Month: October 2016

Aesthetically, Interactively,Heuristically, (Adjective)-ly

In The Aesthetic of Play, Brian Upton discusses the role of Interactivity and Heuristics in games. In describing Interactivity he’s opened up ways of thinking about how we play games that I had never questioned before but would like to bring up now.

First, in the nature of games there are usually a set of pre-determined rules designed by the creator or designer of the game that the player follows in order to complete the game or compete in it. Chess follows this particular model , but when considering a real world game one seldom considers that with the pieces and equipment of chess that they could just make new rules, or play it as differently as they want. They are not technically limited by the rules of chess in order to technically play a game with chess pieces. When thinking of Video Games, however, you have to consider that on most occasions one cannot even traverse through the game unless they follow along with the games given internal rules. These rules aren’t concerning how to move or how you perform certain actions since these are covered usually immediately in order for the player to actually play the game. But no the rules I’m talking about concern the ways in which you use the mechanics in order to move ahead. In a first person shooter you should use movement to hide behind something if you’re being shot at, in a platformer you use your jumps and forward movement to get to the next tile or platform. There is not other option usually, if you don’t perform a certain action the game may become too hard or become impossible. These are the rule of the gameplay that affect the gameworld. These are the rules that affect the interactivity for the player.

Interactive experiences also draw upon a player’s past experiences to determine how they might want to play a game. For example, if a game were to have a large hill that a player might run atop of then to the bottom of to get to there next destination, its likely the player might just walk around it because past experience in the real world reveals that going up a hill just to go down it is a waste of time and its better to avoid it all together (unless the plan is to waste time of course). In introducing the player’s ideas, experiences, and influences into gameplay we begin to stumble upon a new level of interactivity, one that could actually allow a designer to use the knowledge of a player against them. Perhaps in knowing what a player might know about a specific experience, a small tweek of real world logic can create a random effect that could surprise a gamer…or confuse and anger them. This leads to Upton’s take on the Heuristics of play.

The six heuristics of gameplay  (choice, variety, consequence, predictability, uncertainty, satisfaction) are terms and types of concepts that can be designed in away that can affect a game in a way that could either add or detract from the experience. The one that I examined a second ago, predictability, is a very important staple of gaming. When we perform  certain actions we expect certain results, we tend to take in our own experiences and translate them into how we expect the logic of a game to go. When I turn a control stick right, I expect something in the game to turn right in some way etc. When games try to deviate from what we might expect should happen there is a sense of confusion that must be handled immediately. Now does the new, seemingly random consequence of a familiar action upset the player enough to make them want to stop playing or does it excite the player by opening up possibilities for enjoyment that were not previously expected like the abuse of a funny glitch, or like figuring out that a seemingly inconsequential string of button pressings leads to a new fight move. With this in mind you have to wonder what might cause a player to stop playing if put into affect. With this random consequence of a particular action now part of your internal rules you’ve taken a calculated risk that you hope will be for the benefit of the player and for the game overall.

Now I would like to sloppily connect this to the topic of ARG game design. Throughout the creation of the abstract, there were times where I was concerned that the events that we put a player through might negatively impact their enjoyment of the experience. Sometimes it would be because a particular performed event might be to odd or not in line with reality and thus will feel forced out o nowhere rather than feeling organic, which i a part of the ARG experience I’d more or less like to keep. Yet, make the game too consistent, too in line with the everyday mundane then t a certain point there is barely even a game at all. Something needs to be introduced that the players can’t always expect. Going to a particular place to find a clue shouldn’t be so easy, there could be an extra challenge a player might not expect, an obstacle they need to go around, or perhaps the clue is just a map that leads to an even better superclue of some kind. Point being that in the creation of a game, the rules within the game shouldn’t be so rigid as to constrain a player but also shouldn’t be so loose  that it makes no sense whatsoever and only confuses rather than entertains. Fining this line will be difficult as the games are being made. Thought has to be put into how the games are meant to be played, how certain things can be found, and the uniqueness of the experience and why participating in the game at all is better than not. The aesthetics of the game have to be balanced to make it as enjoyable as possible and I’m glad the reading highlighted these aspects to open them up to discussion.


