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Gaming Without a Safety Blanket 79

Posted by Soulskill
from the rocket-launchers-make-fine-safety-blankets dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "IGN has an interesting interview with Tom Bissell, author of the recently published Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, in which Bissell uses his experience in investigative journalism and as a war correspondent to describe his years playing games. Bissell talks about the difficulties in describing gameplay to non-gamers. 'A lot of casual games sort of submerge their storytelling to an almost subliminal level while upping the gameplay sophistication,' says Bissell. 'Writing about pure gameplay is tough. ... I say in the book that's one of the most suspect things about the form; a game with [an] incredibly dopey story but a really compelling mechanical set of resonances can still be a great game. I don't know if there's really a way to talk about that with people who aren't sold on the form.' Bissell adds that it's easier for many to find meaning in the more traditional delivery systems of entertainment and compares writing about games to the difficulty in describing rock & roll to an older generation. Bissell's background as a war correspondent, traveling to regions of conflict, has also translated into the games he likes."
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Gaming Without a Safety Blanket

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  • Jesus Wept. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gravos (912628) on Saturday July 17, 2010 @11:41AM (#32937066) Homepage

    My most central E3 memory was some guy working for Ubisoft. He was standing on a podium with probably fifty guys in their early twenties all around watching footage of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, and he's shouting into his little headset, "Do you guys like airborne assassinations?" And everyone goes, "Yeah!" I just turned away and was like, "Jesus wept."

    Yes. This is what is wrong with games today. This guy gets it.

    • Re:Jesus Wept. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Nursie (632944) on Saturday July 17, 2010 @12:21PM (#32937328)

      Whilst that sort of display is cringeworthy, AC 2 was one of the better games I've played in ages.

      It had lots of action, required tactical thinking from time to time, looked amazing, minor puzzle elements, immersive gameplay, extras (stupid stuff to collect) that prolong it's appeal somewhat....

      I dunno, maybe the attitude there is all wrong, but AC is to me a good example of a game that got it pretty damn right.

      • Re:Jesus Wept. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Nursie (632944) on Saturday July 17, 2010 @12:55PM (#32937530)

        Actually I'm not sure it is cringeworthy after all.

        I *do* like airborne assassinations....

        • Assassin's creed is Prince of persia in different clothing with some modifications, AC1 was horrible. AC2 was what AC1 should have been. But AC and PoP have a lot of cross over.

        • by westlake (615356)

          I *do* like airborne assassinations....

          But is that something you would say - or would enjoying explaining - to a less receptive audience than the gamer's forum on Slashdot?

      • >>>AC-2 had lots of action, required tactical thinking from time to time, looked amazing, minor puzzle elements, immersive gameplay, extras (stupid stuff to collect) that prolong it's appeal somewhat.... I dunno, maybe the attitude there is all wrong, but AC is to me a good example of a game that got it pretty damn right.
        >>>

        Speaking as a gamer since 1977 - sounds boring.
        POINT: One person's masterpiece is another person's tradein.

        For me a near-perfect game example would be Zelda Ocarina of

    • There's only one possible reply to your post: BOOM!!! HEADSHOT!! [youtube.com] AH HA HA HA!!!
    • by Aladrin (926209)

      90% of the time, I play games for the story. Assuming the controls don't suck, if a game has a good story with good pacing, I'll play it through.

      But the other 10% of the time, I just want fun game mechanics. That's anything from Bejeweled to Prototype to Flower.

      So he's right that people do get excited about fun game mechanics... And he's using that as best he can.

  • *snore* (Score:3, Insightful)

    by uniquegeek (981813) on Saturday July 17, 2010 @12:09PM (#32937280)
    You know, I like playing a few games here and there, but as soon as I read

    Bissell talks about the difficulties in describing gameplay to non-gamers. 'A lot of casual games sort of submerge their storytelling to an almost subliminal level while upping the gameplay sophistication,'

    My eyes glazed over and my brain went elsewhere. Kind of like when someone really excited about gaming starts to ramble on about it.

