Mar 252006

I took extensive notes during this session at GDC, only to find that Alice beat me to actually typing it up and posting it all. My notes now seem very redundant, except that her battery ran out, and I managed to take notes on #0 (yes, there was a number zero).

BTW, this session answered all the questions about how game studies and developers can meet in the middle. It was excellent, and got a great response from the assembled crowd.

So here’s #0: How do we design for spectator experiences as well as for play?

First, the study understood spectation as divided between

  • Manipulations, which are things that you do to the interface, essentially.
  • Effects, which are what you see as a result.

Now, the key to the research was realizing that both of these are something that people might want to be spectators of. We tend to think of game spectation as being about watching the gameplay, but that’s not always where thr draw is. For example, in Dance Dance Revolution we actually watch the manipulations, not the effects (who cares if each arrow is hit, we’re watching the dancer more attentively).

This struck home for me because as a guitarist, I often find myself watching manipulations (how’s he moving his fingers?) rather than effects (ah, listen to the music).

Now, take this and put it into a grid:


No manipulation

Manipulation visible

No effects

Secretive spectation hides both the manipulation and the effects. This is like watching someone play something but not knowing what they are doing or what happens as a result. Seeing someone with a GBA on a train, for example.

Suspenseful spectation reveals what is being done, but not what the effects are. I suspect that many types of games would become this sort of spectation without adequate commentary being given (spectating an RTS, or chess, or Civ, perhaps, only conveys the obvious effects, unless you have color commentary; without access to the inner logic of a move, the true meaning is not conveyed).

Effects visible

Magical spectation reveals what happened, but not what is done. Spectation of a fighting game, where complex combos are pulled off but we cannot see how, seems like a possible example to me. The panel cited Powerpoint as the most basic example, and sports games as a possible games example.

Expressive spectation reveals both, and their examples were DDR and Guitar Hero. This is what we usually think of as spectation. But Guitar Hero and DDR both go further by introducing forms of expression that people can watch that go beyond the stndard gameplay: the tapping technique that was inthat video for GH a while back or the example the panel gave of tossing the guitar in the air and spinning it overhead to activate star power, the freestylers in DDR, etc.

The takeaway was that suspenseful and magical spectation are hugely underused in games, even though it’s easy to see that interesting narratives while watching can be constructed out of stuff like seeing someone do something at the controls that has no visible effect — until bam, it jumps out at you later.

The slides for the presentation are at and include pointers to all the papers.

  7 Responses to “GDC day 5: Top ten lessons from game studies, number zero”

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  2. In Guild Wars you can spectate the PvP matches and even see the skills that a character is using to an extent (even if the action is fast and it’s too hard to figure out the tactics).

    There’s an interesting potential if you could save these matches and really study them. It’s a way to learn the game through observation.

    The “suspenseful” part can really be about everything tactical where there are two opposite sides. An elaborated PvP game can easily have that. It happens sometimes in DAoC when you are waiting for an attack or are trying to figure out what the enemy is planning.

  3. Btw, you should ban my site from the trackbacks. That’s just my aggregator and normal trackbacks don’t even work, so it’s pretty useless.

  4. GDC 2006 Rundown

    For the last week I’ve been at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Jose. I spent the first two days at the Serious Games Summit, giving two talks on Monday. Then I gave two more talks on Friday during traditional…

  5. […] Comments […]

  6. […] The Game Studies Download 0324061554.jpgOriginally uploaded by Avant Game. I took this photo on my cell phone from the stage at the Game Studies Download Lecture, which I delivered with Ian Bogost and Mia Consalvo at the Game Developers Conference yesterday. The audience, which was still filling up when I took this photo, exceeded our size expectations by quite a bit. We’d made 50 copies of handouts; we had standing room only in a lecture hall with seating capacity of 400. Go Game Studies!You can download the slides and our handouts on my Avant Game GDC page.Ian and Mia share their thoughts on how the panel went, and some lovely live blogging occurred as well.My goal is to see the Game Studies Download become a tradition at GDC. Hope to be back in 2007 to deliver more top research findings! […]

  7. Those aren’t trackbacks; those are pingbacks. Raph’s site captures the Referring URL when you click on a link from your site to arrive here. That’s why I’ve taken to copying the URL of the post I want to go to and pasting it into the Location bar; doesn’t attach a Referring URL: doesn’t get recorded. =P

    But that’s mostly because I’m devious and want to know whether or not my friends actually click through on some of the things I post.

    The takeaway was that suspenseful and magical spectation are hugely underused in games

    Oddly enough, I get the sense that magical spectation is too common. But I think I’m misunderstanding the nature of being a spectator…

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