Aesthetics of Play (Brian Upton, Chapter 2, “Interactivity,” p. 23-38, and Chapter 4 “Heuristics,” p. 51-72)


Reflecting on our Playtest Experience

After reflecting on the Fullerton chapter on playtesting and our own experience in designing and playing our games last Thursday, I had some thoughts to share from the process. First, I wanted to talk about the beginning of designing a game you plan to develop to completion. Next, I wanted to touch on the beginning of the playtest process as we narrow down from our foundations of our game through a more formalized version. Last, I have a few reflections on the problem of finality that many of our games shared.

To clarify, our project was the one that used filtered glasses to split the class in two. We knew we wanted to work with 3d anaglyph glasses and had plenty of different ideas as to potential directions, but the one we kept coming back to was of the way the two halves of the glasses unite to create coherence out of a chaotic image. In the same way, we wanted to create coherence using two different groups. In brainstorming, we went through many iterations of just discussing the mechanics of the process of this split, in addition to what they would actually need to do once split. The great part, though, was while we knew we needed to be intentional in our design, there are certain places, like the activities themselves, where we didn’t need to be married in the long run to our choices. The important part was designing to create a coherent experience that showcased the mechanics and fundamentals of our game.

The playtest itself was a very interesting challenge. With much less time than Fullerton recommends, including no time for a briefing or full debrief, and factoring in travel time around Logan, there was very little time to actually test our game. Even so, I was able to pinpoint a few potential problems to continue working on as we iterate through our design process. What I hadn’t realized was how effective the act of getting other people to participate in our process would be. It’s one thing to think about how players will react, but another entirely to see them fucking up your game in very interesting ways. It really solidified in me the importance of testing your theory against actual practice – i.e. the players themselves.

Lastly, I wanted to talk about the fact that many of our games today had pretty unsatisfying endings. In the first game there was a sense of completion with the group singing of a song which I thought worked pretty well, but even when the problems were solved in other modules we quickly realized solving a puzzle in and of itself did not automatically assure that there was a satisfying end to the game. A sense of completion is much more than it first seems, and I will need to work hard with my group to help develop meaningful ending to our games.



Subtlety In the Classroom

In light of both Tuesday and Thursday’s creative tasks, I went on a longer reflection of the “Embedded Design” approach that Kaufman and Flanagan present to use in one of the readings. Initially I was of the mindset that recreating Tic Tac Toe, for example, was an exercise in the deconstruction and analysis of core game-play mechanics. Having spent some time with my group deliberating the merits of our Final Project Abstract as well as designing a relatively short functional “game” for Thursday class, those same tasks deserve some further scrutiny.

Tic Tac Toe is a wonderful example to elucidate on what Kaufman and Flanagan meant by embedding core aspects and messages within the periphery of the game. Now let’s imagine that the deconstruction of the Tic Tac Toe was the game. What embedded message could be found in that conglomerate of pressured creative activity? Rather than face a series of well thought out lectures on how to improvise and recreate relatively simple tasks in light of the unpredictability of an ARG, the simplest way I think for me to understand this was by actually “walking the walk”. The “obfuscation” that Kaufman and Flanagan talk about was in believing the Tic Tac Toe exercise to be just another class exercise. (Although I wonder if this is true of any of the class, being we are all highly skeptical individuals.) There is enough room for interpretation there such that the perceived end goal of the task (recreating TTT) is different from the true goal, i.e. the implications when it comes to ARG design and beyond. One could call the TTT exercise merely another aspect of the type of class we are taking, but the true potential of such exercises is that they begin to open dialogues on our assumptions and our preformed notions on what the class should be.

