Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Rock Star Armadillo

It's been awhile, hasn't it? Work, illness and other stuff that's no fun at all, has been keeping me away. Hopefully we've turned the corner now.

So, because I'm feeling awful, I read comics to pass the time. One of my favourites is Penny Arcade, which deals with gaming issues in a more pictorial format than my artistic talents can manage. Anyway, in one of their commentaries, they touched upon an interesting topic that is something I've been thinking about quite a bit. Essentially, how one game, or more generally one example from any medium, can be interpreted in countless ways by different people - and enjoyed in many ways that perhaps the creator didn't plan for. To clip a bit from the article:

A good example of this playing out is in the guitars for Guitar Hero and Rock Band. When the Rock Band guitar is working, I vastly prefer it: its size and shape are much closer to electric guitars I have played, and the strum bar is thick at the outer edge to be gripped like a pick. Its operation is largely silent, without the characteristic click of a microswitch, designed (I am sure) explicitly to be quiet. Some people love that click, though - it means precision - and for the player who craves that fifth star, there is no higher virtue. Stars in single player are, for me, irrelevant. I'm sure this makes me a scoundrel. I only care about stars in co-operative multiplayer, where I see them as an index of our indomitable band spirit. I want a measurement of our unity. I'm playing the same game for an entirely different purpose. I wouldn't notice if it did click. When the song begins, I enter a trance. That's a pretty serious distinction - people who play games in order to excel at them, and those who play games as a conduit to fantasy - and its only one axis of the diagram.

I'm sure that no matter what game you play, you have noticed the same thing amongst your fellow players - that some play to dominate, to show their superiority over others, some play with the game designer's intentions in mind, to play "like it was meant to be played", some play for social reasons, to feel like they're a part of something, some play simply according to what they feel like doing on a particular day.

From the designer's perspective, this is fairly challenging - these are diverse groups, and very general ones. In fact, some of them are highly contradictory, most notably how can you please people who want to be sociable and get along with everyone, and still make things entertaining for those who demand a way to prove themselves better than any other? Unlike a game like Guitar Hero, the text-based environment is much more social rather than a simple mechanical structure, which slants the situation somewhat, but makes it no easier.

In essence, this is one of the problems that we struggle with, that mostly every game creator has or will struggle with. We all want to have as many as possible enjoy our creation, whether we create for money or for the pleasure of bringing something into existence. What do we do when players' goals are so contradictory that their existence pressures other players to not play? It is a very difficult balancing act, and the only solution that I have found is to produce so many new features, create so much enjoyment that nobody has to share. Even then, we have to rely on the goodwill of players to recognise their impact on others and on the game itself, and occasionally do what is good for the game, rather than focusing solely on selfish goals.

That, and sometimes I really wish I could play a guitar.