- Category: Pixel Kings
- Created on Sunday, 20 May 2012 02:04
- Written by Mark Navarro
- Hits: 1061
Since the proliferation of video games and the growth of its various genres, there’s been a lot of debate over what makes a video game… well… a video game. RPG fanatics would insist on the strength of the game’s story as a main selling point while gamers who buy Battlefield 3 for its multiplayer experience would object to that. Fact is, both answers are correct, but they aren’t complete truths. As human beings, we tend to overthink the things that we care about. So let’s go back to the basics.
A video game is a GAME.
We play video games. “Play” is the most organic thing to do when presented with the mechanics of a game. Early on in our lives, we played games. The principles for making a successful game shouldn’t differ from the principles for making a successful video game. We play both. And to describe that action, as Salen & Zimmerman have defined it, “Play is free movement within a more rigid structure”.
In Grand Theft Auto, you are free to do whatever you want. You can throw a Molotov Cocktail at a pedestrian, you can steal a car, and you can punch a guy just because he looks richer than you. In Basketball, you are free to dribble the ball with your feet, you can throw the ball at your opponent’s back, and you can headlock your biggest threat on the court into submission. But you won’t. And why would you do any of these actions? How will doing these help you achieve your goal? Will these actions make you a better player in the future?
The obvious answer is because that “rigid structure” I cited is the game’s boundaries, physical boundaries including anything visual are the aesthetics, behavioral boundaries are the dynamics. Players have an end goal, and a good game should equip you with the tools (mechanics) you need. The challenge is to use those tools within the “rigid structure” and develop the skills needed to achieve that goal.
To illustrate, a game is composed of:
Now what makes a video game different from a game? In my opinion, a video game is the result when the mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics of a simulation all work in tandem to create a base experience. And that is what makes us play. Not solely the story, nor is it gameplay alone. It is the base experience. To illustrate:
Some examples of base experiences that come to mind:
A.) Be a bowler (Wii bowling)
B.) Fight in a war (Call of Duty)
C.) Be a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and fight alongside Marvel’s heroes (Marvel: Avengers Alliance)
D.) Gain superpowers and have total freedom to decide your fate (InFamous)
Conceptualizing a game and engineering its mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics faithfully to the experience is the formula of a great video game, a true work of art. When successful, the illusion of simulation will be accomplished and a player will be engrossed in that reality. This is when video games cease to become “games” and become a means of escapism.
This framework is not the bible. If you are a game developer, you are welcome to do your own research and come up with your own model of understanding a video game. What I’m offering is merely my own point of view based on my own observations and criticisms of what I’ve read. In future posts, I’ll be referring to this model to dissect various games and help you understand why we love those games. Hopefully, it will help you see some great games in angles you’ve never seen them before. If you want to engage in a discussion with me, feel free to hit me up on the comments thread.