To further elucidate, Kaufman and Flanagan have brought me to question the perceived functionality and purpose of something like the Thursday exercise as well. This small module of game-play was a highly creative (and might I add stressful) project which required some form of player testing in a relatively short amount of time. My perceived assumption is possibly that I am learning about design by actually designing. And this is an example where in the periphery, the sorts of theory discussions that can be found within our texts can also be “embedded” within the problem solving of a creative exercise.  The task never tells me that I am explicitly learning about ARG design, that this experience will present itself useful if I go on to further the development of an actual ARG, nor its applications in highly creative problem solving. The task is simply: “Creative X.” But X is unique because it has that embedded meaning. And while an article can tell me about, A, B, and C difficulties. X allows me to confront them while never directly forcing me to necessarily engage them beyond completing X. Theory becomes “embedded” into the architecture of the task and this is a sort of educational tool that lends itself well to the sort of free-form style of teaching that is this class.


Art of Play; Science of Persuasion

As the saying goes, there’s more than one way to convince a cat of your point. Kaufman and Flanagan demonstrate this in their paper, but their scope remains too narrow.

While they provide convincing arguments for subtlety, the best way to persuade people is not always through the periphery. While in their discussion of their results, they allow that embedded design is “less suitable” in certain contexts, they only frame these contexts through the intent of the designer, not the demographics of the populace. Jonathan Caccioppo, a psychologist here at the University has created a very popular theory of persuasion which poses two methods (which he calls routes) to persuasion: the Central and the Peripheral. Importantly, this theory focuses on the audience rather than the message or the persuader’s intent.

The Peripheral route is what is explored in depth in Kaufman and Flanagan’s paper. All of the embedded design methods are meant to mask the argument being made, hiding the real purpose of the game, and trying to slip in persuasive elements past the player’s cognitive “filter.” The peripheral route as Caccioppo describes it is the quick, emotional route. It doesn’t necessarily require elaborate arguments or indeed even facts. Emotionally salient appeals comprise most of the peripheral route, and the methods like the ones described in the Kaufman article are meant to impact players on what they seem to think of as a more fundamental or persuasive level.

However, Caccioppo’s work demonstrates the peripheral route is not always the best, and in many cases, can have an undesired effect, turning people against your argument. The central route, as you’ve guessed, is the opposite of the peripheral one. The central route is when arguments are presented tot he listener that require their full attention. This is the route of facts, figures, and cold logic. The points here are more complex, and as such, the listener has to engage with them more fully, and they are subject to more scrutiny. As a trade-off, people who are persuaded by the central route are generally more thoroughly convinced than those who were persuaded by the peripheral route.

What determines which route you should use? Kaufman and Flanagan posit that it is the type of the message, that what point you’re trying to make or what you’re trying to do should determine whether or not you embed your arguments. It is worth noting that they take this as a given, and do not test it experimentally. Caccioppo does, and his findings are something we already know as game designers: think about your audience. In the study, he demonstrates that those with a high need for cognition (essentially whether or not you like to think) is the most important determining factor, as those with a high need for cognition are best persuaded by the central route, and those with a low need are best persuaded by the periphery (Need for cognition, while highly correlated with intelligence, is not the same). Additionally, there are situational factors that are important as well (whether or not you want to think right now).

What this means is that if you were to design a  persuasive game for people with a high need for cognition, embedded design elements aren’t necessarily the best way to go about making a game that is actually persuasive to the audience. You should also consider whether or not people are expecting to have to think when they play your game. While the embedded design concepts are important to have laid out, they don’t form the fullest picture of how to persuade.


Also you can find the paper on psycnet with your UCID. It’s p good.

Kaufman, G., & Flanagan, M. (2015). A psychologically “embedded” approach to designing games for prosocial causes. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 9(3), article 1

Central and peripheral routes to persuasion: An individual difference perspective.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 51(5), Nov 1986

Ideas on procedural making

In Persuasive Games, Ian Bogost, “Procedural Rhetoric,” p. 1-64) “Mary uses the term procedural to refer to the computers’s ‘defining ability to execute a series of rules”’.  Procedurally in this sense refer to the core practice of software authorship. Software is composed of algorithms that model the way things behavior. To write procedurally, one authors code that enforces rules to generate some kind of representation, rather than authoring the representation itself.” The language used in describing the design methods of computer programming are extremely interesting to me.  I think there are many parallels to the methods for designing ARGs.  Just like in and ARG, rules/ definitions/ architecture create the design landscape for players to interact with.  Algorithms that model the way things behave are similar to characters placed in an ARG to ensure certain key actions occur before entry to the next chapter of the story.  Until a player realizes there will be no entry to a certain room until the  character is given a hershey kiss, he/she is stuck within the loop of the algorithm.  Additionally, narrative sequences are developed from a tree of possible choices.  Are programs and ARGS really so different?

