Several of the articles I’ve recently read have attempted to demonstrate how game studies can be fruitfully applied to the game design process. For better or for worse, right now, game studies’ credibility as a discipline is affected by how relevant it is to the contemporary game industry and how it can help this industry produce games of critical acclaim. What I mean is that the critical discussion of videogames tends to focus on the latest and greatest releases; we are at the whim of summer line-ups and over-hyped games with delayed release dates (somewhat). Discussing less than relevant games amounts to talking to one’s self (I like to exaggerate). I’m sort of split between the pro’s of this position, which inlcude being able to influence our object of study, and cons, such as being confined by profit margins and release dates.
To be honest, most of the articles I’ve read are “meh.” I’ll just list some titles, give brief descriptions, and explain why I was not amused.
A survey method for assessing perceptions of a game: The consumer playtest in game design, by John P. Davis, Keith Steury, and Randy Pagulayan, was about how researchers can use smaller focus groups for shorter periods of play testing to receive quality feedback at a lesser cost when compared to currently used methods. This article is actually not as boring as it sounds because it provides some cool examples about how it has been implemented in the play-testing of past games, but most of it is kind of obvious and it drags on for quite a bit. I would say it is worth skimming through. Actually, readers who aren’t familiar with play-testing would find this article very informative, so I recommend it for them. This article isn’t groundbreaking or exciting, but it’s a solid read if you’re interested in play-testing.
The Hunt for Collaborative War Gaming – CASE: Battlefield 1942, by Tony Manninen and Tomi Kujanpää, is a straightforward and thorough analysis of how players communicate in Battlefield 1942 by creatively utilizing rudimentary game mechanics. I liked this article but felt that it was too thorough, meaning that sometimes it points out the obvious and elaborates on it for longer than my attention span can bear. (Maybe I’m just a spoiled, little know-it-all…) On the other hand, some of the mechanics it highlights are often overlooked or taken for granted by players. This is a good read for those who want to analyze how an avatar’s body language, a vehicle’s sounds effects, environmental cues, etc., are and can be used to facilitate multiplayer communication and interaction (there’s a difference). Like I said though, some if it is kind of obvious, but I suppose we could also say it’s “intuitive.”
Player-Centred Game Design: Experiences in Using Scenario Study to Inform Mobile Game Design, by Laura Ermi and Frans Mäyrä, describes the results of a study that involved presenting volunteers with potential game concepts and themes in the form of comic strips and gauging their reactions. This is a really fun, new way to brainstorm and plan for the game design process, but it also leads to some distorted, highly interpretable feedback; the authors address this issue by suggesting some conduction parameters that are supposed to minimize how skewed the data can be (IDK if these parameters work, but they’re worth considering). The article also brings up questions about the player’s role in the design process and a player’s ability to know and communicate what they want out of a game. So yeah, the article is full of fresh but questionable ideas and insights.
Formal Models and Game Design, by Stefan M. Grünvogel, is sort of an oddball article (for me) because it breaks gameplay down into mathematical formulas, which is cool but kind of tedious to read about. The purpose of the paper is to show how “formalism” can be used to abstract game components into symbols in order to re-conceptualize and rearrange them. This sounds useful, and maybe even fun (for others). I can’t say I enjoyed reading the article, but it has some good examples that clarify how this formalistic approach can create a simplified model that reflects the interaction of complex game mechanics. I would just skim this one and study the examples since they pretty much demonstrate the gist of the entire paper.
The Semiotics of Time Structure in Ludic Space As a Foundation for Analysis and Design, by Craig A. Lindley, is another attempt at defining things. This author opts for the term “ludic spaces” and then breaks these spaces down into three overlapping categories: games, narratives, and simulations. The author uses the semiotics of language and the semiotics of narrative to draw parallels with “the semiotics of computer games,” and then the paper becomes one long compare and contrast endeavor. There are plenty of real-game examples that demonstrate how these categories can be useful tools for conceptualization and design, and ultimately, I do think that this can be provisionally beneficial to both game studies and game design, but as with any other definition, we must remain cognizant about what isn’t covered by these categories, where they fall short, and when they can stifle creativity. Definitions are dangerous when they are taken too seriously!
Overall, I think there’s much to be learned from these works, but they’re not all that either. Of more interest to me is the way they show how theory can influence practice (with varying levels of success).I do think it’s important that academics be able to do this, but not if it means compromising academic pursuits in order to stay “relevant” or “current.” It’s not important enough to make us sell-out! (too often).
“BUT WAIT, There’s more,” as Billy May’s would say. I did find two other articles that are far more successful at demonstrating the benefits of combining game studies with game design. One focuses on Warioware, and the other on Star Wars Galaxies. I’m going to dedicate a separate post to these two articles, my next post to be exact.
Oh and you can find all the articles I’ve mentioned here. Did you really think I was going to make you copy and paste a bunch of titles onto your Google search bar? What kind of blogger do you think I am?!
Till next time,