On choice architectures

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Apr 242013

Yesterday Andrew Vanden Bossche posted a great article called The Tyranny of Choice in response to the formal questions about narrative that were in my post A Letter to Leigh.

In the article, Andrew argues that every system by its very nature is a statement, not a dialogue. After all, if we artificially control the boundaries of the system, then every system imposes a worldview. (This is the same argument made about how the original SimCity espoused liberal politics through its simulation).

There are not some games that subvert player agency, and others that grant it. Rather, all games, by nature of being games, by nature of being systems, inherently restrict player agency in the exact same ways. The difference between the games with this “aesthetic of unplayability” (as Koster calls it) and any other game is nil. Other games are merely better at hiding their true nature.

…I question whether there is a difference at all between this games that subvert and refuse player agency and those that encourage and celebrate it. I wonder whether player agency, as we know it, this quality we assume games just naturally have, is actually an illusion. Koster implies that games are capable of create dialogue with their systems; I believe games can only make statements.

This led to a great little discussion with Andrew and also with Andrew Doull, which I have captured as a Storify post here.

It led me to think a bit about architectures of choice. As Andrew Vanden Bossche put it, “if a ‘fake’ choice is as meaningful as a ‘real’ one, is there a difference?”

These are all matters of degree, of course. A work is built out of many moments of interaction (and lack of interaction). A given moment may have immense freight of meaning carried by qualities other than the choice architecture (graphics, storytelling, words, music, and so on).

A long time ago, I did a presentation about two models for thinking about narrative in games. One is the impositional narrative, the case where the author is imposing a worldview firmly on the player. The other is the expressive narrative, where the player imposes a worldview on the system, within the system’s limits. We can also think of these as the narrative created a priori and the narrative created post facto, as storytelling versus mythologizing, as plot versus memory. (Later this was developed into a much more robust framework called the storytelling cube; alas, this presentation requires IE to view right now).

I agree with Andrew that games are always statements. But emergence, user-generated content, chaotic systems, and yes, even our universe are also systems, and they are systems rich enough to allow for what I would personally term dialogue within a system – even if those systems are limited in ways that convey a message. I say that based on my experience creating emergent systems in online worlds, where players continually surprised me by responding to and with the system in ways that I certainly did not foresee. In effect, they expanded the boundaries of the system themselves.


A whirlwind tour of choice architectures might start with a film. The viewer does always have more choice than shown in this diagram, of course; they can get up and leave, they can throw popcorn at the person in front of them, they can shout “fire!” in the theater. But we can think of these as both always-present and un-architected choices. They are all essentially forms of breaking the contract between the viewer and the filmmakers.

Really, what you are “supposed” to do is sit back and absorb. There’s plenty of room for interpretation here, of course, but on a semantic level, not a systemic level. The systemic level does not admit of choices.

CASlide2A book is somewhat more interactive. You have to turn a page. But it really doesn’t matter how you turn the page, you’re going to get to the same place. Again, the individual’s experience along the way may be very different thanks to other media, but the systemic artifact itself is very simple, and not particularly open to interpretation.

There have been efforts to change this. Alain Robbe-Grillet write in an intentionally fractured style. Ezra Pound basically pushed the equivalent of hypertext links on readers of his poetry. Carolivia Herron’s Thereafter Johnnie suggests in its text an alternate order in which to read the book. Julio Cortázar’s novel Rayuela (translated as Hopscotch) plays with the actual form:

An author’s note suggests that the book would best be read in one of two possible ways, either progressively from chapters 1 to 56 or by “hopscotching” through the entire set of 155 chapters according to a “Table of Instructions” designated by the author. Cortazar also leaves the reader the option of choosing his/her own unique path through the narrative.


This is also not dissimilar to the QTE in games; after all, the price of failure on a QTE is generally a sudden death moment, the end of a story. It is a degenerate narrative, one where it is clear that going on is the main current.

