Lecture 7 by luckboy


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									Game criticism
Ce217 – Computer Game design 23rd november 2009 Dr Richard A. Bartle Visiting profesSor

Reminder to me

• Take an attendance list!
– It’s the law


• Warning: today’s lecture is wafFleheavy • Our topic is game criticism • However, don’t panic, you won’t actually have to do any today
– That’s what clasSes are for
• And exams…

• I’m going to start with a general discussion of ways to lOok at play, then gradually home in on designers


• In previous lectures, We’ve looked at what people play and how they play • We haven’t looked at why people play • The problem is, There are several ways to think about games
– Or, more particularly, play

• They depend on how you come at them • why do you think people play?
– Not games in particular, play in general?


• The thing about play is that there are difFerent ways of looking at why people do it • Each point of view is useful under its own special circumstances • Example:
– a developmental psychologist may regard play as something children do to advance and adapt – A clinical psychologist may regard play as something self-destructive gamblers do


• Game designers need to know about aLl the different types of play
– Because all are useful at times
• Although some are more useful than others…

• The work on different play types is the ambiguity of play By brian suTtonsmith
– A renowned professor of education from NZ

• Sutton-smith identified 7 common ways that society and academics frame games • He called these rhetorics


• Sutton-smith’s 7 rhetorics are:
– – – – – – – Play Play Play Play Play Play Play as as as as as as as progreSs fate power identity the imaginary self frivolous

• NEedleSs to say, I’m going to go through these one by one…

Play as progress

• Animals play!
– Young Bears etc. will fight each other, but nip rather than bite

• Biologists see play as an activity that’s evolutionarily useful to higher animals
– That includes humans

• Animals that play have advantages over those that don’t
– They progreSs in their developement

• animals experiencing play as fun will tend to play more
– And thus progress more

Advantages of play

• It’s suggested that Play could help animals:
– – – – – – Adapt to new situations train in skills Establish a pecking order safely Discover new behaviours Bond Get an emotional boOst

• However, it’s hard to tell as we don’t know what animals think
– Or, indeed, whether any two animals think the same way


• We have slightly more chance of knowing what children think • They seem to develop as individuals as their play increases in sophistication • play by children is therefore often seen as a form of learning
– Very much leSs so for adults

• This suggests that adults should intervene in children’s play to help them learn • early Studies suPported this but they’ve since been discredited
– The jury is stilL out


• the play as progress rhetoric assumes that play stops when progress stops (ie. at adulthood)
– It doesn’t

• Also, if play is evolutionarily useful, then there should be a link between animals’ brain sizes and the amount they play
– There isn’t

• It’s a useful way to look at play in certain circumstances, but not all

Play as fate

• this is perhaps the oldest of the 7 rhetorics • It sees people as at the mercy of fate/the gods/destiny/chance • Play is a way of testing your luck
– Ie. testing your future

• Foundation of many religions and practices
– Eg. astrology

• Strongly connected with superstition
– And therefore gambling


• Also Closely linked with dreams
– For reasons that today might include Virtual worlds

• If fate is inevitable, your dreams are visions of what your fate might be
– But only might be – they could be wrong!

• The rhetoric of fate attempts to rationalise the chaotic by ascribing order to it
– Luck, magic, gods, …

• Dreams are mesSages from the ordering body


• Crucial to the rhetoric of play as fate is the notion of chance • There must be some aspect of play that is uncontrollable
– Except by the ordering body

• This is not always the case in games, though
– Eg. chess

• It also has unsatisfying implications for the notion that play is voluntary
– inescapable fate can’t be voluntary, can it?

Play as power

• This rhetoric concerns mainly adult play in the form of sports, contests and festivals • Shows superiority of one group over another
– Or of an individual over their environment

• Groups that win a contest bring glory
– Even the losing groups can bond with them

• Through giving people aspirations, Playful contests are how civilisations rise and develop (Huizinga) • This makes sense for games of order, but less so for games of disorder (eg. gambling)


• In this rhetoric, play is seen as a microcosm of life
– Good at play, good at life

• It’s used to explain:
– why national anthems are played at the olympics – Why the owners of teams are more important than the players – Why most of the major sports are played primarily by men

• However, not all play is competitive

Play as identity

• In this rhetoric, play is seen as a way for people to bond and build coMmunity
– Includes parades, celebrations and mass spectacles

• Very closely related to rhetoric of power
– Purpose of expressions of power is to assert superiority of your identity, community and traditions – Purpose of expressions of identity is to expand and share your identity, community and traditions


• Play as Identity can help promote your moral values even if you lose
– British empire – “it’s the taking part”

• Specialising in a small number of games can make a community stronger • NZ/SA/Wales rugby; Australia/WI/Pakistan cricket; south america foOtbaLl • Play as identity is A way to organise play to the community’s ends
– Establish hegemony of dominant group – Christmas is play..!

