Wednesday, March 17, 2010

How Many Games Are We Talking About?

Since not everyone is familiar with World of Warcraft, I am going to use a more familiar game - football - to make some important distinctions about games. As with most words, we use the word "game" to cover a lot of very different activities. When we talk about the "game" of football we often refer to a very wide variety of different activities that are all refereed to as part of the game. These activities might include tracking player statistics, whether or not to use instant replay, player salary negotiations, drinking beer and eating pizza, painting yourself in team colors and dancing in front of the camera, tailgate parties, and so on. Most people would say these and many other things are all part of the game of football. And from the perspective of a football fan, this is fine. However, from the perspective of a researcher it is a disaster.

If the concept of football as a game includes all of the above things and more, it would be very difficult if not outright impossible to make any general statements that would be true for all instances. It would be difficult, as well, to find any regular relationships between football and other concepts. In order to do that I need well defined concepts and the way I achieve that is to make distinctions between the various kinds of activities.

First we have the definitional game. This is the game as described by the rulebook.

Second, we have the experiential game. This is what it feels like to play the game or observe the game being played. This should probably be broken down further since what it feels like to play and what it feels like to watch are very different. Yet this break down may require some thought.

Third we have the social game. This is the social experience of being in a stadium or in a room full of friends watching a game being played. This will require further breakdown as well since the social experience of fans is very different from the social experience of team mates.

Fourth we have the economic game. This is the game as a business or economic enterprise.

Finally, we have the game as phenomenon. Why is football bigger than hockey? Why do people wear football shirts? How does football influence younger people?

This is far from the last word on game categories. In fact they need a lot of work. However, it does show, hopefully, that in order to study a thing, we must break it down into categories of like things and study those like things. Next time I will return to World of Warcraft and look at it in terms of these categories.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

World of Warcraft and the Lusory Attitude

Bernard Suit defines a lusory attitude as a player's willingness to accept the rules of a game as a means of pursuing the goals of the game in order to maximize one's enjoyment. Consider a simple example. Let's say that a running back in football has broken away from the line and is running down the field in pursuit of a touch down. Let's say, further, that one tackler stands between him and the goal. He may change direction to avoid he player. He may fake a change of direction. He may plow right into the tackle and attempt to overpower him. These are all acceptable options within the game of football. It would not do, however, to have a sniper in the stands pick off the tackle with a well placed shot from a high powered rifle. For, under these conditions, even if the runner managed to cross the goal line it would not be considered a touchdown. Any number of other silly examples could also illustrate this point. In checkers, one could glue their checkers to the board to prevent their opponent from taking them. In golf one could carry their ball to the hole and drop it in. However, games have rules that we must follow in order to achieve the goals of the game and if we do not follow those rules we are not playing that game. Further, if we are not playing that game we are not enjoying the experience of playing that game.

I have noticed, in World of Warcraft, that the lusory attitude varies considerably from one player to the next. Different players are actually playing very different games. In the case of some players, they are not playing a game at all. And these varying lusory attitudes reflect, I believe, very different game experiences. So, I thought over the next few posts, I would explore this.