CASlide3A very common way of dealing with the issue of agency in AAA games is to use the narrative structure termed “string of pearls.” In its simplest form, this is providing the player a number of choices in how to resolve a situation, but collapsing all those choices down to one actual consequence (usually, success in getting past an obstacle). This allows the player to feel real agency moment to moment, while retaining control of the story in authorial hands.

CASlide5Multiple endings puts a structure in the realm of the Choose Your Own Adventure. Here is the first time we see choices having actual consequences, which also means it is the first time that the author is ceding consequential control to the player. Here for the first time the player constructs not only their own narrative, but their own story. Of course, it is within a rigid structure still, and every possible story has been planned out in advance by the author.

CASlide4The modern AAA game is actually more a hybrid of “string of pearls” and CYOA.  In more complex forms of “string of pearls,” we see that the choices within the “pearl” can be quite rich. But the system still narrows down repeatedly to choke points, where previous choices are shown to have little consequence. In the best games that use this structure, such as Dishonored, there are long-term effects from making choices within the pearl, that manifest as ripple effects as you advance through the game (often presenting the player with multiple endings). But again, at the higher level of structure, the endings are pre-written, and the player is usually being given a binary choice, or perhaps a few choices of endings.

In Colossal Cave there is a famous puzzle where you have to kill a dragon. You try every object you have: a sword, a knife, a bird… nothing works. If you just try KILL DRAGON, the game snarkily replies “With what, your bare hands?”

The answer to the puzzle is, of course, “YES.”

CASlide6The dividing line between ludic artifact and branching story may lie in the distinction between a choice and a verb. Enabling players to choose not between “means of killing” but between “killing” and “befriending” is where richness really starts to come in, and where the best AAA games operate today. I have to think on this more, but in game grammar terms, a given game atom or ludeme (pick your term!) is recursive, it nests. So something like “kill” is in itself “a game” in the sense that it is a ludic artifact itself, capable of being extracted from the larger system and played on its own.

CASlide7A sandbox game, like The Sims (the original), Grand Theft Auto, Ultima Online, or Minecraft, offers a profusion of verbs at any moment, and has very little authorial push down a single path. Rather than proceed linearly, it sprawls like a jellyfish dropped on concrete (and is often just about as coherent). Players are now much more in the authorial role in that they truly are driving both narrative and story here.

CASlide8Most importantly, it is at the high end of this structure that we find games like most MMOs, Nomic, Calvinball or Dwarf Fortress, where the actions of players do not just result in the system spitting back a bit of static content, but completely new verbs that exist only because the player put them there. In effect, games where the players create new rules, usually through programmability, emergent behavior, and user-generated content. Now we are in the realm of games where it is the player who makes the art.

Now, all the above is excessively reductionist. For example, not all verbs are created equal.

  • Some verbs are structurally false choices even though they have the trappings of great consequence; a QTE might be one such. We might think of this as the equation “2 = 2.” These sequences evaluate to “true.”
  • Some verbs are simple binaries, such as the choice to choose a moral path through conversations in an RPG. A great profusion of choices, still narrowed down to a binary outcome. We might think of these as Boolean equations.
  • Other verbs are applicable to a very wide array of situations and choices. “Kill” in an RPG is one such, and because it is a ludic system in its own right, it operates much like an algorithm into which you can feed different values, sort of a finite state machine.
  • Given a rich enough possible array of outcomes, the player may perceive this actually finite set of possibilities as infinite. At that point, perceptually, it becomes an analog system, not a digital one. And herein lies ambiguity, interpretability, and so on, because in systemic terms, perceived problem complexity is the path towards fun (cf Games Are Math).


For me, the question of what makes systems richly interpretable – as opposed to their dressing in the form of words, art, and music – is an interesting and important one. We have a lot of history and tradition in making words richly interpretable, music richly interpretable, art richly interpretable. It’s not a solved problem, by any means, but it is relatively solved. On the other hand, we don’t have a lot in terms of systems as constructed ludic artifacts.

