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Meaningful Play and Game Design

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  1. Meaningful Play and Game Design • Assigned readings: • Chapters 3 & 4 (Rules of Play Book) Dr. Héctor Muñoz-Avila

  2. How important is it to play? • Yes, we play to have “fun”, but • By playing games we learn a number of skills: • Social • Mechanical skills • Communication skills • Follow (or break) rules • We learn that there is something at play • Direct: winning a game • Direct/indirect: reward or impress someone

  3. Meaning and Play • Key goal of successful game design: • Examples of meaningful play: Create gaming experience of the player that have a meaning and are meaningful (“meaningful play”) • Chess: intellectual dueling • Basketball: Improvisational, team-based tactics • Everquest: dynamic shifting of individual and community identities What makes a game meaningful are not the rules of the game alone but the experiences of players playing the game (this is why iterative design is so crucial in designing a game)

  4. Descriptive Definition of Meaningful Play • Descriptive: • meaningful play emerges from the relation between player action and system outcome • Player: action  System: responds • Meaning of an action is the relation between action and outcome • Is there meaningful play in something like this? Of course, we execute our moves/combos with an intended outcome This definition reflects an operational level

  5. Evaluative Definition of Meaningful Play • Evaluative: • Meaningful play occurs when relation between actions and outcomes are discernable and integrated into the larger context of the game • This definition relates to the experience of the player • Therefore the evaluative definition is the one we use in our analysis

  6. Discernable • The outcome of an action is communicated in a perceivable way. • Good examples? • Where the outcome was communicated • Bad examples? • Where the outcome was not communicated and should have

  7. Integrated • Actions taken by player have not only immediate significance but affects player experience later on. • Good examples? • Where the outcome has significance later on • How about chess? • Bad examples? • Where the outcome has significance no later on

  8. Side Track: Massive Multiplayer Online RPGs (MMOs) • Persistent world • RPG: players take role • Priest: heal other players • Warrior: draws attention of the MOB towards him/her • Mage: deal damage • “dude wut is ur DPS?” • … (as many as 20 other roles in modern games) • Character advances “levels” and gains new skills that facilitates its role • Fundamental that each player master their avatar’s role to defeat some encounters • 20/40 avatars carefully following a plan

  9. So What is Discernable and Integrated in MMOs? • Discernable • Integrated

  10. Homework (next class) • Describe a concrete example of a discernable outcome in an action (choose a game) • Describe a concrete example of an action not having discernable outcome (choose a game) • Explain what you think is the impact on play (i.e., player’s experience) for this game? (i.e., is it bad?) • Describe a concrete example of an integrated outcome in an action (choose a game) • Describe a concrete example of a in an action not having an integrated outcome (choose a game) • Explain what you think is the impact on play for this game? • Please don’t use any of the examples discussed in class • You may use different games in your answers

  11. Design • As with “game” there are multiple definitions of what this means • Design is making sense of things • Devising courses of action aimed at changing existing situations (Herbert Simon) • The conception of visual form • … • So there are multiple elements: understanding, action, visual appearance, …

  12. Design: A Definition (the “official”) • Design is a process by which a designer creates a context to be encountered by a participant from which meaning emerges • Designer: person who creates the game • Context: rules, spaces, objects, narratives (lore) • Participants: players • Meaning: meaningful play • Crucial point of this definition: connect design and meaningful play • When creating games we are crafting experiences • Classical example: RPG games

  13. Controversy: Morrowind • Design decision: • Monsters level as you level • So monster encountered later in the game is tougher than same monster encountered early in the game • In fact you can beat the game at very low level! • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BP4c0Q1KUs0 • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zh_GgZ_2Hkg&feature=PlayList&p=6381B248E5BDBC5B&playnext=1&index=19 • Paradox: can beat at level 20 but not at level 40 Is the outcome of actions integrated?

  14. Design and Meaning • Meaning in context of game design: assess the value or significance of play • Meaning is crucial because the design results in a system of interactions people object meaning context

  15. Semiotics • The study of how meanings are made • Created by a linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (early 1900s) • Example: symbols in rock-paper-scissors • Another examples: classes in a game (mage, warrior) • What does a “mage” represents? And a warrior? • Four semiotic concepts: • Sign represents something other than itself • Signs are interpreted • Meaning results when a sign is interpreted • Context shape interpretation

  16. Sign represents something other than itself • What is the meaning of “O” in Tic-Tac-Toe? • Games use signs to denote actions and outcome (capturing an opponent’s piece/falling king in chess) • Chains of signifiers: sequences of signs • Examples? • Words (sequences of characters) • Civilization signifies society evolution

  17. Signs are interpreted • Meaning of signs are not because of the signs themselves but because of surrounding context • Players are active interpreters of signs in games • Analogy: cursor changes in RTS games

  18. Meaning results when a sign is interpreted • A sign stands for something to somebody in some aspect or capacity • Think of the role of a warrior or a mage in an MMO game • And perceived meaning is controversial (designer versus some players) • Paladins in WOW: clerics or holy warriors?

  19. Context shape interpretation • Designer creates a context for the participant form which meaning emerges • Classical example: word in a phrase • Structure: set of regulations or guidelines that prescribe how signs are interpreted (example)

  20. Licensing popular lore Create own lore Use popular lore Side Track: Lore: Designing ContextPay for a License or Not

  21. Administrative • Game creation: Posted on web site • Analysis of existing game design: Posted on web site