alternate reality games conferences games design GDC 2008

GDC08: Scattershots of play – potential of indie games – 3


A very broad range of ideas on what should shape game design at a fundamental level. I greatly enjoyed this for the way it jumped to a bunch of related but competing ideals and perspectives.

Also very interesting for including a 20-minute section on How to Design for Alternate Reality Games (not billed as such, but that’s what it was: a theory on how to think when designing ARGs).


Section 1: Flow, and how to evaluate games
Section 2: Games break down into inputs and outputs
Section 3: Theories of design for Alternate Reality Games


[1] Kellee Santiago
[2] John Mak
[3] Pekko Koskinen

My own occasional commentary is in [ square brackets ]

Section 3: Theories of design for Alternate Reality Games

This presentation is a personal design path, because the topic is in daner of leading to too abstract things, so personalising will make it more concrete, and secondly using concrete example will probably help explain.

I was working in university game research lab in finland, then tried to get projects going between old traditional forms of art and games.

One project from last fall was a reality game that will take place in finland next fall (2008???).

Background of game mechanics, but also a choreographer, a few dances, some actors, a video artist, and theatre director. These are all controlled by background game structure.

Basic premise is that everything you see around you is actually fictional. We’re pretending you’re living in a virtual disney land, your life is part of a museum exhibition, you’re a token citizen in this piece.

We insert fictional elements into the streetlife, give roles to players and use this to nudge people out of their normal daily routines.

I had to recalibrate my game design principles, because this needs some big changes to things I’d normally done. We’d made mainly experimental computer games before, and although I had a background in roleplaying this was still pretty new different design requirements.

Games can be designed for any medium, you can make games that are sound-only, text-only. Any medium at all you can come up with a game for. Why is that?

I think that’s peculiar because other forms of expression are rooted in the medium, e.g. painting is defined by it’s being a visual medium, music is an audio onee, yet that games are simply independent and can apply any medium that they choose.

This leads to the question: where do games reside, where do they stem from?

[this is part of their uniqueness: they’re part of what we are as humans]

I have a couple of ideas…

1. Games are essentially systesm: structures and operations. The structures, and the operations that are based on those strucutres. The medium’s features are there to make the structures apparent, and make the operations sensible / understandable.

e.g. learnign chess: you can learn it many ways, physically: in your head, on paper. but what’s important is that you’re devleoping a mental-model in your head, and then you can play it in any medium.

This is true of all games, I think: the game is not part of the medium, it just uses a given medium to show the structure that the game is comprised of.

If this is the case … doesn’t that mean that the whole game ultimately resides and plays out within the player’s own mind?

The starting point for any move in the game is in my head; first I play the move in my head, to decide what to do in reality, what action to actually take in the game outside my head.

2. If these reside in the player, aren’t games ultimately “systems of behaviour”?

If I play something, I’m behaving differently from my normal self [because I’m using that custom proprietary mental model to shape my thinking and actions].

Can’t we think of game design as you coming up with a pattern of behaviour “that would be an interesting way to behave, to live, to act” and then turning it into a representation of structures and operations that forces that way to behave.

3. If we adopt this design premise, then can we design a player the same way we design a game?

[on a basic level, you would expect a definite resounding yes: this is mathematical matching at play]

I think we can.

Sturucturally the approach I used was to think that games are environments in which we play. But…we could also design games as lenses, not as environments, but as esomething placed between you and your environment, that shape how you view your environment.

This gave me the approach I needed to do the reality-game design.

I could get someone doing something that looked game-like. Then I could get some other people to walk into the room and tell them that this was an artist doing an art piece.

I could then get more people to come in, and tell them that it was a religious event.

These are three different lenses of the same activity that is occurring.

Looking to the future…

This model of lenses cuts out some thing that games can do much better than just be lenses, so it’s not perfect as a model.

Are games as we see them now the last stop in development of understanding of what a game is, and of examples of genres, or just the beginning of a fundamentally different way of looking at them.

If you look at games pre-computers, they haven’t changed for thousands of years. But it’s changed so much in 20-30 years that this suggests its still a long way away from slowing down, if you look at historical cultural changes.

I think games are the best way to take control of life: we can design our lives, we can design the reality we want, how we live our lives.

People talk about how mmorpg players are losing their personalities to another online personlity. I think this is a reflection of the fact that games have a baheriovurla background, so they ALWAYS tie up with identity they ALWAYS cause you to adopt a new identity in order to play them.

That’s one development that’s only just starting at the moment, and in the long run I think we’ll come to see it as a general thing.