Finally, I noticed that many  people have been writing this week about their shock over games that obfuscate their messages in order to accomplish their goals.  Many have argued that this type of strategy is manipulative, however I’d argue that everything is “a representation” and therefore there is always an author crafting the framing of reality.  When ad agencies covertly hide messages in their stories and force the populous to buy products they don’t need through two arguments: 1. unlimited choice & 2. you are somehow not complete unless you own this thing, why shouldn’t I use whatever means necessary to counteract this type of thinking.  If I can mimic the representation of an ad to persuade an individual to participate in my game and maybe gain perspective on important environmental practices or social issues, I’d say it’s worth it and maybe my responsibility to share.  It’s too late to spend our times complacently allowing mass media to pull us into complacency. Soon there will be no oil and a major disaster will wipe us all out unless we start drastically changing the representations publicly broadcasted.  If we see a means of providing small solutions through play, this isn’t manipulation, it’s sharing.

Games and How We’re Making Them

Thinking about how we have utilized games in the classroom, we can (obviously) see different ways of how a game can be run. Thinking back to the games we played on Tuesday and Thursday, it is interesting to see how we all adapted and interpreted the challenge of creating new rules and levels of depth in a game (Tuesday) and also being able to utilize outside aspects mixed with our own ideas in a set environment (Thursday). These are just some reflections on how we did these games and make changes for ourselves as time goes on.

               Starting with Tuesday’s exercise of adding something to Tic Tac Toe, I was very surprised with how extensive a lot of the groups were in terms of changing aspects of the game. How I thought of the exercise was to modify the game in a small, yet meaningful way that addresses potential issues the original game faces. Thinking about spaces and turns, my group went about to address how that can be rectified in that the player with less turns can get a new tool to use via the frozen space idea. It keeps the original game’s formula, but with the twist that the second player denies a spot that either player can use until an appointed time. There were issues that definitely needed to be fixed and reinstated, but it doesn’t change what the game is. A lot of the groups had games that added onto Tic Tac Toe, which I found very creative. While I didn’t get to play them all, the one I did play with helped change the turn based system the game had into something that made things more competitive in coordination of making a basket to allow your move while also speeding up the feel of the game, yet it also has the potential to lengthen it with its larger board. Changing the dimensions of a game, no matter how big or small, can have great potential in creating variants that help lengthen the playability and overall enjoyment of a game. It is reminiscent of DLC in video games today.

               Thursday’s games definitely had more leeway in all aspects of creation and playing. More people were able to try and solve riddles, there was definitely a lot of movement throughout the building (do not recommend to do that with an empty stomach), and a greater sense of energy exhibited by everyone. I appreciated everyone’s legitimate effort to solve the games and I definitely had a great time in participating in what I could. Structurally, each game had a different sense in completing the narrative within each game: one game dealt with the main object of getting the potato through completion of finding items of relevance, another dealt with solving the musical challenge of Simon Says after being introduced to the melody and finding objects that the players discover are supposed to imitate said melody, and so on. How each group delivered their objectives and goals that the player needed to do was very unique and utilized not just outside items (3D glasses, messages to the players, recorders, etc.) but the players themselves as a tool to enhance an experience by getting into the mindset of a character in each games’ ‘world’ to solve the problem we all had to face. We have the sense of building the game in terms of mechanics and can strive to build up a sense of rules and confines of the game. This can be built upon, but in having some idea of the basics, as a class, I think we’re making great strides and progress in how we think of crafting games.

Netprov’s First Cousin

Or possibly sibling, I’m not sure which. I’ll let you decide at the end of this post.