Play as the imaginary

• This is generally lighter than the other rhetorics • Play is seen as enabling some kind of tranformation of ideas
– Creativity, romanticism, mythology, …

• Play is not so much an intellectual contest or a competition or a parade so much as a way to think about other things
– Conflated with art

• It’s Playing with meaning


• Play as the imaginary tends to be favoured by CREATIVE people CREA • The word “play” is used metaphorically
– “playing with ideas”

• However, it has problems with its own meaning • It Has so many relationships to metaphor and deconstruction that it’s hard to tell when play itself starts and ends
– It’s a useful, but limited rhetoric

Play as self

• This is the youngest rhetoric of play
– from modern notion of individualism

• Asserts that play has its basis in the psychology of the individual player
– Compulsion, compensation, wish fulfillment, mastery of anxiety, tension release, reality testing, stimulus seeking, neurological arousal, …

• Meaning of play is found in the quality of the player’s experience
– The more fun it is, the betTer it is


• The rhetoric of play as self is related to the rhetoric of play as the imaginary
– Both regard play as a form of freEdom – Both are individualistic rather than communal

• The difference:
– in play as the imaginary, people play to create, and the creatinG is fun
• You play for a purpose

– In play as self, people play to be, and the being is fun
• Your purpose is play


• Advocates of other rhetorics of play will, when asked to explain why a player plays, usually give a play-as-self explanation • For all of them, It’s hard to say who is the self that plays, though
– If you play to change, then who is this “you” who’s playing? You change!

• “identity” is seen by many philosophers as an ever-changing construction • Do you play for your conscious or subconscious self?

Virtual worlds

• The rhetoric of self is used to explain why people play virtual worlds
– They’re discovering their real self by playing an imaginary self

• Their playing style changes over time as they themselves change • What’s fun now is precisely that which needs to be fun in order for them to progress towards self-understanding • More on this in ce317…

Play as frivolous

• This view of play is ancient, but it has been treated increasingly negatively in more modern times • It sees play as nonsense and inversion • The all-pervasive protestant work ethic Regards it as a waste of time • If you play, it must be for some productive reason
– Learning, prestige, socialisation, … – Play is separate from work


• But separating play and work is not easy
– If you enjoy your work, is it play? – If you’re paid to play, is it work?

• If you’re neither working nor playing (nor asleep), what are you doing? • Play as frivolity lets you regard all the other rhetorics as being play, too
– And therefore frivolous

• But frivolity is superficial
– Is all play superficial?


• Ok, so bearing in mind how you think we should regard games in general, how can you apply that philosophy to games in particular? • This leads us to the main phase of today’s lecture: game criticism • By “criticism” I don’t just mean “saying bad things about something”
– Criticism can be positive as well as negative

On criticism

• In general, Criticism means the judgment of something as fit for purpose • Usually, it’s applied to creative works
– art, science, music, food, film, theatre, computer games, … – In this context, it assumes informed opinion

• If you want to be able to design games, you must be able to critique them

Role of the critic

• The formal role of the critic is to apPraise the object of criticism
– such that those less knowledgeable or less aesthetically atTuned can better decide whether to engage with it or not

• the critic must understand and interpret the object of criticism
– Thereby gaining insight into their own critical faculties

• Criticism is thus itself an art form
– You could have critics of critics!


• Criticism is distinct from the act of creation in the domain being criticised
– You don’t have to be a chef to be a restaurant critic

• Many creative people are critics, though
– Especially of themselves

• Nevertheless, just because you’re gOod at something, that doesn’t mean you understand it
– Criticism is about understanding

Why criticise?

