In short, after seeing this, it feels like I have been arguing very much from a combination of the oral tradition and the digital culture — likely because of my background in online games. And the aesthetics of print culture are pretty much exactly the things I was commenting on seeing.
In fact, the latest two responses basically argue that games are print culture:
I wonder whether player agency, as we know it, this quality we assume games just naturally have, is actually an illusion.
Raph’s analogy of games as conversation fails for the most part because it is so rare to see a game redesigned after the wide release…
This second quote is telling! I take patch cycles, community response, all that so much for granted that I had to stop and re-read that sentence because it didn’t make sense to me. And similarly, Andrew saying it is rare means that he’s not seeing the way in which games-as-a-service are not only taking over, but will soon be everything.
Worch leans towards print culture himself; the fact that Dishonored is on the agency end of the spectrum in his mind is very telling as well. There’s a certain assumption that being 3/4 of the way over on the spectrum is the default mode, sort of. But he does cover, as an appendix, the consideration of online games and similar emergent spaces — stay past the apparent ending.
For those just catching up on this whole thing, here’s every link I can find, in rough chronological order. Be sure to read the comments too, because it is there that the communication gap is most clearly exposed.
- A Letter to Leigh – me
- Definitions – Leigh Alexander
- A Letter to a Letter – Robert Yang
- We have an empathy problem – Adam Saltsman
- Formalism and Zinesters: why formalism is not the enemy – Tadgh Kelly
- How to Talk About a System and Who Gets To (everyone) – Andrew Vanden Bossche
- John Brindle Rocks Out – a series of tweets by John Brindle
- What’s in a game? – Devin Wilson
- Triptych – Mattie Brice
- Que es mas macho? – Colleen Macklin
- Board stiff with formalism – Jeremy Antley
- A case study in how revolutionaries became The Man – Dan Cook
- Resetting definitions – Twitter discussion with me, Zach Gage, and Ed Key
- Playing with “game” – me
- Raph Koster seems to be doing the impossible – Zoya Street
- The Tyranny of Choice – Andrew Vanden Bossche
- On games and choice – Twitter discussion with me, Andrew Vanden Bossche, and Andrew Doull
- On choice architectures – me
- The sandbox has walls – Dan Cox
- ggoDbye – Andrew Doull
I am sure I missed more that are out there!
I am rather drifting away from this topic at this point, because I need to get this book revision done and get to working on making games. But I do want to leave some concluding personal thoughts on the table:
- The discussion did, in fact, have all the signs of a culture clash. I wish it had focused early on on the actual culture clash, rather than conflating so many threads, but ah well.
- I stand by the idea that we’re all being too quick to take something as an attack rather than a conversation.
- I’m very thoroughly a product of print culture, myself. In fact, I am overeducated in it, with formal training in many of the arts. It is possible to have a foot in both camps.
- Formalism isn’t going anywhere. But we who are interested in it can both fortify our work and avoid political implications by moving to new terminology.
- Formalist approaches and reader-response type stuff can easily co-exist.
- Whatever the current critical currents are, they will get turned over. Whatever current thought is, it’s not “the right answer.” I’ve seen them turn over too many times.
- The increased diversity of voices in the game industry is an incredibly good thing.
- I think the work being done by creators like Anna Anthropy, Porpentine, and so many others is brilliant, wonderful, and I don’t really care whether it’s “a game.” I don’t even care much whether a creator chooses to do their work on the print culture end of the spectrum, and when they do I am happy to listen. Since I do not want them to at all feel like I am attacking them, and in fact am a supporter of their work, I am simply going to refrain from critique or discussion that seems unwelcome, even though I really want to write about these games because I find them the most exciting stuff going on right now. Don’t expect me to stop linking to them though, because I really do want more people to see and play them.
- I do care about craft elements like whether something is a ludic artifact, because it helps me (and others) make better games.
In the end, I think that despite so many people saying “this is a pointless conversation” that the opposite is true. I found it very stressful, but incredibly worthwhile.
Now, go watch Matt’s video, because it really does put all this is in a different light. I find it ironic that the talk was delivered during GDC, before any of this debate kicked off!