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)