Before the course started, I had begun reading the book “Reality is Broken” by Jane McGonigal. In this book, McGonigal presents the same four necessary components of a “game” that our guest speaker, Mavis Dixon, gave during her talk today: A goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation. Both also quote Bernard Suits, who said that “Playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.”
Since reading that part of the book, I’ve been considering whether the behaviour of individual players throws a wrench into those ideas. The problem is this: if a game is defined (at least partially) by it’s rules and goals (or obstacles), does that mean that changing the rules, goals, or obstacles turn one game into an entirely different game?
Many gamers will create self-imposed obstacles, goals, or restrictions on top of a complete game. For examples of this, see this blog. “No Wrong Way to Play” was created by Anthony Burch (the writer for Borderlands 2 and the web-series “Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin’?”) to document some of the more interesting variant play styles. To use one of the examples from the site, is a person doing a low-score run of Super Mario Bros. (wherein one attempts to complete the game earning as few points as possible) really playing Super Mario Bros.? Or are they playing another game entirely?
Our discussion about post-structuralism and video games really opened up a new dimension of this for me. Since post-structuralism rejects the idea that a work has a single interpretation or purpose, would that kind of analysis resolve our problem? Could we say that the rules, goals, and obstacles presented by the game are merely one interpretation of what it means to play the game?
What do you all think?
After writing all this down, I’m starting to form connections between existentialism, The Stanley Parable, and the idea that playing a game is necessarily a critique of the game’s systems. I think I’ll leave those ideas for the comments.