One way to think of this is on the scale of representational to abstract; a representational artwork imposes more on the viewer. An abstract one invites the viewer to contribute more. Similarly, different choice architectures invite different sorts of contributions from the player. In a linear work, there is lots of room for the reader to interpret what is there; in a non-linear work, there is more room for the player to interpret simply because of what is not there. In game grammar terms (PDF), a game on the lower end of this choice architecture scale might be very deep (chained sequences of choice) but it is not very broad (branching choices).

It is likely axiomatic that structures on the broad end are going to be where richly interpretable systems lie. In other words, where we reach for ludic art.

  • Learning about color theory, negative space, and line is a key part of art training.
  • Learning about rhythm divorced from melody, melody divorced from timbre, timbre divorced from harmony is a key part of music training.
  • Learning about prosody independent of words, plot apart from character, character separate from description, is a big part of learning to write.

The real question is about how we create ambiguity in our work, and it leads to a very personal aesthetic choice: the prickly question of whether a work that accomplishes its effects through ludic systems rather than other media is “better crafted” as a ludic artifact. This says nothing about its merits as a work in totality, but opens up the same sort of question that we ask when we say that a musical has good songs versus relying on its staging and spectacle, that a song has a good melody and a bad arrangement, or whether good acting is carrying a bad script.

In the end, these tools aren’t about which work is brilliant and which is not; it’s about the ways in which they can be brilliant.

  29 Responses to “On choice architectures”

  1. I may as well repost what I said on @MammonMachine’s article:

    “I have historically engaged with the concept of choice using economic concepts: namely, opportunity cost. A choice is real if its alternative is meaningful. That can be all sorts of things, and be different for different people. For instance, someone who values cutscenes ceteris paribus would consider two dialogue options that lead to two different cutscenes (and you can’t replay the choice) to be a real choice. Is the fact that you can play the entire game again and choose the other option a negation of the reality of the choice? I don’t know; I’m willing to concede both yes and no.”

    And now that I think about it, it depends entirely on the player: the choice to replay is a relatively omnipresent (but not always; see Train or Chain World) one.

  2. Ok, so! When do we get a uo done better?

  3. Like you, I don’t believe that every system is a statement; to be a statement implies that someone has to state it. Some systems are not stated, for example the real-world economy is a vastly complicated system but it hasn’t been “stated”. Games are usually statements, but even then not always: folk games, which have evolved over centuries, have no-one stating them and therefore make no statement. Furthermore, even when a game is definitely stated, that doesn’t mean that the individual stating it knows what it states: unless it’s a self-conscious art game, as a designer you’ll be making the statement because the game’s system is the only way you can articulate that statement – yet you don’t know what that “statement” is, only that the game states it. If you did know what it was, you would state it some more overt way (novel, screenplay, poem, song, whatever).

    >“if a ‘fake’ choice is as meaningful as a ‘real’ one, is there a difference?”
    All choices in games are fake, because games themselves are artificial constructs and so not real. The player decides to treat the palpably false AS IF it were real in order to gain some benefit (usually fun) from playing. The distinction you want to make here isn’t between fake and real choices, but between false and true choices. A false choice is a construct presented as being a choice that is no such thing; a true choice is a choice which can affect the eventual outcome of the game. So, given that, if the player is given a false choice that they know is a false choice, but they attribute the same meaning to it as they would if it had been a true choice, then there is indeed no difference in a narrative sense; however, there is a difference in a gameplay sense. The story may carry the same emotional payload whether a choice is false or true, but it doesn’t carry the decision-making payload that makes a game a game. I would agree, however, that if you were to use the word “meaningless” instead of “meaningful” about a false or true choice, then they would be the same.

    >One is the impositional narrative, the case where the author is imposing a worldview firmly on the player. The other is the expressive narrative, where the player imposes a worldview on the system, within the system’s limits.
    There is a dichotomy here, but it’s not quite how you put it. All game narratives are imposed, the question is whether they are imposed explicitly or implicitly. The game designer defines “the system’s limits”, which determine completely what the player can and can’t do: it therefore implicitly defines (imposes) all possible games that can be played with a system; the player merely develops (through play) a series of events that they interpret as story that is meaningful to them. An explicit narrative is invariably built atop an implicit one, the aim generally being to create a story arc to direct the players’ play (because authors are usually better at story-telling than players). Even if you create a total sandbox, you’re still imposing a worldview on players;how could it be otherwise?