Per our assignment, I signed up for the Thermophiles in Love netprov last week, and today started filling out my profile and making a few posts on the discussions, getting a feel for the world and my character, who I’ve named ‘The Avernian’ in my head. Although I’ve never participated in a netprov before—at least, not on any level more significant than passive consumption of someone’s in-character parody Twitter—the form felt immediately familiar and intuitive to me, for while I may not have done netprov, I have been doing something remarkably similar for almost a full decade now: freeform online roleplaying games. Since my early teens, I’ve played across eight different websites, as well as a motley collection of IRC servers and Skype groups, and have participated in an uncounted number of games—at least fifty, by my best estimate, most of which died in under a month and the longest of which ran for five years of continuous, daily play.

To be clear, the games I play are not roleplaying games of the type with which people are generally familiar. There are no dice and no statistics. There are, fundamentally, only two rules—”No godmoding,” meaning simply “don’t have your characters take actions that are impossible or unreasonable within the consensus-setting of the game,” and “no powerplaying,” meaning “don’t directly affect another players’ characters or describe them taking actions without the consent of their players”—although a game’s creator or host might set other rules in order to help keep the spirit of the previous two. While the general details of a game’s setting, whether original or based on some other piece of fiction, are usually defined at the outset by the game’s creator, characters are created by the individual players and plot is arrived at through improvisation. Player disputes are resolved by consensus.

Nor are these games netprov, at least as Wittig describes it; litprov might, in many ways, be a more appropriate term for the academic description of the form. Unlike netprov, which takes place in real time, is a transmedia form, and seeks to disrupt the boundary between what is real and what is a game, these litprov games are largely constrained to a prose format—although for forum-based games, at least, the bulletin-board format allows for some experimentation with font style and size, text placement, image use, and even ARG-like metagame content placed in post titles or otherwise hidden text—broken into posts typically written in the first person or the third person limited, which alternate between characters participating in a given scene. Most of these games do not take place in worlds resembling our own—fantasy and science fiction settings being the norm—and do not take place in real time; it can sometimes take months of posting to finish a single in-game day, weeks to finish a conversation. The space in which the game takes place is defined, usually a single forum thread or chatroom, and even there, there are usually clear ways of demarcating out-of-character writing—ways which are occasionally subverted when somebody decides to create a character who’s aware that they’re in a roleplay.

Despite the differences, there are also clear similarities between this litprov form and Wittig’s netprov. Like netprov, these are clearly mimicry games, networked, collaborative, improvised, character-driven stories, occasionally self-aware, and often connected to vast, expanded universes, whether from their source material or generated through players’ own contributions. However, the biggest gulf between these games and netprov, I would argue, does not come from the form of the games or their relation to reality, but the way their players approach and understand them. Netprov is an academic form; it is self-consciously artistic, and its players approach it with the understanding that they are participating in a form of art. Litprov, by contrast, is usually not consciously held by its players to be a form of art, or when it is, it’s held to be a lower form. It’s not unheard of for players to adapt characters or plots from litprov games for later work in a more traditional form; Ashley Cope’s delightful webcomic Unsounded is an excellent example of this, and I am in fact currently engaged in this practice myself, as I rework old litprov characters into their own short stories and novels.

This raises the question of litprov’s merit as an artistic form: if even the creators and players working in this form dismiss its artistic merit, how can it be understood as having any? To answer that question, I would like to present some informal statistics. These numbers are by no means scientific, being based on my own observations and experience, but due to the scale of that experience and the many disconnected online spaces, designed for such a wide variety of audiences, in which it was obtained, I believe them to still have value. Roughly seventy percent of the players I’ve interacted with in my time playing litprov games have been women. Perhaps five percent of the other players I’ve met were over thirty, and of the remainder, ninety percent were in under twenty. Nearly half of players I’ve encountered who gave any out-of-character indication of such things were of a sexual orientation or gender identity other than heterosexual or cisgender. Looking at these statistics, a picture begins to emerge: litprov functions as a way for young people to safely explore alternate modes of identity, to self-actualize, and to artistically portray their own struggles to their peers through a supportive, fictional environment. Litprov, like netprov in Wittig’s formulation, is “ultimately intended to heal.”

