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Chris
Outsider philosopher, game designer and author
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Fascinating comments by eminent individuals - considering I wasn't convinced this piece was of interest to anyone, I'm truly honoured by the response you have given it! Paul, Your challenge here is a good one! Player practices are what I am saying are essential to games, in the sense of played activities, but they are not atomic because they do not decompose into neat building blocks. So I am claiming that nothing is atomic to play (although once translated into rules, rules are atomic to descriptions of play...) but player practices are what cannot be removed from games. I should try and write more about this. Many thanks for pressing me into clarifying this point! Raph, Firstly, I am extremely curious as to why you think you lost the war over 'game', or indeed why you think the war is over, and whether you think this piece a strategem within that war. (I myself 'disavowed' the term 'game' in a paper logically entitled A Disavowal of Games, in order to better understand how we use the term, and no longer have a definition of 'game'). I suppose the broad position I am taking here does not seem to me a boundary claim as it is a distinction between two applications of game - the game that is played, which has an extremely strong claim to being 'the game', and what I call the 'game artefact', and you call the 'ludic artefact', which has a clear parallel claim to being 'the game' in certain cases like tabletop, pinball, videogames etc. Both things are games... but not in the same sense of the word 'game', of course. ;) Your claim that 'play occurs within systems' seems unproblematic to me. This piece rests on the recognition that those systems can be described or translated in different ways. Rules are one translation of those systems. Player practices, however, are what players actually do and are not a translation of the system as such. On the contrary, I might claim: any description of the system is a translation of the player practices. The crucial point, that this piece doesn't engage with, is that as game designers manipulating the system (as rules or otherwise) is a powerful way to work. My challenge to all game designers is: understand the player practices and your job becomes easier, since the toughest part of getting those systems to form enjoyable games with their players is getting them to be able to play in the first place, which is made easier by recognising which player practices are already there to be drawn against. In fact, what your comment really suggests to me is that I ought to explain how design on that basis can function, since that might truly throw this topic into a different light and (with luck!) provide another tool for canny game designers to wield with skill and artifice. The core of your argument here is that given that different systems can encourage or discourage play, it is plausible those systems can be described atomically. But those descriptions are translations, and given that language (whether human or machine) can and is atomic in its construction, your claim is practically tautological. That is not a dismissal: as Wittgenstein makes clear, it is the tautological nature of logic that is precisely what gives it its usefulness. In at least this sense, I can agree with you! :) You also make a couple of other interesting claims. Firstly, that sports are a better place to start thinking about the nature of rules than tabletop... if by rules we mean those translations of player practices that establish what constitutes cheating, absolutely - sports are hugely more normative than tabletop games. This is my point about the difficulty of changing the rules of those games. Secondly, that Minecraft's regimes of play are about goals not rules. Here, I must put the onus on you to explain why goals are not rules, and why the conditions of build mode or exploration mode can possibility constitute goals when they entail no end state. I suspect you have an interesting distinction here that you need to disclose! :) For me, I have used 'rule' in this piece in a very broad sense, as the text elements of a translation of the play of a game (or, equivalently, of the written description of a system for play). In this sense, a goal is just a particular kind of rule - the kind that sets an end state. As ever, it is always a pleasure to have had the opportunity to engage you with an argument! I would be interested in taking this further... although it may have to wait until Spring 2018. Many thanks for sharing your thoughts! Chris, Thanks for the endorsement of these ideas, and for this interesting exposition on the term 'rules'... I was not especially invested in distinguishing different usages of that term when I wrote that, since I was mostly thinking about design documentation (including tabletop rulebooks)... I really like your distinction between 'rules as laws of government' and 'rules as laws of nature', which benefits from the rather misleading way we describe the physical universe as having 'laws' - the power of metaphor! :) I think there's a truly fascinating discussion to be had here in terms of your claim that the 'laws of government' for digital games are essentially the same in all cases. And this for me is not an accidental claim, it is the recognition that the player practices are what is actual (in Deleuze's sense) rather than merely virtual (again, in Deleuze's sense)... and because these are sited in the players, they are not directly dependent upon the