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Another element that engages players emotionally in games is the potential for play. Again, it's important to ask ourselves what we mean by 'play' before we begin trying to design it into our games. Of course, we have all played at some point or another, so we all have our own ideas about what the experience is. But does everyone have the same experience as you? Is it possible that play means different things to different people?
The Promise of Play, a recent film investigating the subject, queried a number of people about the nature of play. Here are some of their responses: 'Play is boisterous.' 'It's non directed.' 'It's spontaneous.' 'It's not scripted.' 'Play is loud.' 'Not work.' 'It's physical.' 'It's fun.' 'An emotional state when you're having a good time.' 'Play actually is meaningless behavior. You do it for its intrinsic value to you, but play can have utility. That is, you end up developing skills, and those skills can then be used in other arenas.' 'I think play is one of the ways that we get a feel for the shape of the world.''Play is the central item in children's lives. It's like work is to grown-ups. They play to learn.' 'Play is child's work. It's all that young children do to learn about the world that they're in.'
It's clear from these responses that play has many faces: it helps us learn skills and acquire knowledge, it lets us socialize, it assists us in problem solving, it allows us to relax, and it makes us see things differently. Play is not too serious; it induces laughter and fun, which is good for our health.
Joint CEO and Co-Executive Producer, BioWare Corp.
Project list (five to eight top projects)
Baldur's Gate: Tales of the Sword Coast
Baldur's Gate II
Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal
Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide
Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
How did you get into the game industry?
My original background was training and practice as a medical doctor. Dr. Greg Zeschuk and I cofounded BioWare back in 1995 after working on the programming and art for a couple of medical education projects for our university. We met some talented programmers and artists who worked on what became BioWare's first game, Shattered Steel. We never looked back and now we have over 160 talented, smart, creative, hard-working employees at BioWare, working on three to six projects at any one time.
What are your five favorite games and why?
My favorite games cover a lot of platforms and a long time period! Back in the early 1980s I was a big fan of some of the great role-playing franchises, such as Wizardry and Ultima on the Apple II. Later on, I was a big fan of games like System Shock and Ultima Underworld on the IBM PC. These too were role-playing games, revolutionary for their time in their interface, graphics, and storylines, and still worth playing. More recently I've enjoyed a number of console RPGs including Final Fantasy VII, Chrono Cross, and the Zelda series. I also enjoy a bunch of other types of games such as real-time strategy (WarCraft II, StarCraft, Age of Empires) and first person action games like Halo, Battlefield: 1942 and Half-Life. All of these games share the common traits of being very good at what they set out to do-this is what we try to do in our games at BioWare; we try to make each game better than our last.
What games have inspired you the most as a designer and why?
Probably the same games that I've enjoyed playing over the years-all of them were revolutionary for their time. We play a lot of games and we try to learn from all of them.
What are you most proud of in your career?
We have great employees at BioWare-it's an honor for me to work with all of them.
What words of advice would you give to an aspiring designer today?
Be passionate, but self-critical. Never compromise on quality, but do realize that there is a point of diminishing returns on effort and a point where every game is 'as good as you can make it.' Most games never reach this point, but if they do, you'll increase the chances of it succeeding by a lot. And for those entrepreneurial types out there, hire smart, talented, creative, and hard-working staff to work with and make sure you treat them extremely well-videogames are not a solo endeavor and the team sizes required to keep the production values high enough for the increasingly sophisticated videogame audiences seem to grow larger every year.
On the other hand, play can be somewhat serious: play as a process of experimentation-pushing boundaries and trying new things is an area of common ground for artists and scientists, as well as children. In fact it's one of the few areas where children are seen as experts with something to teach adults. Play is recognized as a way of achieving innovation and creativity because it helps us see things differently or achieve unexpected results. A playful approach can be applied to even the most serious or difficult subjects because playfulness is a state of mind rather than an action.