An example, from what is, to this day, perhaps the best litprov game I’ve ever played: It was a very small and private game, conducted in a Skype group with, perhaps, a dozen members. There were four core players, including myself. All of us were teenagers, and all of the others, at the time, identified as cisgender women, though one has gone on to identify as nonbinary. All but one of us, at the time, identified as heterosexual; at the time of this writing, I am the only former player who still does. The game began almost by accident, when two of our players improvised a scene between two characters they were planning to add to another, very different game we were all part of. Ultimately, that improvisation blossomed into a complete game right there in the chat which ended up running for about six months, and which we’ve revisited several times in the following years. The locus of the game was a small group of high schoolers, childhood friends alienated from the norm for reasons including hobbies, financial status, and family situation, navigating a world of fantastic hedonism enabled by poor parental supervision and one friend’s immense family wealth. Initially, the players simply enjoyed living vicariously through the characters, the sort of uninhibited, popular outcasts that we all, deep down, wanted to be. Then, somewhere along the way, the game changed. It became a deconstruction. One of the characters, an orphan, bullied in school after being outed as bisexual and trapped in an abusive relationship, began a downward spiral into bitterness and depression, which her friends ignored in favor of their romantic entanglements and drama. Eventually, she exploded, lashing out in self-destructive rage. To avert a mass killing, she herself was murdered by the same wealthy character whose resources had, indirectly, caused the tragedy. The death, and the other characters’ realization of their roles in causing it, ended both their youth and our game. We had started playing a game about people we wanted to look like, and ended up telling a story about what those expectations had done to a person who looked, in many ways, like what most of us would ultimately become. It was cathartic. It was eye-opening. It was, most definitely, art.

In conclusion, I feel like there exists a great deal of potential of cross-pollination between both of these young art forms, netprov and what I’ve termed litprov here. Academic, avante-garde netprov can teach litprov new ways to play—and popular, expressive litprov, perhaps, can teach netprov new ways to matter.


Works Cited

Cope, Ashley. Unsounded.

Wittig, Rob. “Pasts and Futures of Netprov.” Electronic Book Review, 1 Nov. 2015.

Pervasive Actors: Netprov in ARGs

In reading Robert Wittig’s comments on netprov, I immediately thought of our in-class discussion after performing the “welcome ritual” regarding the incorporation of human bodies into a game. Until this point, I had only imagined the use of actors to further a specific and limited part of gameplay in an ARG, e.g., you’ve solved a puzzle and must now take the instructions you found and bring it to the “dungeon master” (an actress) who will only let you pass if you tell her the instructions in Pig Latin. In this hypothetical gameplay example, the actor is only a small part of the transmedia experience and may disappear after this module is complete, never to be seen again. In this case, the players are the characters performing actions and the actors are just a means to further the narrative for the players-as-characters.

But what would happen if we applied the form of netprov into a game and utilized Wittig’s concept of “featured players”? He describes an example of a show where the actors, as their fictional characters, post updates of their lives on social media. Their characters interact, weaving a complex and dramatic, improvised story before the actual performance even begins. By the time their live performance is scheduled, the audience already has the back story of these fictional characters’ lives and these characters became more to the audience than just fictions portrayed by actors—they became people.

Wittig talks briefly about netprov’s relationship to games but quickly dismisses it as something different from an ARG. This is quite possible, but that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t have been an extremely powerful tool in designing an impressive pervasive ARG. Imagine the possibilities if, all of a sudden, the characters in a game you were playing became real. You could interact with them in person and on-line. And when you didn’t see them in person, they carried on with their normal lives which you could keep tabs on through social media. Unlike the “dungeon master” in my hypothetical example above, the actors in the game would become characters alongside the players. And these actors, following the improv style of netprov, would be puppetmasters in their own sense, creating the story as they went based on players’ actions and reactions. It reminds a lot actually of the film we watched, “The Game” (directed by David Fincher), in which the main character becomes part of an elaborate game where members of his entire social network become actors meant to give him an experience like no other. Now obviously this is an extreme and highly unrealistic example but the ideas are very similar: using real people as the main means of forwarding narrative and gameplay.