game artefact. Do you have a link to the paper rather than the video for DiGRA 2013? I don't watch many videos, but I read a lot of papers. ;) Thanks for your stimulating commentary! And last but not least... Patrick, A really interesting challenge to my overall argument here, and one that ties into some of the points I have already made above. Yes, absolutely, in terms of the game designer's craft, the ability to translate into systems and discuss these in terms of rules, or MDA, or other methods (I have never used MDA myself because it doesn't quite match how I think about my game design process) is part of the craft. And the onus is on me to show whether or not thinking in terms of player practices also provides a game design method or whether it is just a philosophical or pragmatic way of describing play. Significantly, my own game design methods have changed so much in the last twenty five years, I feel like I now have the benefit of applying a 'rules' or a 'systems' methodology to design, but I also have the benefits of prop analysis and player practices, which supplement and enhance my ability to apply other methods. I have done my best to describe the philosophical dimensions of these perspectives over the last ten years, but I have not yet managed to get these ways of thinking into a 'how to' text. I fear an attempt to do so will butcher the subtleties... such is my excuse, at least! :) But I ought to give it a go, all the same. I utterly concede the merits of the rules-based and systems-based translations that you make here. It never occurred to me that my text would seem to dismiss this aspect, since for me I was trying to make a more philosophical (strictly, ontological) point, albeit one that does have practical applications. However, I find that Sicart's paper on 'mechanics' to be an attempt to solve a problem that is not the problem he thought he was solving. He aims to pin down 'mechanics' as a term... but that term works precisely because of its imprecision. It is a metaphor that compares games to machines - the system-perspective, that Raph is so good at wielding. In nailing down 'what mechanics means' he ends up with a constructed definition of mechanics which does not match how the term 'mechanics' is used. I question whether that was the best way of responding to the problem. But I welcome arguments that it was, provided they do not rest on any expectation that Sicart's approach is going to take off, since clearly, it hasn't. :p Another truly thoughtful comment - many thanks for writing it! Honestly, truly honoured by the thought that went into these comments. I hope my responses have repaid your time in writing them. All the very best to you all, Chris.
Toggle Commented 16 hours ago on Are Videogames Made of Rules? at ihobo
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Does it make sense to say that videogames are made of rules? We might say that about boardgames or playground games, but even in these cases it’s not clear ‘rules’ are enough. Ultimately, is there anything that underpins all kinds... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at ihobo
Over on ihobo today, some thoughts about whether we can say (as I once was happy to claim) that games are made of rules. Here’s an extract: It makes a certain kind of logical sense to say a boardgame is... Continue reading
Posted 5 days ago at Only a Game
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How would you know if you were a good cyborg? My latest philosophy book explores this and other problems of contemporary cyberethics. The Virtuous Cyborg will be published in Spring 2018 by Squint Books, the cultural and political imprint of... Continue reading
Posted Sep 15, 2017 at Only a Game
Just need to update that book announcement, since the date has changed and I’m using it as my pinned Tweet on Twitter. Nothing more to report, I’m afraid… still busy – but Babette Babich has my edits to the new... Continue reading
Posted Sep 15, 2017 at Only a Game
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Through a mutual decision between myself and the publisher, The Virtuous Cyborg has been put back to early 2018. This is mainly because I am too busy with both consultancy and teaching commitments this Autumn, and will not be able... Continue reading
Posted Sep 7, 2017 at Only a Game
Hey Brian, The question of the moral obligations of game designers you raise in the piece you link to here is a good one. And I broadly agree with you: identifying our moral obligations as game designers (and as developers) is potentially more productive than trying to ascribe rights to players. I might add that this piece was almost certainly written by me (back in 2014) after reading Kant's The Metaphysics of Morals, or one of Allen Wood's commentaries on Kant's work, and I suspect my interest here was in drawing the connection through the origin and development of the concept of 'rights' to where we are today in games. I did not know the conclusion I was going to reach when I set off; I thought the inquiry interesting, but more for what it showed me about what we mean by rights than anything about games. The question of the responsibilities of both players and developers is indeed what is important... turning it to a question of rights, as I develop here (but perhaps don't make explicit) risks obfuscating what those responsibilities might be. There is a danger, every time we jump to asserting a right, that we are failing to think through the moral complexities of an issue by mistaking our anger for something of deeper moral significance. Thanks again for the link! Chris.