    >Now, all the above is excessively reductionist. For example, not all verbs are created equal.
    Not all choices are, either. It’s not the case that having choice in a game is always good – it has to be (to quote Sid Meier) an “interesting choice”. Micromanagement involves choices, but so many of so little significance as to become boring. Having to choose between siding with the pompous mayor or the brattish prince might have important consequences, but if you don’t care which one you help then the choice isn’t (to you) interesting.

    >The real question is about how we create ambiguity in our work
    Ambiguity is only one possible (albeit important) outcome we might want. Ultimately, I see games as having something to say, some “think on this” point to them – their artistic payload. That can involve ambiguity, but it can also be an unanswered question, or an argument, or challenge – it could be many things. To play the game is to read the statement.


  4. Richard,

    I agree with everything you wrote. 🙂

    I was using “ambiguity” as a short stand-in for all of those forms of indeterminacy.

    And on the issue of imposition — well, yes, of course the designer is still imposing in the sense that “it’s rigged” — even an expressive system has limits set by the designer (though of course, emergence and chaos mean that often, the designer gets those boundaries quite wrong!)

    That said, there is a big difference between a system designed to impose, and system designed to be driven by player expression. The design tools we use to create them are different. And that’s really what I’m interested in driving towards, design tools.

  5. Are “outcomes” the only measure of “choice”? Surely one =ought= to be able to invest the final red circle with radically different meanings depending on the black circles passed through to get there, though I’m not sure to what extent any of the AAA games I’ve played actually pull it off.

  6. Of course one can invest the outcomes with different meanings. How much of that will be from meaning gleaned from non-systemic elements is a bit more of a question.

    Journey is a great example of a game that is basically the simple string of pearls structure. It is nonetheless incredibly powerful emotionally. Would it be as powerful without the art and music and presentation? An excellent question.

  7. If we assume that games are systems and that they are always statements, doesn’t that mean that the player is always over-determined in relationship to the system? At least when working with people, there is always the hope of change. Within the site of struggle — and if these latest discussions have shown anything, it’s that definitions are /always/ sites of struggle — there might be some push back that could ultimately mutate the system. People can (sometimes) change their minds.

    Can a game do that though? Can code change? I mean, if we again assume that games are no different than a printed text (I’d call it a state machine, but my background is in computer science and I think that way), then this might not be possible ever. We can indulge ourselves in the illusion of maybe never quite reaching that upper bound — chess, for example, has something like 10^34 possible moves — but we can never change the game’s mind, so to speak. There’s isn’t that dialogue; it has all the power over us.

    If that is the case, and I’m not saying it is not, then we need to think about how resistance can happen — /if/ it can happen at all. Because, and maybe this is just me, I cannot help but to put into a very pessimistic mode about this latest part of the discussion. I understand situations where performativity can give birth to new roles in a culture by normalizing it through repeated behavior, but I’m not currently convinced this is possible in a game.

    I mean, aren’t all games impositional narratives then? If the player cannot invent a syntactically correct combinations of verbs and nouns that are both valid and unexpected, doesn’t the very grammar of its controls inculcate the player into a system from the very first input? And, if so, doesn’t that build ever upward with layers of statements per interlocking system? It’s nice to think of making choices /in/ a game, but isn’t the player, starting from the controller she holds, over-determined before she even presses start? She can’t invent new inputs — can she?

  8. Ah, Dan, there’s the rub exactly.

    Yes, the thrust of the argument from Andrew Vanden Bossche’s side is that indeed, all games are impositional, so let’s impose away. And this usually leads us down the road of using the tools of other media.

    But really, we don’t need the system to be infinite. We just need it to be perceptually infinite. That’s where emergence comes in, where chaos comes in, where randomness comes in, user-generated content and programmability, and so on. And there are examples of games doing that and the players bringing new verbs to the game, even in digital games.