At the same time, Dr. Bernard Mergen, author of Play and Playthings, says, 'I think that play enters into it when one doesn't expect a particular result. Games, competitive games, which have a winner or a loser, are not, in my definition, play.'
The one thing that stands out from these meditations on play, is that play is not any one thing-but rather a state of mind, a type of approach to an activity. Dr. Mergen's comment that competitive games are not play touches on an interesting problem. We have said that games are formal systems, that they have strict and explicit rules, and that they are goal-based. Play, on the other hand, is clearly informal, and while it may have rules, it does not depend on those rules for its form, and it's also not driven by goals. So, the comment that games are not play seems somewhat accurate. Not entirely accurate, however, because we know that while games and play are not the same thing, play does have an important role in our enjoyment of games.
How does play, in all its spontaneity and informality, emerge from within the formal systems of games? In a number of ways, actually. First, some games are simply not so formal or competitive: social games played in not so serious environments lend themselves easily to outright playfulness. Examples might include Twister or You Don't Know Jack. Second, play can emerge in the 'space between' rules, the give and take in the relationships between the game elements, such as the bantering interchange between players at a card table, or the aggressive trash talking on an online game server. Lastly, some games are designed to encourage certain types of play: Role-playing games promote playful fantasy and imagination, adventure games encourage exploration and daring, and sports games produce physicality and sometimes roughhousing. This last idea is worth further discussion, as it offers an active area for the game designer to explore.
Play theorists have identified a number of various types of 'players,' each with different needs and agendas. Not all of these areas have been thoroughly addressed by today's games, and they offer an interesting area of study for the game designer looking for new areas of play with which to emotionally engage players.
Here are examples of these potential player types:
The Competitor: plays to best other players, regardless of the game.
The Explorer: curious about the world, loves to go adventuring. Explorers seek outside boundaries-physical or mental.
The Collector: acquires items, trophies, or knowledge, the collector likes to create sets, organize history, etc.
The Achiever: plays for varying levels of achievement. Ladders and levels incentivize the achiever.
The Joker: doesn't take the game seriously-plays for the fun of playing. There's a potential for jokers to annoy serious players. On the other hand, jokers can make the game more social than competitive.
The Artist: driven by creativity, creation, design.
The Director: loves to be in charge, direct the play.
The Storyteller: loves to create or live in worlds of fantasy and imagination.
The Performer: loves to put on a show for others.
The Craftsman: wants to build, craft, engineer, or puzzle things out.
Obviously this list includes only a few of the many potential types of players you may want to think about when crafting your gameplay. Combining various types of play into different player roles, as discussed in the previous chapter, is a way of designing games that can engage different types of people.
In addition to types of play, the level of engagement can also be broken down into several categories; not all players need participate at the same level to find the same enjoyment. For example, spectators may find watching sports, games, or other events more satisfying than playing them. We don't tend to think of designing games for spectators, but the truth is, many people use games in this way. How many times have you sat and watched a friend make their way through the level of a console game, waiting for your turn at the controls? Is there a way as a designer to take this 'spectator mode' into account when designing the play?
Participant play is the most common way to think about play. As opposed to spectator play, where risk is minimal, participant play is active and involved. It's also the most directly rewarding-for all the reasons we've already talked about.
On last level comes transformational play: this is a deep level of play which actually shapes and alters the player's life. Children experience this level when they learn life lessons through play; in fact, it's one of the reasons they engage in play naturally. Some attempts to create learning through gameplay attempt to reach this level as well. It's an interesting area to think about if games are to advance as an art form. Certainly other forms of art inspire transformation and deep learning through their experience. Perhaps finding ways to create this level of play can raise the bar for game as an art form as well.
Exercise 4.5: Player Types
For each player type described on page 90, list a game you know that appeals to that variety of player. What type of player do you tend to be?
The Promise of Play, Institute for Play and InCA Productions, Executive Producers, Dr. Stuart Brown and David Kennard.
Dr. Bernard Mergen, Play and Playthings (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1983)
The Promise of Play
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