Toggle Commented Sep 1, 2017 on Can Players Have Rights? at Only a Game
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Hey Piotr, Interesting argument, but I do not find it quite convincing... I use many computers with the same operating system, and they all act very differently (according to local policy configurations, user configurations, differences in hardware, versioning differences etc.). Is it really evidence of no common operating system that people behave differently? Thanks for your comment! Chris.
Toggle Commented Aug 31, 2017 on The Human Operating System at Only a Game
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Done! Thanks for getting involved.
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Hey V, Thanks for your passionate comment here! Clearly you feel very strongly about this. But rights are not particles in the ether, they adhere from some background that gives them meaning. You either have to ascribe to some kind of system of inalienable rights (and if so, why not go with Kant...? His is actually a solid foundation for such a system), or you have to come from the position that rights come from the act of promising, i.e. from legislation that secures rights. If the former, then the arguments that being a player affords you rights over and above those that you possess as a person are significant and important, and worth having the argument over. If the latter, then coherent action to secure legislative rights are required to ground those rights. I don't think this is as straightforward as you do... rights come from somewhere. It is not enough to say there are rights, and it matters from where we are saying those rights come from. On the other hand, I heartily agree with you that there are existing legal instruments that can be used to argue against the force of EULAs and Terms of Service which, like you, are questionable in terms of their status as contracts. I left out of this piece my firm conviction (which you might well agree with...) that these enforced conditions do not constitute a 'meeting of minds' and as such do not form a legal contract. That for me, however, is a different question to whether 'a player can have rights as a player'. Thanks for sharing your passion! Chris.
Toggle Commented Aug 31, 2017 on Can Players Have Rights? at Only a Game
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Apologies for the slow running of comments, new content etc. but I’ve been travelling all over the place and am also swamped with various projects. I am progressing with Babich and Bateman III… hope normal service will resume soon! (If... Continue reading
Posted Aug 28, 2017 at Only a Game
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Although I have been robustly overworked in recent weeks, I have managed to break ground on the editing for the final segment of the Babich and Bateman dialogues, this time looking at Nietzsche, music, and the psychological tricks of corporations.... Continue reading
Posted Aug 8, 2017 at Only a Game
Hi Mirage, It never ceases to amaze me the love that exists out in the corners of the world for Ghost Master, which is still the project I am most proud of as a game designer. You ask about things that were cut... it is usual in game development to make contractions, in this case some of those cuts were already partially implemented and remained as artefacts in the game code - hence the ability to 'disinter' them! I'll tell you what I remember: - Smokin' Joe and Field of Nightmares: this was an outdoor mission based (as the name implies) on Field of Dreams. Smokin' Joe was a baseball ghost, and the centerpiece of the mission. However, it was the weakest of the outdoor locations and it was ultimately cut so we could focus on the army base and the woods. - Soulscreech: another Banshee, but we liked the design of the others more so this one fell out. - Thorne: a pirate ghost intended for Deadfellas, but we had a problem as we had nowhere to put the ghost that made any sense, and it caused so many problems that he was shelved. A shame, though, as I really liked the art design. - Azrael: I'm not sure about this one, I think it was a Spectre like Ghastly, but was cut because we already had three solid concepts for Spectres with better animations. - Boy Wisp: Think this would have gone in Field of Nightmares, but it was cut... - The Ghost With No Name: this would have been a Clint Eastwood inspired gunslinger, and I'm not sure which haunting it belonged to, probably Field of Nightmares. - Hunchcork: I don't even recognise this one! Not sure what the story is... - Whisperer: some kind of Sprite, I'm thinking, but I'm not at all sure about this one. - The Uninvited (haunting): this one existed only on paper, but the puzzle design wasn't there and it got cut before implementation. I don't remember much about it... there was a movie reference involved, but I don't know which one. - Where There's A Will and The Butler Didn't Do It (hauntings): I can't remember if this was a two-parter set in the same location at different times, or whether these are names for the same haunting. But it would have been set in a mansion and set up along the lines of an Agatha Christie whodunnit. However, it was a big location that was cut so we could keep the Hospital (another really big location). - The Abysmal: this one never got off the ground... I seem to remember it was an underwater mission inspired by The Abyss, but the technical problems were unsurmountable. I may be misremembering this! - Trainspooking: originally this would have been the finale, set on a train versus the Ghostbreakers. We did build the train, but we had to cut it to focus on getting all the other hauntings up to scratch. Isn't there a cut scene at the end using the train model? - Ghost in the Military Machine: the sequel to the military base mission Full Mortal Jacket, but that map in itself had a lot of problems and we cut the revisit. - Museum Mission: Didn't get far in planning this one, but it was intended at one point to use a museum as a haunting location. It was a lovely idea, but pushed off to the sequel which was never made... That's all I remember, or misremember, about everything you mentioned. Thanks for your message, and your love of the game, which is appreciated! All the very best, Chris.
