Is It a Game?

Jake talks about how some games aren’t about winning. I’d suggest they aren’t games anymore. At some point an interactive narrative driven ‘game’ isn’t really a game, it’s an interactive narrative. Just as an interactive narrative that has a small moment of game play in it probably doesn’t make it a game. While Gone Home is narrative driven it is still a game – we don’t need to describe a novel as ‘narrative driven’. So what happens here is there is a strong narrative thread as it is a classic style puzzle quest game. I haven’t played it, but if the quest needs to be completed, it is a game. If you just explore a story world, then in my argot it is more interactive narrative than game. If people talk about it in terms of how you play it, and what you need to do in room X to be able to do thing Y, to discover Z, then it is a game. Play is play. Play that is orientated towards a measurable outcome (a result, however conceived), becomes a game. Reading narrative is not a game because we can’t measure the outcome, and we don’t.

Losing, Winning

Ajeet has a very good post. Questions, thinking out loud, joining ideas. Good questions open ended answers (it’s a fool’s paradise to think there are yes no answers to many of these questions). Play is not the same as a game, a game is, basically, competitive play and it becomes competitive because there are some sort of rules to determine an outcome. You can play mum’s and dad’s as a child, and that is so NOT The Sims.


Prani on games, winning and narrative. Re The Sims, you play it as a game, it has rules, and winning (as much critical writing points out) equals maintaining a family in ‘health’ etc. You can game it, but it is not a story. It is trivial to make games that you can’t necessarily win, but they are still rule governed, procedural (e.g. turn taking) and about the accruing of points, even where the game doesn’t call them point (in The Sims it is a house, income, job, and other middle class things). Stories don’t let you accrue health points, gold, power up, form clans or guilds, barter, and so on. And while some games have narrative the issue is whether narrative is fundamental to games. That is the debate, not whether a game might use some narrative but whether it is fundamental (can you have a game without a narrative, if yes therefore narrative isn’t what we need to use to understand what games really are).

Kimberly picks up similar points and uses Mario Bros as an example. The issue though is that saving Princess Peach doesn’t
‘matter’ to the game play. In other words Mario Bros is a successful game not because of its story, but because of its game play, which uses some very simple things to provide a frame for the game play. Afer all, it’s a pretty long reach to claim that Mario Bros is a good game because it is such a good story. It’s a good game because of the quality of its game play, the story, if we treated that as legitimately a narrative we’d have to recognise pretty quickly it is even less sophisticated than most stories told to children. (We have to save Princess Peach – why? i.e. as a ‘story’ what is the narrative motivation and justification here?) Similarly the motivation is to level up, not save the Princess, levelling up comes first (who asks how many characters have you rescued versus what level?) and the Princess is some decoration. Finally the multiple endings described by Kimberely are not hypertextual (this post and another on Maths and English and finally the one on Ted Nelson where I use some diagrams to explain hypertext are useful.

Ella too, suggesting Tetris is a narrative because there is a goal and you need to progress toward it. Let’s get academic here, there is no viable definition of narrative that says it is progression towards a goal. This is, though, a strong definition of what a game is. When we read we might aim to finish the book (a goal), but that is not what a story is, that is what you need to do to read the story. To think finishing = story would be the same as saying reading (since we need to read the novel) = story. It doesn’t. The phone book is not a story.


Molly picks up my post about recommendation systems and notes that she hates the ads on Facebook but likes Spotify. Exactly, the former is only selling ads, not recommendations of what other people like you liked. (Though imagine an ad engine that worked like that?!)

Anna D has notes from the unsymposium, including reputation networks, games and narrative. Gabrielle has three take away ideas. Hypertext and games, writing hypertext, and IBG (Internet before Google).

More Unsymposium Thick Description

No idea where Nadine pulled these from, they read like some odd episode out of West Wing, but a weird list of coincidental things in history, some of which make you go, “really?”. It isn’t that one caused the other, but in thinking of history as linear the simultaneity of the world gets completely lost. History didn’t happen then, it must be with us now in some way (history is what is remembered now of then). Intertwingled. All the way down. David thinks about hypertextual reading for things that aren’t hypertext (we do this with most of our media these days) and the importance of the link. A link is treated by Google as a sort of endorsement, that a link from that term or phrase, to that page, means there’s probably some relation between the link text and the destination, and this is a very important part of how Google ‘understands’ the web as a reputation network – links to a page build its reputation. Brittany has a brief but useful list of points to ponder.