• it helps get your own thinking straight • You don’t like something – why not? • You think something doesn’t work – why doesn’t it work?
– Is there a fix?

• What about the game impreSses you?
– Does it give you any ideas of your own?

• In analysing a game objectively, you hone your critical faculties
– Don’t turn into karen carpenter…

Critical faculties

• The carpenters:
– brother & sister duo – bigGest-selling American act of the 1970s

• Main selling point: karen’s voice
– Richard played the keyboard

• When richard accidentally got addicted to anti-insomnia pills in 1979, karen went solo
– After all, keyboard players are ten a penNy


• Karen’s new album was so bad that industry executives wouldn’t release it
– When it eventually came out in 1996, you could understand their point…

• Sure, karen could sing superbly, but she had no critical faculties
– She thought those tracks were goOd!

• Richard was the real genius of the act • Lesson for game designers: always get a second opinion
– Even if you ignore it…

Games criticism

• Computer Games criticism involves understanding computer games at an intelLectual level • It’s not esSential to game development
– nevertheless, you can see how it might help If you want to work on games…

• I’m only going to scratch the surface, though
– There’s a much meatier discussion in ce317
• Virtual worlds as art

Magazine reviews

• Much game criticism today takes the form of magazine reviews • How these work:
– Game Publisher gives magazine a copy of the latest beta 3-6 months before launch – Journalist plays it for a few hours (if playable) and takes a few scrEenshots – Journalist writes a glowing review – Magazine publishes review a month before the launch date – Game publisher takes out an ad in magazine


• What if the review isn’t glowing? • Publisher is reticent to send betas in future
– Magazine loses out to other magazines

• Publisher takes out fewer ads
– Magazine loses money
• Most magazines make money from ads, not sale price

• Is this the best environment for reading unbiased opinion?

Basis for criticism

• Suppose you were a restaurant critic • What could you legitimately comment on?
– – – – – – – – – Location and type of restaurant The ambience of the restaurant Service (wait staff, waiting time) Price Reputation of the coOk Quality of food Quantity of food Preparation of food How well the menu dishes go together

Game equivalent

• What are the computer game equivalents?
– – – – – – – – – Platform and genre of game The loOk & FeEl of the game Service (CS reps, patches) Price Reputation of the developer/designer Quality of gameplay Quantity of gameplay Preparation of game How well the various aspects of gameplay go together


• Restaurants are mainly about the fOod, so restaurant reviews will focus on that • Computer games are mainly about the gameplay, so gameplay reviews will focus on that • Game reviews Will usually feature a lot of Eye candy, though
– EspecialLy if the beta was too thin or non-functional to give much to write about
• Pictures make great paDding


• The heart of a game review concerns the gameplay • If everything else if perfect, dud gameplay will still kiLl a game • Reviews are normally for players, therefore concentrate on the player experience
– What’s fun and what isn’t – Why it’s fun and why it isn’t
• “hey, we did fun two lectures ago!”


• Remember you’re apPraising the game, not merely describing it • You only describe so as to lay out what you’re aPpraising
– “star wars concerns the journey of a young man, luke skywalker, from farmer’s boy to galactic hero”

• note similarities with other games
– And the differences

• Say what these similarities/differences mean


• You’re talking about the player experience, so only mention the mechanics if they’re particularly swEet or sour
– If there’s anything bad, always offer a solution (if you can) – If it’s irreparably bad, explain why

• Try to be objective • Reminder: to do any of this, you need to understand the game on several levels
– That’s why I’m teaching you about it


• Critics can either assume the reader has played the game in question or not
– Usually not – a review format

• If they haven’t, there’s a danger of giving away secrets
– story is most imperilled, but telling people gameplay tricks can spoil it for them too

• Try to avoid spoilers
– If you must refer to something surprising so as to make a point, warn readers first


• Always strive to be objective • Just because you love the premise, don’t let that colour your judgment of the rest • This is especiaLly true of your own work • If you know something could be improved, don’t look for excuses not to do it
– “killing my babies” versus “better code”

Authorial intent

• An important part of criticism is authorial intent • A game designer designs games as a means of personal expression
– They’re artists, and game creation is their medium

• Their games are their way of articulating parts of their selves that they can’t express any other way • What is the author (lead designer in our case) trying to say in their work?