    My gaming serves a purpose for me - take my brain elsewhere for a while. Why do I expect that non-gamers should be able to relate to a game they don't play themselves? Even if they did play the same game, most things we relate to each other are going to be the same. Do we start a conversation where most responses are going to be "me too"?

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Do we start a conversation where most responses are going to be "me too"?

      If we let that happen then AOL will have won.

    • Re:*snore* (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MrHanky (141717) on Saturday July 17, 2010 @12:36PM (#32937424) Homepage Journal

      Yeah, why should you care about expressing anything verbally. In fact, when I read your comment, my eyes glazed over and my brain went elsewhere. Kind of like when someone who doesn't care one bit about something tries to explain to people who actually do care why their interests are dull and boring just because they don't get it.

      Seriously, why is this pure expression of stupidity modded "insightful"? It doesn't have anything to say, apart from "I don't have any thoughts of my own, and I don't want any, and I don't want to listen to someone who has".

      I've read a few chapters of the book, and it's pretty good.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Scrameustache (459504)

        why is this pure expression of stupidity modded "insightful"? It doesn't have anything to say, apart from "I don't have any thoughts of my own, and I don't want any, and I don't want to listen to someone who has".

        It actually says "I don't have any thoughts of my own, and I don't want any, and I don't want to listen to someone who has and I have mod points" ;-)

      • by CDS (143158)

        Seriously, why is this pure expression of stupidity modded "insightful"? It doesn't have anything to say, apart from "I don't have any thoughts of my own, and I don't want any, and I don't want to listen to someone who has".

        Right now, at least, his post is modded "3: Insightful" and yours is modded "4: Insightful" -- you're winning!!

    • playing a few games here and there, but as soon as I read [...] My eyes glazed over and my brain went elsewhere. [...] My gaming serves a purpose for me - take my brain elsewhere for a while.

      Please, feel free to take your brain elsewhere for a while next time you feel like writing a tl;dr version of tl;dr.

    • by gregrah (1605707)
      This book is intended for an audience of gamers. And I don't think that he's saying that we should be trying to preach to non-gamers about the virtues of clever gameplay mechanics, nor is he trying to belittle non-gamers for not getting it. He is using the perspective of a non-gamer to shed light on a very complex aspect of gaming this is often not fully understood (consciously, at least) even by those who do enjoy playing games. I've often seen the same line of reasoning used to explain why somebody enjo
      • by gregrah (1605707)
        Haha I went back to actually read the f-ing article and discovered that I was way off in my interpretation of the quote. Actually he was just pointing out that he chose to write about games with deep story lines because those are the games that he likes... and because they are easier to write about.

        That being said, I still think that someone should go and write the book that I imagined having been written in my previous post.
  • I hate this word. Is it one word? Is it two? Who knows. But it's one of the few words we have to describe the stuff that goes on while you are playing a game. We need something better, or we need some dictionary to step up and add it.
    • I hate this word. Is it one word? Is it two? Who knows. But it's one of the few words we have to describe the stuff that goes on while you are playing a game. We need something better, or we need some dictionary to step up and add it.

      horseplay - definition of horseplay by the Free Online Dictionary ...
      frolic, gambol, romp, caper, play - gay or light-hearted recreational activity for diversion or amusement; "it was all done in play"; "their frolic in the ...
      www.thefreedictionary.com/horseplay

      To answer your conundrum: Gameplay is like horseplay, but less gay.

    • by grumbel (592662)

      "Gameplay" is simply a word for the experience one has when playing a game. The more technical term for what forms that experience would be "game mechanic", "plot", "level structure", "controls", etc.

  • by writermike (57327) on Saturday July 17, 2010 @12:31PM (#32937390)

    Love the caption on the OregonLive image:
    Tom Bissell manipulates the controller while playing "Flower," a mellow video game his nieces enjoy.

    Ah... right, yeah, his "nieces."

