Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Does a Video Game Have to be Meaningful?

Asking whether or not a video game should be meaningful sounds like a silly question. But it is a very serious question that I plan to explore. The short answer is - no. A video game does not have to be meaningful. Just being fun is enough. However, if a goal of the game is to be memorable and enduring, then, I would argue, it does have to be meaningful. One might say "the goal of a game is make money"", and there is some truth to that. But few game designers, as creative artistic people, are satisfied with just making money. They want their work to have larger meaning. And few players are satisfied, in the end, investing endless hours in a game unless they feel it has some larger significance. So, in order for a game to be memorable, significant and worthwhile, it must be meaningful.

This has only become a problem recently as experts in media studies have offered up the claim that video games should be studied as cultural artifacts just as films and novels are studied as cultural artifacts.  Asking if a video game has to be meaningful is like asking if a novel or a film has to be meaningful. Certainly, there are lots and lots of junk novels and junk films. So not every one has to be meaningful. But, it is the goal of writer's or film maker's craft to produce meaningful work even though it is a rare occurrence. Similarly, it is the goal of the game designer's craft to produce meaningful work. Hence, we need to figure out what we mean by 'meaningful'.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Lusory Goals

A game should be designed to satisfy a set of lusory goals. This may be done within a set of non-lusory goals such as the: game should be profitable; the game should work on several platforms; the game should be scalable, easy to maintain, or easy to enhance.  These later items are valid technical goals but not lusory goals.

I have been pondering valid lusory goals and have stumbled a bit trying to get a net over all of them. So rather than have a complete list, I thought I would start by just blurting what I am thinking at the moment. I can refine or enhance the list later.

Following some of the ideas presented much earlier in this blog, it seems to me that lusory goals should all be focused on enhancing skills that have some value to the player. For example, a game might improve a player's physical or mental skills. Physical skills might include things like hand eye coordination, reflexes, or even fitness as in the case of Wii games. Mental skills cover a much wider variety of options and include things like strategy, problem solving, resource management, social skills, or leadership. This is far from a complete list but I wanted to start.

The top level of the game design should articulate the lusory goals and the skills the game is intended to develop and coherent structure within which they can be developed. Quests, then, should be the means of implementing the lusory goals.

I am going to toss out a few initial impression of quest design. Each quest should contribute to the lusory goals in a coherent way. Each quest should make sense within the logic of the game. Each quest should pay off proportionately to its difficulty. The pay off can come in many forms including improvement factors in the game such as loot, experience, or progression of some kind. Of it can contribute knowledge of the game which may be useful later. Quests should not be arbitrary unless learning how to deal with arbitrariness is on the skills identified in the lusory goals.

Well, there it is. Its a start. It needs work but I will just keep chipping away at it.