play with it. I have seen the Lewis chessmen, and I’ve thought, “Ooh, playing with that set would sure be something.”

  47. Joseph Cornell’s assemblages are games but nobody’s allowed to play them

    (that’s absurd, they’re toys)

    (toys are also invitations to play, and materials, hm)

  48. Joel, I’m not sure about that James O’Malley piece you linked in the newsletter. I went in expecting to find it quite agreeable; capitalism could achieve some mitigatory steps without vast economic and political difficulty, even if I don’t believe it can address its inherent problems of growth and externalised cost. But it feels like Malley’s boxing with strawmen. As someone who follows a moderate amount of left ecological writing and discussion, I don’t see anyone making the kind of argument that he is arguing against.

    I can’t speak for the tweet that seems to have started his argument – why write an essay to argue with an interpretation of a single tweet? – but when I see that kind of statement it makes me think more of efforts to understand and frame climate change as the product of a “capitaloscene” rather than an “anthropocene”; to put it simply to identify that present and past beneficiaries and power holders of capital and industry bear more responsibility than the mass of humanity. Neither are this moralistic eschatology he asserts exists, but rather to argue against the fatalistic idea that human society inherently produces these ecological outcomes. And hey, I’m sure plenty of us will die thinking “I told you so” but that’s hardly a position anyone is struggling for.

    As for the actual topic at hand, my muffin-brained contribution is that I got tired of “what is a game” discussions before I even encountered any, because before that I was involved in “what is science fiction” discussions. It’s an equally impossible definition to obtain, and these days I reflexively fall back on Damon Knight’s old remark that “science fiction is what we point to when we say it”. It’s a more workable shorthand than most.

  49. Shaun

    Oh, none of the pieces I link are endorsements but they at least gave me pause for thought (although I wouldn’t link to something that is toxic even if it did give me something to think about). I’m not sure I agree with that much that is said, to be honest, and he does go on and on and on and ON about lefties wanting to make climate change about good vs evil. To be fair, I do have my qualms about the left’s tendency to recast systemic issues as moral ones (if we just shoot all the criminals, that will cure crime) but that’s not particularly an appropriate tack in an argument about “we have to fix climate change with capitalism”.

    I guess it just piqued my interest about the notion of fixing climate change under capitalism when it is not a particularly easy problem to solve using capitalist tools. I mean, the free market isn’t going to fix climate change because it’s a goddamn externality. Only market regulation and international co-operation could do it. Only that.

    WTF is up with those footnotes, man.

    WAT IS GAM: I was just curious about what goes on when folks aren’t posting carefully-worded statements on Twitter. I was expecting most people had an internal game/not-game decision maker in their head whenever they saw a new title pop up. I guess I don’t make a decision until I have to write about something. While it’s an audio-visual idea, pouring out of a screen, I don’t to answer Schrödinger’s question of game/not-game; but when my pen hits the paper, the question must collapse into an answer.

  50. “I was just curious about what goes on when folks aren’t posting carefully-worded statements on Twitter.”

    They’re posting even more carefully-worded statements on Electron Dance!

    To risk treading into dangerous waters, I think part of the problem is that language is part of (perhaps now the biggest part of) a wider ongoing battlefield (don’t mention the war!) and you can’t simply declare an armistice for a day, even here. To have definitions can be as mast-pinning a gesture as having specific definitions: axiomatic to this discussion seems to be an agreement that there are cadre of Bad People out there called the Game Police, who are overzealous in their definition-having at the most charitable interpretation. So issuing an appeal for definitions is likely to encarefulate wording by some seven or eight thousand percent.

    Maybe you should have gotten us some drinks first?

    ShaunCG’s “what we point to when we say it” is really where I’m at with this stuff. Wasn’t it someone clever, Wittgenstein* or someone, who advocated an fuzzier, associative model for categorisation, in distinction (if not in preference) to an exhaustive, formalist one that tried to find a comprehensive set of rules and definitions? ‘I know it when I see it’ – humanity gets on with the production and consumption of art, even as attempts to define it derail almost immediately into intellectual quagmire. So it is with all sorts of things.

    *Or maybe it was Stanley Kubrick? How I Learned to Relax and Stop Worrying About the Not-Games is one of my favourite films.