  • by 10101001 10101001 (732688) on Saturday July 17, 2010 @12:48PM (#32937496) Journal

    Gaming is like dancing [with your thumbs]. A lot of the mechanics are shared between games. A large part of the exhilaration is managing to get the end of a game without screwing up terribly. It's more nerdy (and possibly annoying) to some because the dance partner is a computer (more accurately, it's the game developers through a computer). It leads to the same sort of frustration that Garry Kasparov expressed about Deep Blue because many are more inclined to see the challenge presented as intended to remove the fun of the game. While I wouldn't go as far as to say that such a point never holds true (ie, there is such a thing as a game that's unreasonably hard), the challenge of a game forces gamers to improve which extends the life-long enjoyment of gaming. In the end, it's this attribute that keeps people interested in the long-term.

    "We are merely sprites that dance at the beck and call of our button pressing overlord."

  • The key (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ceraphis (1611217) on Saturday July 17, 2010 @01:22PM (#32937676)
    One of the major hurdles gaming as an entertainment medium needs to overcome before it is taken as seriously as movies, theater and such by more than its major demographic is the pandering to the immature teenage obsession with sex and violence.

    There are way too many games that advertise and pride themselves on the quality of their hitboxes (better headshots!), the intricacies of their scoring systems (show everyone how well you can twitch!) and their rewards for being skilled with violence (only ten more kills before I unlock the headraper 3000!). Even worse is when the amount of nudity or sex in a game is treated like some sort of sacred phenomenon like in God of War.

    I wait patiently for more games like braid, heavy rain, the monkey islands remakes or portal, although they may not all have the most amazing stories, they push the capabilities of the medium or are rewarding because of the way they make you think, their humor or their beautiful art style.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Dyinobal (1427207)
      because only teenagers enjoy violence and sex as forms of entertainment.
    • by Draek (916851)

      One of the major hurdles gaming as an entertainment medium needs to overcome before it is taken as seriously as movies, theater and such by more than its major demographic is the pandering to the immature teenage obsession with sex and violence.

      Two words: "Twilight" and "Transformers".

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by khallow (566160)

      One of the major hurdles gaming as an entertainment medium needs to overcome before it is taken as seriously as movies, theater and such by more than its major demographic is the pandering to the immature teenage obsession with sex and violence.

      You forgot the only metric that matters: money. Games are there.

    • Re:The key (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ultranova (717540) on Saturday July 17, 2010 @06:49PM (#32939608)

      One of the major hurdles gaming as an entertainment medium needs to overcome before it is taken as seriously as movies, theater and such by more than its major demographic is the pandering to the immature teenage obsession with sex and violence.

      As opposed to the mature obsession with sex and violence that is pandered by movies, theater and such?

      Hollywood panders to obsession with violence. European "art" films pander to obsession with sex. Some pander to both. And how could they not? Apart from titillating the senses, almost all human behaviour is driven by either lust or survival instinct; you can't have drama without these elements. If anything, having a greater focus on sex and sexuality in games would allow far greater storylines with better rounded characters, not to mention enable all kinds of dramatic options in both conflict and its resolution.

      You aren't going to find any medium where sex and violence aren't at the central focus, because they are the focus of human existence.

      Even worse is when the amount of nudity or sex in a game is treated like some sort of sacred phenomenon like in God of War.

      God of War is very tame and nice compared the original Greek myths. What should they had done, copied Disney's Hercules?

      I wait patiently for more games like braid, heavy rain, the monkey islands remakes or portal, although they may not all have the most amazing stories, they push the capabilities of the medium or are rewarding because of the way they make you think, their humor or their beautiful art style.

      Beautiful art style, yes... Care to guess which two subjects have been the main focus of art from the very first cave paintings to modern-day painters, sculptors and such? And, for that matter, the subject matter of most humour? Or pretty much every story?

      Games are slowly but surely moving from being kid's toys into mainstream entertainment, and that means they're going to get a lot more sex to go with the violence. You can dislike it, but it's what all mainstream entertainment has been made of for the duration of entire human history, and prehistory too. And I, for one, am just fine with that.

      • by ceraphis (1611217)
        Oh don't get me wrong, I don't mind the content of the average video game one bit. I just dislike the stereotypes that the public applies to videogames because of the demographic that slurps up the average violent FPS and asks for more.