    If it turns out that game systems are always going to be perceived as over-determining, then it might be that the ultimate artistic expression with games will in fact be the model we see in heavily narrative games, rather than heavily systemic ones. But I like to think that the special virtue of games lies in their systemic potential.

  9. It reminds me of the tale of an author secretly sitting in on a lecture about his book, hearing the professor make bold claims about the true meaning of the work, and disagreeing with him to no avail. It someone wants to claim that the system you make is a statement, then maybe that is how they interpreted it, and that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean it was intended to be a statement, or that the intended statement was that one, or that the statement is intrinsic to the work. More importantly, it doesn’t make the statement important or really all that relevant.

    If the statement is, for example, “you can be whoever you want to be in our game”, then that tells us little about the experience the player is going to have, nor does it render any of their choices within the game meaningless in any way. And games like SimCity may well espouse liberal politics, directly or indirectly, but that doesn’t make the ludic choices within worthless, unless you are going into the game determined to extract some sort of intent which may or may not be there. That’s why I find the narrativist interpretation of games often so ridiculous: pretending everything is trying to communicate some sort of message is ignoring the fundamentals of play, which have useful purposes that exist independent of any communicative ability.

  10. I think the main problem when trying to think how we can make games (or systems) with multiple interpretations is because we are trying to mimic how we interpret words, music and art as we currently think of it. I actually looked up for the exact meaning of the word interpretation, to give me a fresh insight about how to analyze this situation, and what I found is: “the assignment of meanings to various concepts, symbols, or objects under consideration.”

    When people interpret a painting, for example, what they are actually doing is a pretty heavy cognitive work: looking for patterns in the painting’s colors, shapes, textures and trying to match existing ones in this individual’s previous pattern storage (the memory). These patterns are, many times, related to emotion evoking memories and that’s why these artifacts may have such deep emotional impacts in some people, and that’s why every single person can interpret a piece of art differently from the others.

    When looking into game systems, I really like to visualize them as State Machine diagrams. When I look at them this way, I think out game’s color, shapes and textures may be something different, like the diagram’s states and transitions. Under this lens, I interpret the game by giving meaning to these relationships and compare them not to stories from my life, but to other systems I have already internalized.

    This is actually a really powerful way of interpreting game systems, since they have the potential to give us insights about real life systems and, who knows, how to better design or interact with them. The same way as any piece of art can, game systems can be misleading: you might have internalized wrong assumptions about both the game’s and real-life’s systems, but, nonetheless, still powerful.

  11. In Seymour Chatman’s work one can find a distinction between mediated and unmediated statements, which may be a way to approach the problem that Mr. Bartle addresses in regard to “noone” making a statement in some games. The issue may be traced back to the difference between diegetic and mimetic storytelling, the former referring to direct statements of a storyteller, and the latter being an arrangement in which invented existents “state” things in behalf of their creator, like some puppets, so to say.

    There’s also Paul Ricoeur’s attempt to think of meaningful action as a discourse, which means to say that actions are statements that may have a life of their own, once they are performed.

    Since all games are fictional worlds, at some point someone or something must tell us that their worlds exists, or we wouldn’t know about their existence.

    I have often said that current approaches to games are too player-centric. They put the player at the center of the universe and capture it as a being that acts “onto” a system (one perceived as if it weren’t a product of a particular time in history, which was created by authors) from a privileged position. Maybe it’s a better idea to think of players as one of the many subsystems that make the game systems as a whole work. A game system carries out many operations on a player in order to reconfigure her so as to join the reciprocity cycle that the system’s continuity depends on. As such, a player position is a design too, and this design (you are “this”) needs to be stated as well. This is a bit like McLuhan saying that the medium is the message: a medium is already a statement about what it wants you to do.

