Future research

My long-term ambition is to eventually become a researcher, or a teacher, or a hybrid of the two. I passionately believe that games are fascinating, because among other things they help us bring people together, they help us learn, laugh and rise to abstract challenges in associative ways. Crucially, they are interactive and I think agency is the primary factor as to why the games industry has dwarfed the creative television, film and music industries combined. I trained as a game designer with a very practical viewpoint. I’m a particularly strong adherent to the ideals of User-Centered design and feel that many commercial game productions often cater to clusters of player typologies or demographics, because it is more convenient and profitable to do so than considering intrinsic, personal desires to play games. The salient detail here is that it is at the convenience of the production entity, not the user.

I’d like to challenge that paradigm. The arts have a long history of patronage and many creative works, particularly during the renaissance era, were bespoke and commissioned at the behest of a wealthy benefactor to an artist. We see some evidence of this economic style of production working successfully, in crowd-funded platforms such as Kickstarter and Patreon. Today’s game development industry is built upon industrialized commercial frameworks and I’d like to suggest that there is much to gain by developing a much deeper, personally focused understanding of what motivations the user may (consciously or even sub-consciously) have when selecting games, the way they engage with games and their perceived outcomes and expectations of games. I suspect many surveys will have had the same top-down approach and consequently the same problems and so I intend to examine the relationship between game publisher and end consumer from a much more user-centric perspective. I think this is one area where collaboration between the field of psychology, anthropology, sociology and game studies may trailblaze new ground, when individual disciplinary approaches might be frustrated.

Workflow and process for Experimental Games

I’ve written up an approximate workflow I intend to follow when evaluating my study in experimental games and the method of definition and selection of the product:

Produce a mindmap of ideas: https://whimsical.com/experimental-games-7B8DKbvHusq83jhNwKwcbd.

Review all of the recordings of previous sessions. Many of the blog posts I’ve posted and tagged with experimental.

Compile a shortlist for my projects and establish success criteria.

Product score my ideas and establish how the shortlist my be considered experimental, have achievable criteria and how I can rationalize the concept as a pitch.

Produce a blog post explaining my choice.

Compile my pitch document as per the assignment.

Produce a video pitch as per the assignment.

Pushing the bounds of experimentation

I’m coming to the end of my notes on experimentation seminars and will start to draw everything together into a project plan. There are many great topics which I have discussed over the past week. Notably discussion on serious games and user audiences/experience, but I’m now close enough to the submission deadline where I must pick a project to experiment with and put a pitch together. I’m going to conclude with a series of prompts to help me with defining my ideation:

what directions am I experimenting?
how can I push my experimentation further?
what are the risks of sliding back into the familiar?
what constraints can inspire/enable experimentation?
what affordances can inspire/enable experimentation?
what audiences will be suitable? what audiences will be unsuitable?
define the purpose more: personal, political, social, whimsical, provocative, anthropological. Think about domains.

I’m mindful that when trying to define a user audience, Nick Yee’s work on player typology has been put together in a handy reference: http://quanticfoundry.com/2015/12/15/handy-reference/. He’s also recently been working on motivation and behaviour in a segmentation approach; an area which I hope to delve into further in my masterwork thesis: https://quanticfoundry.com/2020/08/17/player-segments/.

I’m also keen to explore whether my game might serve multiple purposes and audiences, particularly when applied as a serious game.

Assumptions and Audiences

This post is aimed at discussing the factors I should consider as a designer when I try to accommodate one or more audiences and a reflection on the assumptions I may hold. As a User-Centered designer, one of my main considerations is to ensure that I design for a user, rather than myself. That means I must acknowledge certain biases which may affect the decisions I take in designing games.

I must be aware of biases I may hold as a result of my upbringing. I may hold certain political, religious, social and cognitive biases which affect not only the kinds of games I play, but also the way I play them. I should also consider these factors in my audience. Our most recent seminar discussed the use of random game idea generators, such as Orteil’s generator, which can be accessed here: http://orteil.dashnet.org/gamegen.

I should be mindful of risk in a product. Risk can be viewed as both an intrinsic or extrinsic factor (or both). A player may take a risk that the game will meet their expectations and personal assumptions. I take a risk that the product I develop will meet such expectations and assumptions and risk engaging or alienating my player. Risk can also be considered in the context of the game itself. Perhaps a game might be built around the concept of risky decisions and interaction?

It occurs to me that as many of the game ideas I’ve been contemplating of late have been looked at through the lens of uncertainty (and G. Costikyan’s excellent book, Uncertainty in Games is a great resource for this (Costikyan, 2015)), risk may also be a compelling lens through which I can look at Ideation and player experience.

