Future Cinema

Course Site for Future Cinema 1 (and sometimes Future Cinema 2: Applied Theory) at York University, Canada

The Structure of Games – Tracy Fullerton

While video games are becoming an important aspect of the collection of technological ideas which fall under the umbrella of the term ‘future cinema’, the medium’s fundamental differences are enough that examining the basic tenets of the form are still an important step, especially for those who do not consider themselves ‘gamers’. This examination is exactly what Tracy Fullerton does in her chapter, “The Structure of Games”. She starts her discussion by way of comparing two seemingly disparate experiences: the card game Go fish, and the first-person-shooter (FPS) Quake. Fullerton acknowledges the apparent dissimilarity between the games, but proceeds to highlight their similarities as a way of discussing the concepts inherent in any game, such as:

Players – As Fullerton compares games to other media, she makes two distinctions. Games require active participation from the user, as opposed to the inherently passive role of the audience taken on in other media (her example is the music listener). This active interaction may be players in competition/co-operation with each other (Go Fish) or a single player against the game system (Quake). The second distinction she makes is in regard to Bernard Suits’ concept of the ‘lusory attitude’. This concept is the idea that players submit to the rules of the game, despite better ways of achieving the goals put forth by the game being available. This attitude is an acceptance of the challenge posed by the game’s rules to accomplish the next concept, …

Objectives – The goals set forth by the game. Again, Fullerton compares games to other media, by illustrating that, while characters have goals and objectives in traditional story-telling media, these goals are not applied to the media consumer her/himself. Games, on the other hand, set specific goals for the player, be it making the most books (Go Fish) or simply staying alive to make it to the end of the level (Quake). These objectives are accomplished by way of her following concept…

Procedures – The ways the players can accomplish the objectives, as established by the game system. These are the actions which can be performed, such as ‘dealing cards’, ‘asking specific players for cards of a particular suit’, or ’shooting a railgun’. These actions are also limitations, which act as part of the next concept…

Rules – The basic structure of the game system itself. Rules define what the player(s) can and cannot do within the game, as well as the behaviours of game objects. The rules are the arbitrary guidelines which the player submits to, in order to play the game, as mentioned earlier with the ‘lusory attitude’. The following concepts are all defined by the rule-set of the game in question.

Resources – One of the ways in which rules function is by applying values to various game objects. Certain suits are more desirable when making books (Go Fish), or certain weapons are more powerful (Quake). These (arbitrary) values make the attendant resources more or less desirable by the player(s), effecting a need to manage them by the player(s).

Conflict – The challenge inherent in any game, and, therefore, the reason for playing. The conflict may be between players (such as in Go Fish), an adversarial relationship between the player and the game system (Quake), or a player and her/his own skill level at a given task (Golf). The conflict is the obstacle the player needs to resolve in order to enact a favourable outcome.

Boundaries – This is an important concept which, while most people are aware of its existence, is not an idea which is actively considered, for the most part. It is the idea of the game being apart from everyday reality, falling into Huizinga’s “Magic Circle”. The Magic Circle is the temporary world established when the player enters into contract with the game system, agreeing to abide by the game’s rules and procedures, rather than the rules of the real world. For example, in Chess, the individual pieces are given movement rules, but these rules are arbitrary, along with the idea of simply keeping the pieces to the grid of the board. In video games, the idea is more complex, as the area outside the ‘board’ (game space within the system) may not exist, as it may not have been programmed. However, the world outside the computer/game console certainly does exist, but goes unacknowledged.

Outcome – This concept differs from an objective, in that, even if the player loses, that is still an outcome. The objective may not have been met, but if the game reaches its terminus, the outcome has been established, as well.

Fullerton then proceeds to discuss ways in which to engage the player in the game. Some of these methods are reiterations of the elements she has already discussed, such as challenge and play itself. The other ways stem from traditional narrative construction, such as the premise of the game (be it board or video game, creating an enjoyable atmosphere is important), engaging characters (which are especially important if the player is going to inhabit one or more of them), and a suitably engaging story, in order to offer the player(s) a compelling reason to continue engaging with the game. She concludes by discussing how these elements are not stand-alone concepts, but are part of an intertwining system which makes up the game system, and by extension, the experience as a whole.

Mon, March 12 2012 » futurecinema2_2012