  12. Related when discussing the real vs. perceived finite or infinite-ness, though I’m late getting to bed: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umwelt

  13. The “agency ladder”, or whatever you might call it, is interesting and illuminating.
    However, I think that all this started from an entirely wrong premise. The difference between “statement” and “dialogue” is NOT whether your agency is limited. It’s whether MY actions change.
    I.e.: Alice tells Bob: “Games are systems and therefore statements”. Bob’s agency is already limited: he can’t answer something unrelated like “Bananas are tasty”. Well, he can, but that would be the same as leaving in the middle of a movie or not playing a game: disruption of a suggested system. So, is this a dialog or a statement? That depend on what Alice intends to do. If she is prepared to listen to Bob and maybe change her opinion – it’s a dialog. If she is not – it’s a statement.

    Applying this logic to games, we can see that games that only have states that their authors explicitly designed in are statements. They do not expect to change due to player input. On the other hand, games that have unexpected states are actually dialogs: they DO change in response to player actions, even though the change is limited.

  14. Nevermind, I’m not sure where you see us in disagreement on when something becomes a dialogue?

    Though I do think that dialogues can have statements in them… 🙂

  15. A whole game read as a statement about the world would qualifies as what some call “theme”. On the other hand, I would say that there needs to be made a distinction between the statements through which the change in the state of affairs in the game world is conveyed.

    Does the opposition between statement and dialogue really make sense? I’m asking myself whether there is any statement that doesn’t imply an addressee. Statements presume a dialogue, but not necessarily a dialogue with someone other than oneself. Or?

  16. There’s so much theorizing about “games” from people who have an incredibly narrow view and experience of what games can be.

    Try playing “Universalis” from Ramshead Publishing, for example. It’s a GM-less narrative game which is most certainly a game (there are rules and even resource management), but players can basically make up whatever they want as long as they have the resources to spend. Like most good tabletop RPGs, it’s really just a box of tools that let you (and your friends) craft your own stories, but Univeralis is stripped down to the bare essentials.

    These are real games. They may not have the massive audience of videogames, but it’s absurd to ignore them in any theoretical discussion where their absence is glaring.

  17. Universalis seems to fit pretty nicely into the bucket of generative game. Actually, all the freeform RPG games do. It also reminds me of the piece I wrote about narrative-as-content a year ago: https://www.raphkoster.com/2012/01/26/narrative-isnt-usually-content-either/ It’s a great example of a game where narrative elements become tokens to be manipulated (explicitly, in Universalis’ case, as you add traits).

    I agree with you, though, that the state of the art in tabletop is often ignored by those of us with a digital-centric viewpoint.

  18. In a way, what is the difference between constructing a narrative using a game like Universalis or any sandboxy game and constructung them by making a movie? We have certain rules and resources management in both cases. Is writing a game? Is filmmaking a game? I mean, we have the competition (awards) and certain rules and limitations (budgets, technology), so why not consider those to be as much games as traditional ones?

    When I think about the real narratives that only games can make, I think about the Go example that Clint Hocking game in his 2011 GDC presentation. Here is an important passage talking about this:

    “The values of the challenger as a thinking, feeling, expressive person, and how those values define his perception of, and his approach to play, are different from the values of the Master. It is not a bunch of black and white stones that are thrown into conflict; it is a conflict between differing perspectives on what it means to be Japanese – which happened to be something that was changing during the time this match was being played.”

    The conflict Clint is talking about is when a challenger makes an unusual, not expected, play that took advantage of sealed moves. The master reacted this way:

    “‘The match is over. [Kitani] ruined it with that sealed play. It was like smearing ink over the picture we had painted. The minute I saw it I felt like forfeiting the match. Like telling them it was the last straw. I really thought I should forfeit. But I hesitated, and that was that.”

    This is the perfect example of how systems can dialogue with players. This is not a narrative that any other art form would ever be able to produce. The players expressed their beliefs and personalities by simply playing a Go game, by making a disrespectful move, that has no connection the respect in the game’s design (it only exists in the players interpretation of the system), the challenger stated his progressiveness and the conflict between generations.