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Just this second, I finished going through the copy editor’s version of the manuscript for The Virtuous Cyborg. She did a great job! Very attentive to the grammar, which I’d expect, but also thoughtful about the way emphasis had been... Continue reading
Posted Jul 26, 2017 at Only a Game
Delighted to discover a GoodReads review of Chaos Ethics this morning. It’s written by ‘Malcolm’,which is almost certainly the good and excellent play scholar Malcolm Maclean, who I happen to know was tackling my most ambitious text. Here’s an extract:... Continue reading
Posted Jul 24, 2017 at Only a Game
Hey José, Monotony does have a structure: you acquire property and build houses and hotels on it. It's actually one of the better parts of its design. Naughts and Crosses doesn't have a structure, though, and neither does It/Tag/Tig. Structural elements organise the play of the game into temporal sequences or patterns. The fact that Pac-man consists of a linear sequence of levels is enough for a (very basic) structure - and it also has cut-scenes (the first anywhere in videogames!) after every few levels. Mr Kairuh: Some structural elements are designed to support metagames, yes. I think that's what you mean. But the way I have always understood this is that the structural elements of a game are internal to its design and implementation, and the metagame is what happens when it is 'out in the wild'. Thanks for your commments!
Toggle Commented Jul 21, 2017 on Metagame vs Structure at ihobo
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Over on ihobo today, discussion of game structures, metagames, and the monetisation metagame. Here’s an extract: The structure of a game is the framework of the design that compels players to keep playing over the long term. There are numerous... Continue reading
Posted Jul 19, 2017 at Only a Game
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What is a metagame and how is it different from a game’s structure? The structure of a game is the framework of the design that compels players to keep playing over the long term. There are numerous different game structures,... Continue reading
Posted Jul 19, 2017 at ihobo
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A reply to Chris Billow’s New Theory of Play: Playstates as part of the Republic of Bloggers. Dear Chris, Our disagreements about language are not something to be dismissed as ‘mere opinion’, but a valuable context in which we reveal... Continue reading
Posted Jul 11, 2017 at Only a Game
Thanks for adding your perspective, Tony! You're arguing that a spade flush, even without a high card, beats a hearts flush, because of the priority of suits. I find this position quite compelling, but I'd really like to hear from Chinese players as I feel that the existing player practice is the important point - and I just don't know what it would be!
Toggle Commented Jul 7, 2017 on Big Two: Rules at Only a Game
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International Hobo Ltd will be at Europe’s biggest games industry event, Gamescom. We’re available for meetings on Wednesday 23rd and the morning of Thursday 24th of August. We’re particular interested in meeting with: Publishers looking for pre-dev game design support... Continue reading
Posted Jul 5, 2017 at Only a Game
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International Hobo Ltd will be at Europe’s biggest games industry event, Gamescom. We’re available for meetings on Wednesday 23rd and the morning of Thursday 24th of August. We’re particular interested in meeting with: Publishers looking for pre-dev game design support... Continue reading
Posted Jul 5, 2017 at ihobo
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Today, Only a Game is twelve years old. Hasn’t the time flown by! I would love to have produced something special for the event, but alas I have been swamped with my professional commitments and am way behind on my... Continue reading
Posted Jul 1, 2017 at Only a Game
Over at ihobo today, yet more Pokémon GO reporting, this time looking at how the player community is adjusting to the update after a week. Why so much on this game? Well, partly because this update is a big deal... Continue reading
Posted Jun 29, 2017 at Only a Game
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A little over a week since Niantic put the new Gyms system and Raids live in Pokémon GO, and the backlash is gradually being drowned out by the support for the way the year-old game has been reawakened by a... Continue reading
Posted Jun 29, 2017 at ihobo