        Movies find public approval over video games because for every exploitative film in a given year, there are just as many if not more artsy films and movies to satisy every type of moviegoer. Until videogames get an even distribution of exploitative or pandering games to th
    • Hang on, let's compare apples to apples, (I'll side-step theatre, because I can't think of any good examples, but I'm sure they exist) :
      For every "Casablanca", there are 10 "Dude, Where's My Car?"s, "Grandma Got Her Funk Back"s and "Under Siege 2: Dark Territory"s.
      For every "Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas" there are 10 "Harold & Kumar"s, "Cheech & Chong"s and "American Pie 3"s.

      Similarly, for every "Portal", "Braid" or "Monkey Island" there are numerous generic first person shooters where yo
  • There is no actual difference between story telling and gameplay. In that they are both experiences with the exact same structure (This one [radiantempire.com]). Else it would not be fun.

    Only that one is formed by defining generalized laws that allow movement inside the fun area, while the other is pre-scripted to the mindset of the writer.

    The whole discussion about games “lacking stories” is pointless. Games are a generalization of pretty much everything we do for fun. Films, stories, art, sports, interesting cont

  • Sheesh.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by afabbro (33948) on Saturday July 17, 2010 @02:44PM (#32938118) Homepage
    ...I thought "gaming without a safety blanket" would be a discussion of how real men play roguelikes, where you have only one life and the game may take weeks/months to complete and death means starting over...
  • by lexsird (1208192) on Saturday July 17, 2010 @03:20PM (#32938312)

    When I was a child we used to play "Cowboys and Indians". The kids would break into two groups, one the cowboys, the other Indians. It was by definition roll playing with simulated violence. There were rules; for example, the cowboys had guns and the Indians had stealth. Rules and parameters were establish and followed, if not, "NO FAIR...or YOU CHEATED" were declared.

    Modern computer gaming, such as the First Person Shooter, (FPS), is an extension of this. In fact, if you can recall being a child and the various imaginary games that children play, I.E. Pirates, Fortress, Capture the Flag, Tag and so on, modern gaming is an extension of these into a modern format with the use of computer technology. You can think of your computer as both a playground and a referee. Of course it's highly evolved and segued into genres, but if one distills it down to a non "gamer" essence, I think one could find a frame of reference based in the beginning of "play" its self.

    • My kingdom for a mod point, man. That was insightful and eloquent. I'll be paraphrasing, copying or bookmarking your comment.
    • by westlake (615356)

      When I was a child we used to play "Cowboys and Indians." It was by definition roll playing with simulated violence.

      Simulated at a very high level of abstraction - ham-bone theatric - and arguably less violent - and far less sadistic - than the conventions of a Warner Brothers cartoon.

       

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by lexsird (1208192)

        A Warner Brothers cartoon smacked of adult influences I don't think out of malice or neglect, but from the fact that most households were of one television at the time. There, entire families would hunker about their television akin to a primal family about the campfire.

        Hence one would find the humor skewed up a notch or two above what might suffice for a child, not necessarily trying to appeal to a larger audience, but to appease them. Suffering through a child's program as an adult shouldn't be a painful

        • A Warner Brothers cartoon smacked of adult influences I don't think out of malice or neglect, but from the fact that most households were of one television at the time.

          None of the classic Warner Brothers cartoons were made for TV. They were made to be shown as short subjects before the main feature at movie theatres, and were written that way because people of all ages went the movies.

  • "a game with [an] incredibly dopey story but a really compelling mechanical set of resonances can still be a great game."

  • 'Writing about pure gameplay is tough. ... I say in the book that's one of the most suspect things about the form; a game with [an] incredibly dopey story but a really compelling mechanical set of resonances can still be a great game. I don't know if there's really a way to talk about that with people who aren't sold on the form.'

    Yes, this is exactly the problem, trying to describe games in the wrong terms and evaluate them in the wrong framework. We all probably agree that great games are great due to game

  • Would be the movie, "Avatar," which also has a silly plot but is VERY immersive. Thus, the "quality" is not in anything but in how well the thing cons the customer.

Somebody ought to cross ball point pens with coat hangers so that the pens will multiply instead of disappear.

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