    You can find Clint’s full speech here: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/185510/

  19. That’s making metaphor and a tea ritual for example could have been utilized instead of Go to make a personal statement about “Japaneseness”. I don’t think this kind of appropriation is only specific to games, whereas I don’t want to say that the context and the properties of the utilized object or process don’t matter. One could speak of real narratives that only ballet dancers or sculptures can make as well. I’m just saying that this doesn’t give games (or ballet or sculpting) a privileged status within the vast array of sign systems. You come across such things in every sign system, because every sign system may lend itself to the making of understatements.

  20. […] night. After reading Andrew Vanden Bossche’s The Tyranny of Choice and Raph Koster’s On choice architectures, I put back into the same mind set I had found myself roughly a year ago when I had been […]

  21. Altug, when you cited a tea ritual, the Huizinga’s view of what games (or ludus) are and how they relate to society and culture really came into my mind. Drinking tea is not a game, but a tea ritual (an many other cultural festivals, contests and rituals) can actually be considered a game with their own structure and rules. Perhaps they are not really complex, competitive games, and there clearly is a lack of feedback and other gamy structures, but we could actually consider it to create a magic circle that depends upon the player’s contract with the game’s rules.

    These cultural games are systems people can interact with to express their own culture, beliefs and personalities. I am not saying these are the only and best ways to achieve such a thing, but I do believe that’s how games can dialogue and create meaning when interacting with the players.

    In my mind, we are playing a game right now. Sculpting, writing, dancing, filmmaking, game designing: all of them are games in some sort of way. They are systems with clear rules that people use to express themselves. Perhaps, playing a game is not really that far away from these activities. In the Go example, you can see that the master doesn’t think he is only playing a game. He is expressing himself through Go the same way a writer expresses himself through writing.

    I think we are looking at game’s from the wrong angle, but perhaps it is me who is completely wrong.

  22. “Perhaps, playing a game is not really that far away from these activities.”

    I believe that Wittgenstein has come closest to this thought for he says that one shouldn’t be surprised about the many forms in which games/language (=sign systems) can come to life. He says something like this: “Playing a game is to move a number of tokens on a specific plane according to some rules, you say? You probably mean Chess or Checkers, but those aren’t all the games that are out there. You may correct your statement by saying that your view of games is limited to these kind of games… Don’t be surprised to come across a language that consists only of imperatives. If you think that therefore it isn’t complete, ask yourself whether our’s is. These are all appearances of language. One can easily imagine a language that consists only of battlefield correspondence, or one that consists only of questions and yes-no answers. And many many more. To imagine a language is to imagine a way of living.”
    To me this means that the term “language games” doesn’t imply a distinction between language and games, and that his philosophical investigation is not limited to “natural” language, because if one thinks that language only consists of languages like English, German or Turkish, then one must correct his statement by saying that his view of language is limited to these kind of languages. One shouldn’t be surprised to come across a language that consists only of ones and zeros, or black stones and white stones. To imagine a game is to imagine a language 🙂

  23. @altug isigan,

    That’s kind of where I was intending to head with “umwelt”: a game has to be conceived by us, with the implied limitations of our ability to perceive ourselves and our realities (basically, it must only exist “on our terms”), and games of the type we are interested in must then be communicated (communicable?) to others, with all the limitations of encoding-transmitting-decoding further bounded by the types of sensory input we can receive (then further constrained by whichever media is chosen for the communication).

  24. […] Ralph Koster è l’autore di un libro importante su come si progettano i videogiochi. Il libro si chiama “A Theory of Fun” e se parti dal sito – QUI – riesci a scaricare le presentazioni da cui quel libro è partito. Questa settimana, sul blog dell’autore, è sapparso un post sull’architettura delle scelte. QUI. […]

  25. […] wait! Note how poorly this game example fits with some of the recent discussions (1 2 3) concerning the importance (or non-importance) of choices. I think we currently associate denials […]

  26. […] Is inventory management the last set of trade offs we are left with in a genre that has done away nearly every other hard choice?  And I am not even sure where that lands on the continuum of choice types. […]

  27. […] makes this game so different from Civ 5 is the near-absence of what Raph Koster has called ludic choice  (Ok, I’m not really sure if he made the term or just brought it to my attention. But […]

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