• The burbs, richard bartle, 2003 Mixed media 100cm x 125cm • Sold for ~£3,000

• Sadly, it’s by a different Richard bartle

Explaining art

• • • •

What’s that picture of? What’s it saying? Well, The artist doesn’t know! If he knew, he wouldn’t have to paint it to say it • He knows what some of the individual pieces of representation mean
– Some of the “words” or “symbols”

• But it’s for others to read those words


• It’s the same with games • Designers have many ways of doing things, but they only do one of them
– Why? Why not some other way?

• What drove the designer to make the decisions made in the way they did?
– It’s an expression of the designer’s self

• When you criticise a game try figure out what the designer is saying through it
– What’s the game realLy about?


• As I mentioned earlier, criticism is an art form • You could pick up on many things, but you only pick up on some
– Why? Why not other things other people found worth commenting on?

• Your criticism is opinion – your opinion • It’s not a mere description, because people are reading it for your opinion
– Your informed opinion


• When you finish a criticism, make a recommendation
– Who would like this game? – Who wouldn’t like it?

• Say why if it’s not obvious from what you wrote already
– Say whether you liked it

• Again, this involves your thinking about the game
– Why did you/didn’t you like it?

Writing a critique

• We don’t have time to criticise an actual game here
– As I said, That’s what claSses are for…

• Next game you play, try it!
– – – – – Is it a good game? A bad one? Does it have faults? Could they be fixed? What if it were reskinned? What is it saying? How would you improve it?

• The best way to learn about games is to understand them

Pause for breath

• Ok, so far today we’ve looked at ways to view play in general • We’ve seen how to apply your own general philosophical views to specific games
– Criticism is an art form

• It should now be clear that most of what a game is comes from the mind of the designer
– Game design is an art form

Design and designers

• If you’re to understand a game, you need to get into the mind of the designer
– Designers must be able to appraise what other designers’ designs say
• Not necessarily articulated as a critique, though

• The big question: Why design? • Two parts to it:
– Why do we need design? – Why do we need designers?

Why design?

• Early computer games were designed organicalLy • You had an idea, you sat down, you played with the code, you tried out new ideas, you tested them, you modified them, you threw out the bad ones, you extended the good ones • Eventually, you had a game • You can still do that today
– However…

No design

• Today This is an expensive approach
– Undoing changes could cost milLionS

• Back in the DARK AGES, people built AGES houses organically
– They had an idea what they wanted, but no actual plans

• When they tried building castles and cathedrals that way, they fell down • Design is to implementation as programming is to execution


• Design involves predicting how something expensive-to-make will turn out without actually making it first • You do get to make cheap prototypes
– Bits of paper, models, acting, rough-and-ready code fragments, simulations, storyboards, …

• Once you know what you’ll be making, you can figure out how to make it
– Resource/budget allocation

• If you can’t aFford it, redesign


• Some people don’t like up front design
– It constrains freedom of EXPRESSION – It means interesting new avenues revealed during development can’t be explored – Setting the design in stone means flaws can’t be corRected

• All these points are true!
– Although there is room for manoeuvre

• For all but the smallest of teams and the longest of deadlines, though, it’s just too costly to do otherwise

Why designers?

• Everyone in a computer games company thinks they can design
– – – – – Coders can code and design! Artists can draw and design! Animators can animate and design! Qa people can play and design! Producers can put together boring production schedules and design!

• Why do we need designers? • Because designers actually can design!


• I was at gdc in 2005 at the talk where will wright described his new game,

– So were several hundred other people…

• Will began his description with the words, “you start oFf at the microscopic level” • I had only one design question after I heard him say that
– Any idea what it was?


