In my prior blog post, I explored the fundamental definition of gaming. From this fairly elementary assessment I came to the conclusion that the gaming's artistic purpose was the recreation of an interaction in the form of a static construct. For this blog post I will attempt to spread beyond that basic point and see what it gets me.
To caveat, I will be assessing gaming's designs in the context of narrative and not pure gameplay, as I'm not quite ready to tackle that particular topic just yet.
Back to the Basics
Narrative is often broken down into the metaphor of the Storyteller sitting by the campfire, retelling a story to a Listener with them. However, if we look at this metaphor again in the context of the medium of interaction, there are some elements frequently overlooked; namely, the Listener's involvement in the story.
Interacting with the Listener, they might interact back. They might interrupt or ask questions or attempt to alter the Storyteller's story, they might even simply get up at leave in the middle of it. All of these things alter the story being told, and both individuals experience from that story.
The theory of Three Parties
From this insight I formulated that, in an interaction, there are three parties involved: The first party (The Storyteller/Artist), the second party (The Active Audience), and the third party (The Passive Audience).
The first party and the second party have already been explained. To articulate further, the Artist is in a creatively dominant position, while the Active Audience is in a creatively submissive/reactionary position. These positions can be fluid, and in a single narrative both can switch positions any number of times. While the first and second party may interact with the third (By breaking the fourth wall), the Passive Audience cannot interact with the other two (else they become the second party) and can only observe the results of their interaction.
This applies to All Mediums
All artistic mediums are subject to this assessment of three parties. However, in all cases, the direct link between the first and second party's interaction is obfuscated to the point that we might only assume the first and third exist, when this is not the case.
You might have collaborators, or editors, who respond to your creation and make adjustments. In cinema you have actors, editors, sound designers, music composers, writers, producers, directors, and so on, all interacting with each other to create their art.
Even in the case of a completely solo work, the artist acts as a surrogate second party when they relay their work back to them for scrutiny.
As it Applies to Gaming
Since the argued purpose of gaming is the recreation of an interaction, a game attempts to put the player in the second party, rather than putting them in the third. From this understanding, the idealized design in gaming is an environment where the player might suspend their disbelief as to the static nature of a game in favour of believing that their actions have a free and organic impact on the world.
Because a game still has to be made, we can assume that there are two layers at play when discussing interaction in the context of a game: The game level and the meta-game level. Generally, it is considered ideal to obtain player feedback as early as possible in a game's development, as this can translate into a more robust selection of player choice at the game level, further reinforcing the belief of games as a means of recreating an interaction.
That's all I have to say for now. I plan to expound further regarding this topic, but I'll spare you of an overlong mess for the time being and I'll leave you with what I have said thus far.
If my presence here is any indication, I have a rather substantial obsession with gaming and game philosophy. I scour and scrutinize other people's insights into this emergent medium whenever I possible; however, one very simple question has eluded me: What, exactly, is a game? Is a game like Tetris more game-like than, say, The Walking Dead? Would adventure games be better if they had more "gamey" mechanics integrated into them? Is a digital game more effective in its use of the medium than, say, a board game, or a pen and paper game?
It'd seem like the fundamental basis of any sort of understanding with a medium to at least know what explicitly defines it, and yet I haven't seen anyone discuss this important topic in any depth. So, I think it's only reasonable that, for my first blog post, I'd try to tackle it myself.
Breadth of Perspective:
First off, I don't think any specific example is an ideal means of identifying what makes games special from other media. Even though a game might be objectively good it's ultimately hampered by the narrow scope of design a game provides, and really only leads to insights in design, not purpose.
No, I think we need to broaden our focus. But, looking at all games, we are provided with the problem that makes them so difficult to define in the first place, given how widely they differ in design and experience. They all share one attribute in that the player is interacting with them, but if interaction is what defines a game then that sounds like everything is a game. It's not particularly insightful.
Perhaps, then, we should broaden our focus further...
It's a Trick Question:
Let us, instead of asking what games are, look at the medium of interaction as a whole and ask where gaming fits into this tapestry.
Important tangent, I find the question of "Are games Art?" many months ago to be rather amusing. The dismissal of such a query as being obviously true is certainly in the right, but a lot of people argue that, since gaming is such a young medium, it had yet to mature into its full potential. While I agree that gaming in the digital context is certainly young, when you connect it to the interactive medium as a whole, it becomes a part of a medium far older than any other art form out there.
Why, then, is the medium of interaction not so widely regarded as an art form, Like literature or cinema? The answer should be obvious: It's impossible to hang up an interaction on your wall. Interaction demands a candid experience, which is limited in its scope without turning it into a static medium, thereby rendering interactive component of the experience moot.
This is where games fit in, games offer us a facsimiled replication of a candid interaction through a static creation. This recreation of an interaction is the core of what gaming provides separate from other mediums; it empowers the artist, not simply to convey something to the audience, but for them to interact with the audience in a lasting -- if albeit indirect -- manner.
I could go on to explain more in detail, but for now we'll leave it at that. I thank you for reading and hope you might find this useful.