Experimentation is quite likely when leaning into a game idea and pursuing one or more factors to an extreme. This does lead me to consider whether such factors as Risk and Uncertainty might be successfully pursued when they are viewed as an incremental or sliding incline.

Some fundamental questions exist for me in the context of determining my game. The core purpose of a game requires definition.

Is it for an audience?
Is it for me? if so, for what purpose?
Is it just to see what happens? to prove or disprove a theory?
For monetary gain
For commercial release? If so, what factors affect its viability?
Is it original? Has it been done before? If not, why not?
Is it to teach something? What epistemic factors may be at play?
Is it to soothe an ill? Can and should games act as panacea?

Following the initial brainstorm of my idea (see https://whimsical.com/experimental-games-7B8DKbvHusq83jhNwKwcbd.), I have concluded that my Ideation is quite weak. I had a pretty clear idea going in what I wanted to make, but this doesn’t make it a poor idea. I could also push further experimentation with iteration. I’d also like to make longevity and replayability one of my criteria for success.

Assessment and review of games can often be considered ‘biased’ when a score is involved and this can be observed particularly in the trade and game press. Dan Gilbert gives an excellent Ted talk on this, which can be viewed here: https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_why_we_make_bad_decisions?language=en and his discussion essentially comes down to the fact that whilst we are good at comparison, we are extra-ordinarily bad at estimation, from a cognitive perspective.

One assumption in particular extremely worthy of consideration is that of representation. As a designer I am aware of the importance of representation in games when it comes to gender, race, sexuality and any other number of defined and protected classes. I feel quite strongly that there is a moral aspect to representation. Not only should all people be supported and included, regardless of any particular classification, we have a moral obligation to ensure that our games engage people. All people.

I am conscious of assumptions of assumptions I may make about my product. I’m a strong proponent of divergent and emergent behaviour in games but there is a risk associated with accommodating un-prescribed behaviour; my game could be used for good, but also bad purposes. But from an experimental perspective, how can my ideation accomodating this risk and add value and weight to the design?

As a user centred designer, I’m conscious that many UX principles may be at play with my game, particularly when it comes to assessing how the user interfaces with the product. https://lawsofux.com/ is a great starting point for considering such factors.



Creativity in Games

I’ve decided to write a post reflecting on the weekly seminars I’ve participated in throughout my module and the first post will be in response the session on creativity in games.

A number of ideas have been presented about what constitutes a creative experience in games. Any such review of game theory might be remiss without at least an acknowledgement of the work on Flow Theory originally proposed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi http://Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York: Harper Collins. Chicago.. I’m also mindful of the work on Self-Determination theory by E.L. Deci and R.M. Ryan, particularly as it pertains to behaviour and engagement within games.  http://Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York, NY: Plenum.

There are multiple facets to consider. We briefly discussed a systemic perspective on games, particularly with regards to the use of industrial systems and grind mechanics. We covered fear and tension in games and examined whether they are fun and/or cathartic. We also looked at Narrative in games and I feel an acknowledgement of the ludic narrative of the player is an especially important factor in examining gameplay experiences.

In response, I’m prompted to ask a question I’ve long considered as being quite key to creating games: Do they have to be recreational artifacts? Can they in fact offer outcomes other than ‘fun’, such as learning, health and well-being. One particular complication involves that of personal taste. Simply put, no two people are alike, their tastes can wildly differ and they can even change on an internal, intrinsic basis, moment to moment. This makes designing a user-centered experience particularly troublesome (although in my opinion, no less worthwhile) endeavour.

The session also looked at whether fun can be delayed and whether delayed gratification is either comparable or desirable to an immediate reward. Such a notion does in fact challenge the somewhat controversial work on Operant Conditioning undertaken by B.F. Skinner http://Skinner, B. F. (1963). Operant behavior. American Psychologist, 18(8), 503. .

It also raises the question of how you challenge individuals. Perhaps games can be about choices or decisions, rather than fun? Perhaps there may be a serious application, as I mentioned above. Perhaps they can be about tackling real world problems, such as illness, learning or conflict?

We also discussed taboo subjects, the central learning pillar being about how to handle controversial or even potentially offensive topics with care and respect.

My main take-away’s from this session were to think about a broader definition of a game. To think of the audience, its purpose, the specific experience or experiences it is designed to engender and prompted me to reflect on practical ways to tackle a long-held notion I’ve yet to respond to; Can games act as Panacea? I.e. can they meet a real or perceived need and how can we define that need and still judge the successes and shortcomings of a particular game on that basis. I will continue to reflect on this notion throughout the module.