  51. Re. people having their own internal judgements about what a “game” is: I’ve not played it, but I don’t feel like Townscaper, to me, is a “game”. It looks like a management game, but those usually need goals of some kind, or I guess you could make a secret box out of one. Actually that sounds really neat: “Make a cute little town and uncover the secrets within by tweaking it.” But as far as I understand it, Townscaper lets you make cute towns but there’s no goal for you to work towards or discover? For some reason that makes it “not a game” in my head. (Which might disagree with your opinion, which is fine, obv.)

    Which leaves me in a weird place. Does that mean Proteus isn’t a game, because there are no goals? Bernband is *clearly* a game to me, but that’s because the exploration is the whole point. Hm.

  52. Can confirm, as a professional, that Wittgenstein is the one with the fuzzier, more associative model (“family resemblances”), and it is so goddamn liberating. I don’t know if most people think of it this way, but it gives a great explanation for why philosophers always fail at coming up with necessary and sufficient conditions for things.

    I’m reading C. Thi Nguyen’s Games: Agency As Art with a student and they said that, given the title, it’s surprising that about halfway through he says he just isn’t going to care about the question of whether games are art. That’s how annoying these arguments are.

    ShuanCG, saying you were sick of “What is a game?” before you saw it because of the “What is SF?” discussion reminded me that I was sick of it before I saw it because of the “What is jazz?” discussion. (Which I used to see on usenet, my god what a hellscape usenet was.) And yeah, CA, a lot of what I see here is that the people flogging definitions are either goofballs who like arguing over analyses for its own sake (this is a compliment, that’s what I do for a living) or X Police who are trying to make sure that nobody gets to talk about X that isn’t the X they like. Or maybe the Police Police are just people who keep trying to drag in avant-garde stuff for its own sake and don’t appreciate the fundamentals, I don’t know.

    Of course I’m a bit X Police myself, whenever the puzzle game discussion turns to score-attackish things like Threes or Six Apart or those wordbuilding games I start jumping up and down and saying “That’s not what I mean!” My other bit of policing has been preemptively banned from the thread.

    I came up with an idea for another one of the forbidden issues, though: An indie game is one that is sold on itch. An itchie game. In fact there’s levels of indie from my perspective, is it sold on itch, how much hacking do I have to do to get it to run on a Mac because the devs understandably didn’t want to shell out for a developer’s license. (This doesn’t make non-Mac games automatically more indie.)

    For a couple days I remembered that I had something to say about one of these topics and forgot what it was, and I wandered around thinking “What was my solution to whether games should have an easy mode? I have no opinion about whether games should have an easy mode.”

  53. Oh is creative mode Minecraft a game? James I think you could probably finesse Proteus because it has a fair number of secrets. How about Feather (secrets, hoops) vs. Fugl (all you can do really is fly around and collect new forms)?

  54. Yup, and this is why it confuses me. I *know* that what I’ve seen of Townscaper isn’t a game (imho). Why?

    Answer: I have no idea. The more I think about it, the more it makes no sense given the other games I consider games.

  55. “Oh is creative mode Minecraft a game?”

    I think so? I’ve never played Minecraft, but I always thought the best way to play Theme Park was to horza yourself all the rides and infinite cash and just make the place in whatever way you thought best. Solvency and drip-drip ride progression struck my child-brain as rubbish victory conditions; obviously what mattered was how good your rollercoaster was, having an avenue lined with nice trees leading into the park and whether you had enough janitors to clean up all the sick.

    All of which was confirmed when I eventually got Theme Park World, couldn’t find the cheats and thus found the campaign interminably dull (although it was a worse in many ways a worse game in (fun-)fairness).

    So in other words, here is my petard, feel free to give it a good tug if you ever catch me saying failstates are a prerequisite to anything

  56. Without breaking out the careful twitter words too much, I do think that the meaning of “game” has shifted though, and the sorts of criteria associated with boardgames, ttrpgs, sports etc. don’t have to apply any more. First example that springs to mind is something like Her Story where the objective is to satisfy your own curiosity. It has a set of rules but no measured objectives and you can’t “win” it. Still feels like a game to me.


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