What would also add interest is that puppetmasters would have the option of either concealing the fact that the characters were played by actors or telling the players from the beginning that the characters they interact with are part of the game. I think either option has its pros and cons and each would produce very different game experiences. For example, the former has the TING aesthetic while the latter offers more opportunities for a more interactive version of netprov. In either case, I think the possibilities of taking this pervasiveness further, or at least in a different direction, is very exciting.

Dismissal of Oration

One overlap I noticed between and Aesthetics of Play and Persuasive Games was the shared discussion of how spoken words function in play. However, almost rapidly, both texts dismiss the power of verbal discourse, focusing efforts on specific game design tactics and the power of procedural rhetoric. Although these latter ideas are powerful and extremely helpful when planning an ARG, I think it would be unwise to ignore how these methods were developed: on the basis of verbal communication.

In Chapter 2, “Interactivity,” of Aesthetics of Play, Upton quotes game historian David Parlett, stating, “…most games are not book games but folk games, being transmitted by word of mouth” (27). Upton himself argues, “when you are actually playing a game of chess, the only rules that matter are the rules in your head” (27). In this sense, the majority of rules in games is intrinsically mediated through verbal communication, and consequently is internalized by the individual players, not being written down. The rest of the chapter (as well as Chapter, 4, “Heuristics”) shares specific game design tactics in order to ensure that the player understands the rules, and will continue to play the game without confusion or frustration.

“Procedural Rhetoric” in Persuasive Games likewise recognizes the oral origins of game argument, referencing Plato, Aristotle, and Burke, establishing that “rhetoric was oral and it was public” (15). Of course, later, Bogost delves into non-oratory rhetoric, including visual and digital-based expressions. His term, ‘procedural rhetoric’ embodies a technical set of rules and procedures being used in a persuasive and rhetorical manner.

Neither chapter discusses ARGs, instead focusing on video games, and for Bogost, serious games. It seems to me that because ARGs are bringing players back into reality, opening familiar spaces into gameplay and encouraging social interaction among players, this origin in oral tradition should not be overlooked. Games, and rhetoric, both started as means of communication and of meeting certain objectives, whether playing chess or engaging in a political discourse. Although ARGs undoubtedly can utilize these helpful strategies of game design and procedural rhetoric, verbal communication among players about the rules, or even between player and puppet master, should be highlighted, not forgotten.


Works Cited

Bogost, Ian. “Procedural Rhetoric.” Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2007. 1-64. Print.

Upton, Brian. “Interactivity.” The Aesthetic of Play. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2015. 23-38. Print.

Affective Tableaus

I have been meaning to share this for a while but I think it is relevant now that we are making games and thinking about how bodies relate in various spaces and contexts. I recently read this text by Jane Bennet and feel like it can help frame how we consider objects as affective tools in an ARG game space. The excerpt is below and I will follow it up with some comments.


(From ‘Vibrant Matter’ by Jane Bennett)


Thing-Power I: Debris


On a sunny Tuesday morning on 4 June in the grate over the storm drain to the Chesapeake Bay in front of Sam’s Bagels on Cold Spring Lane in Baltimore, there was:


one large men’s black plastic work glove

one dense mat of oak pollen

one unblemished dead rat

one white plastic bottle cap

one smooth stick of wood


Glove, pollen, rat, cap, stick. As I encountered these items, they shim­mied back and forth between debris and thing-between, on the one hand, stuff to ignore, except insofar as it betokened human activity (the workman’s efforts. the litterer’s toss. the rat-poisoner’s success), and, on the other hand, stuff that commanded attention in its own right, as existents in excess of their association with human meanings, habits, or projects. In the second moment, stuff exhibited its thing-power: it issued a call, even if I did not quite understand what it was saying. At the very least, it provoked affects in me: I was repelled by the dead (or was it merely sleeping?) rat and dismayed by the litter, but I also felt something else: a nameless awareness of the impossible singularity of that rat, that configuration of pollen, that otherwise utterly banal, mass ­produced plastic water-bottle cap.