• It was: “does the universe turn out to be microscopic to another universe?” • I watched in growing amazement as the crowd whOoped with delight each time will pulled out the viewpoint
– from microscopic to naked eye to local to global to stellar to universal

• These people hadn’t seen it coming!
– They weren’t designers

• Oh, the answer is no, it doesn’t wrap round


• Computer game design is an art • It’s often colLaborative, but only in the sense that movies are collaborative
– Fundamentally, It’s a solo job

• A movie/play/ballet/opera needs a director • a computer game needs a designer • Designers may take input from others
– More on this shortly

• but they have the final say

Wisdom of crowds

• Take a bottle full of smarties and ask people to guesS how many are in there
– Originally it was the weight of an ox, not the number of smarties…

• You’ll get wildly different estimates • Take the average of the estimates, and you’ll get very close to the answer..! • This is known as the wisdom of crowds
– James surowiecki, 2004

Using woc

• imagine a computer game where the player shoots odd-looking space amoeba • Actually, those are not space amoeba! Those are human tisSue cells! • Actually, that’s not just odd-looking, that’s cancerous • Average the decisions of 30 people playing this game and it’s as gOod as a trained pathologist
– Not that patients would be reassured…

so For games?

• Does the wisdom of crowds work for game design?
– particularly virtual worlds?

• Why employ a designer if all you need to do is average the suggestions in forum postings from 5,000 players?
– You can simplify it further just by putting ideas to the vote

• You’d please a lot more people, and surely get a betTer game as a result! • What’s not to love?

Kasparov vs the world

• In 1999, garry kasparov took on the rest of the world at chesS
– Sponsored by msn gaming zone,

• Anyone with internet access could vote for the rotw’s next move • 4 months and 62 moves later, kasparov won
– Even though the rotw had expert advisors and discussion boards to discuss strategy

• Grandmasters always win these games


• A first-rate game designer genuinely could and almost certainly would design a better game than any number of players • The designer:
– – – – can seE further than the mean distance Keeps ideas consistent and coherent Can explore new, original avenues Has a piece of their soul in the game – the “vision”


• This is not to say that players can’t produce a brilLiant suggestion • The problem is, every player thinks their idea is the brilliant one • A Designer would have to be incredibly arRogant not to consider using players’ suggestions • However, They have to edit out the ones that are useleSs or don’t fit
– This is part of the designer’s art

Why designers design

• Why do game designers design games? • Why don’t they
– – – – – – program games? Write Novels? Drive Trucks? Authenticate Nuclear power station software? Practise law? Feed the poor?

• They could do lots of things; why do they design games?


• Some posSible answers:
– – – – – Purely by acCident they wanted a new chaLlenge They get to create what they like to play they’re only obeying orders It’s part of their grand scheme for world domination – Developing games is FUN FUN!

• (an impoSsible answer):
– For the money

Are you a designer?

• The final non-impossible answer back there is the main one • Designers design because they find it fun • Who here has designed, if not implemented, an original game?
– Don’t include assignments! – You were only obeying orders for those…

• Why did you design the game?
– To design It or to play it?

Designing vs playing

• Most gynaecologists are men • For a programMer, the fun is in the prograMming
– they’ll haPpily program games they wouldn’t play

• For a designer, the fun is in the designing
– They’ll happily design games they wouldn’t play

• What about players?


• Players design games because they want to play the results • Most people in computer game development are gamers • evidence: Programmers can earn much more money working for banks, supermarkets and software houses • They work for game developers purely because they like playing games
– Which they aLl want to design


• Players are only interested in experiencing the end result • Designers are only interested in creating that which can be experienced • player-designed games never consider the big picture or other players
– They also have selective depth

• AlL designers have dozens of unfinished or unplayed games they’ve designed kicking around at home


• Remember this from earlier? • Artists create • Others interpret

Designers as artists

• A game designer designs games as a means of personal expression • They’re artists, and game creation is their medium • Their games are their way of articulating parts of their selves that they can’t express any other way • They even have oevres
– Sid meier, peter molyneux, raph koster, Reiner Knizia, …


• Art enables artists to discover themselves (if they want to) • As to what it is that designers do discover, I consider that in ce317
– Hey! I heard that sigh of relief!

• Basically, though, the art of game design is to have fun creating things that other people will have fun playing • As for what fun is … that’s also an ce317 thing

The assignment

• This week, Add a 60 seconds of gameplay description of your game

And finally…

• As usual, Some web sites to look at • Spore and its changing viewpoint
– http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spore_(2008_video_g ame)

• Wisdom of crowds for cancer screening
– http://www.raphkoster.com/2006/01/04/treatin g-players-like-numbers/

• Richard bartle the artist
– http://www.richardbartle.co.uk/

Reminder to me

• Pick up the attendance list!
– It’s a bore

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