Tiana wondered about games and narrative. Let’s be clear. There are three things that matter to this question. Play, games, and stories. Every known culture has had each, but they are not the same as each other. I can play without needing to win. I can play with stories, I can play with words, I can play games. Games are things that, like play, have agreed upon (if temporary) rules, but games are ends directed, games are things you win. Remember play does not have to include winning, games do. Stories we read and try to understand. They can be playful (in English we use the same word for play as in children playing, and playing a game, other languages use different words for this), and we can play with language or film in telling these stories. But when we ‘use’ a story we don’t play it like a game, there is nothing to win. (And I can play many video games that have stories and win them, paying little if any attention to the story.) Games don’t need stories to be games. They can use stories, sure, but they don’t need stories. Games, not video games, but games as a general category. As I used as an example, Tetris. The argument isn’t about whether games can use stories (that’s a trivial argument), it’s whether narrative is fundamental to games. My view is that if you can have games that don’t have any ounce of narrative in them (which is different to what we might narrate about them afterwards) then narrative is not a fundamental requirement of a game. They’re different sorts of things. They can be mixed, but so can oil and water.

More Voxies

Louisa has a bullet list of stations along the way. A semesters worth of material in 50 minutes. Patrick joins up NBN, infrastructure policy and network media. I’m with Patrick, the bigger, faster, more resilient it is built now, the better off we will be, it is the difference in defining useful as an extractive economy (dig it up, sell it) versus a knowledge economy. Olivia has another list of points from the unsymposium, very useful gloss. Millicent notices that she, like Brian, uses media ‘hypertextually’ (and so the debate that happens out in the real world is whether this is a good, or a bad, thing). Rebecca S thinks with her dad about Facebook, and dad points out that not very long ago MSN was all the rage (anyone remember MySpace?). My criticism of Facebook is that I think the network is the place for quality and niche, and I really really struggle to have that experience on Facebook. Let alone being inundated with dating ads (I’ve told them I’m married, and not looking, but they’re the ads I get??) One of my favourites is from Danielle with thoughts about games, stories, keyboards, recommendation engines and sharing the link love (link to others in the tail). This last point is incredibly important, it is what guarantees diversity and depth to the web – for all the reasons the last two week’s of readings have described. Closely followed by Lauren M who realised (very well done) that when I described hypertext as a post cinematic literacy, and that meaning is created outside of the shots, that what I was simply describing was the Kuleshov effect. Yep. Hypertext figured this out quickly, most other interactive media hasn’t. Rebecca M has another node come load of dump notes from the unsymposium… More to come…

Unsymposium 0.5

Some carry over questions from last week,

  • Can video games be considered hypertext narratives? How/why?
  • How do you actually write a hypertext narrative?
  • Why is hypertext considered influential in the future development of media making and storytelling?

And the new ones:

  • The Long Tail seems to advocate a free-market model for the entertainment industry. Anderson says this model allows for more diversity, however, do you think problems such as a recommendations hierarchy could emerge?
  • Does a network have a centre? Or do we all create centres for our own networks?
  • What does Watts mean when he talks about synchronisation? How does it relate to networks?
  • Anderson states that infinite access to entertainment media is accommodating more niche tastes, encouraging exploration away from a hit-driven culture that thrives on “brain-dead summer blockbusters and manufactured pop songs”. Why are these still the most popular, mainstream and successful in our entertainment culture?

Unsymposium 0.4

The questions that one of the Thursday classes has raised (they’re an interesting set of questions by the way) are:

  • What kind of genre is an interactive documentary? Is it still a documentary, or would you say that it is a new genre because of the hypertextual interface?
  • If, “Interactive narratives have no singular, definitive beginnings and endings,” then what would be the constraints for an author of interactive media to control the interpretation of a narrative?
    • What benefits and drawbacks does the ability for the user to determine narrative progression create?
  • Can video games be considered hypertext narratives? How/why?
  • How do you actually write a hypertext narrative?
  • Why is hypertext considered influential in the future development of media making and storytelling?