I was struck by what Stephen Jay Gould called the “excruciating com­plexity and intractability” of nonhuman bodies.12 but, in being struck, I realized that the capacity of these bodies was not restricted to a passive “intractability” but also included the ability to make things happen, to produce effects. When the materiality of the glove, the rat, the pollen, the bottle cap, and the stick started to shimmer and spark, it was in part because of the contingent tableau that they formed with each other, with the street, with the weather that morning, with me. For had the sun not glinted on the black glove, I might not have seen the rat; had the rat not been there, I might not have noted the bottle cap, and so on. But they were all there just as they were, and so I caught a glimpse of an energetic vitality inside each of these things, things that I generally conceived as inert. I this assemblage, objects appeared as things, that is, as vivid entities not entirely reducible to the contexts in which (human) subjects set them, never entirely exhausted by their semiotics. In my encounter with the gutter on Cold Spring Lane, I glimpsed a culture of things irreducible to the culture of objects.13 I achieved, for a moment, what Thoreau had made his life’s goal: to be able, as Thomas Dumm puts it, “to be surprised by what we see.”14 (p.4-5)


One of the key words here is ‘assemblage’. In a conventional art context assemblage refers objects either related or unrelated that joined or fitted together. But we also know assemblage as gatherings of people as well as things. An ARG is definitely a kind of assemblage in how it mixes people and things to generate affective experience. Within that expansive assemblage are other assemblages that may exist at a smaller scale; fewer people and things. Those smaller affective experiences comprise a larger assemblage but how does that change the scale of affect? Can the scale of affect be changed and if so what does that look like? Is there affective experience in the moment and affective experience in the long term memory of the game?


I digress. I also wanted to talk about this idea of the affective tableau for us as makers. Looking at a number of the games we have studied we have seen how they take shape around a predetermined narrative structure. Of course the games can take on a life of their own as players make choices and come up with alternative solutions to problems and even participate in mini games and tangential narratives but what I am curious about is how affect functions in the evolving structure of a game. Jane Bennett’s reaction to the tableau on the storm drain cover describes a glimpse into a “culture of things irreducible to a culture of object”. In other words this tableau is not merely a set of objects but part of the assemblage of the objects, the atmosphere, and of Jane B herself. She is part of this culture and I would argue performing a kind of anthropological act of investigating this culture as something new. Could this potentially be the essence of an alternative culture embedded in an Alternative reality game?


Most games seemed to be constructed around the notions of a culture or of a subculture but the expanded form of the game over space, time, and media seems to be driven by a mode of affect that can only be achieved either in this expanded model or in a Jane Bennett storm drain kind of situation which is pretty much an everyday life one. Of course most people would have just walked by that storm drain without much consideration and perhaps that is why the expanded form of the ARG is being explored, to harness something of the everyday that exists in the atmosphere all around at all times and is just waiting to be noticed. I am feel like I’m getting into some real OOO here but in the context of the ARG world I think there is a particular kind of affect that can be achieved that is very much connected to the everyday but must be activated by engaging with one or more assemblages of affective tableaus. So as we proceed in making what kinds of tableaus can we create and what will they be comprised of? And will we know exactly what they do and how they work? Part of me hopes not. Rather, I would hope that the act of making can generate something outside of the particularity of narrative structure and if that sounds vague I will do my best to briefly describe an example in the work of artist Kai Althoff. He is known for collecting all kinds of junk and using to fill abandoned spaces in German post-industrial wastelands. He turns entire spaces into affective tableaus by manipulating light, matter, and context. A public bathroom could become a holy shrine or a workspace could become a masochistic utopia filled with dummies and detritus. What is most important about his work is that he fills these spaces and than just leaves them to be stumbled upon by random passerbys. I experienced this myself when this artist did the same kind of installation in a gallery in Chelsea where the space was not made obviously accessible nor was it advertised or celebrated with any kind reception. I just happened to be in the neighborhood gallery hopping and I saw a half opened door to a darkened gallery and thought I was literally trespassing when I snuck in. What I saw and felt inside was the closest thing to an alternative reality I think I have ever felt. Here are some links:


also maybe these Ed Keinholz installations although they are much more diorama-like