Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Theory of Fun

I read Raph Koster's A Theory of Fun recently, and had a pretty mixed reaction (as I do to most impassioned bits of writing). On the one hand, I want to share in his optimism regarding the things games may teach us. On the other hand, I usually disagree fundamentally with some of his ideas regarding not just games, but life itself.

To begin with, though, it was an elegant, light read, and I appreciated those things about it. Entertaining cartoons on every other page made it a fast 240 pages, and his intelligent but conversational style had a nice flow to them. He speeds through evidence, leaving the explaining up to the notes in the end of the book, and frequently drops names and events with the (much appreciated) expectation that the reader will either understand or can find out if necessary. In those ways I enjoyed it, because it was like talking to a smart person about a topic which is usually trivialized (and I agree with him here that games are not trivial).

I agree with the idea that games are fundamentally about patterns and learning, as I grew up on math and games pretty equally and have always seen the relationship. I think that at our best (or when we're young), learning is a hunger that drives us to things such as play as means of understanding and absorbing the world. As we get older, we use age as an excuse not to do this anymore, but even though learning is technically more difficult at 70, I've known a nimble-minded septuagenarian or two in my life (mostly mathematicians).

In general, I operate on the notion that there is no good reason not to be smart and to keep getting smarter until you die. Games help us with this, and I think even games about "primitive" or near-obsolete skills (like aiming) exercise some portion of the brain that would not otherwise be used. That, in principle, is the inherent importance of games --as brain gymnastics at the very least, if not great teachers.

In many ways, though, Koster gets a little too sentimental in this little book, especially when it comes to the marvels of bright-eyed children learning rapidly and voluntarily. Maybe because I lack empathy for the parent-role, I find these sentiments to be mostly ineffective with me. I also resent anything that suggests the world is changing any faster than it probably ever was, although I agree with his conclusion from this faulty starting point, which is that games should adapt to the needs of the cultures who play them.

Even with adaptations, though, I think I'll still love shooters and fighting games. I have a brain that can grasp puzzles, and I love those too, but there is a joy in the elegance of a well-executed fighting combo or that nice, clean headshot. I do not exaggerate when I say these things give me a satisfaction much like adding that perfect last line to a drawing. Koster begs the reader to put down a mastered game, to move on, but I disagree. And when finals are over, I'm going to play Soul Calibur III yet again without giving it a second thought. And you know what? It'll be pretty damn fun.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Music game

I seem to keep coming back to the idea of games that create something, like a story or an image. I thought recently of using notes written on cards as a way for people to make music together. Naturally, when most of us want to play music, we just play it and we don't need a card game, but I feel like music nerds would get a kick out of this.

There would be a card deck and on each of the cards there would be a music note positioned on a staff. Western music has many rules, and a lot of these could be adapted into game rules. For instance, you could have a poker-like game in which you are trying to collect cards that represent something in the same key. Or, you could be collaborating to try and create something that actually sounds like a tune. Accidentals (or sharps & flats if you don't establish a key) could be used to enhance or sabotage other people's pieces. Maybe the goal would be to create a seven-note tune that you can easily recognize (like "Happy Birthday" or something)--all you really need is an instrument nearby.

Granted, this is not the most accessible idea, but maybe it would be a way to learn to read sheet music, too. I don't know, I just like games that create.

©The ideas and objects presented in this blog are copyright Marcela Poffald 2008.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Duck comic


©The ideas and objects presented in this blog are copyright Marcela Poffald 2008.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A few ARG thoughts

I think Calvinball would be some good inspiration for an ARG. It wouldn't work if it was really that chaotic, but a game that changes with its players as they want it to would be interesting on a large scale. All we would really need is some parameters, like a universe of sorts, and the rest would all be instant communication between players. Also, it would be difficult to manage when people desire conflicting rules, but time limits on rules or certain kinds of changes would take care of that.

I think it'd be fun if it was fairly physical. Someone could text everyone or post to a blog and announce that they'll be playing tag or something. I feel like it could be comprised of lots of mini-games.

Alternately, it'd be fun to have someone play a character that's a new person in the community. Smaller communities would work better for this, I suppose. The whole game could revolve around trying to unravel this person's past or something (which would be pre-written fiction, of course) while interacting with them as though they were a real person. This would require an actor who doesn't mind being creepily stalked or followed, but I like the idea of introducing a real person as the element of mystery.

©The ideas and objects presented in this blog are copyright Marcela Poffald 2008.

Monday, September 29, 2008

something I thought of while jogging...

Ever since I started jogging regularly here in Bloomington, I have wished for a way to keep track of my workout difficulty. I'm not much of one for running in circles on a track, but the disadvantage to running just out and about is that you have to guess at how far you're running. I think it'd be great to have an online resource where I could put in my routes and see how far I've been going. I use Google Maps for the times that I jog alongside roads, but I'm without any good information when I venture inside campus and off the main streets. I need a Google Maps-style visual resource that's catered to pedestrians/joggers.

I think this could be enhanced if we somehow had topographical information about Bloomington, too. The hills around here can be punishing, and I'm always curious what my workouts would look like if I tried to replicate them in a programmable treadmill (not that I have one). In addition, I'd love to be able to anticipate traffic lights that will take a long time or that are not pedestrian-friendly.

If we could combine all this information, then not only could joggers (and there are lots of them here) retroactively assess their workouts, but maybe they could plan them by difficulty as well. Maybe there could be a way of rating route difficulty by hilliness and length, so that I could know that I'm a level 3 or whatever and pick varying routes that match that to avoid getting bored. This whole database of information could be topped off with something that helps you plan your workouts based on your ability (like at www.runnersworld.com) and goals.

©The ideas and objects presented in this blog are copyright Marcela Poffald 2008.

Monday, September 22, 2008

if IU Memories had no limits...

I would love to see some serious efforts to legitimize people's stories. An email discussion about the difference between history and stories has left me even more convinced that there is little to no actual difference between the two.

The first step I thought of was to make physical markers for people's stories and put them in their appropriate locations on campus/in town. Plaques that look really official would do the trick. I'm thinking that right next to "Such-and-such building built in 19-whatever in memory of people-with-money," we could see "On this site in 1975, Mr. Somebody, by the drop of a pen, met the man who would change his life." On the plaques, we could have something about reading more and contributing at a given website. I haven't yet thought of a way to do this without being really tacky, though.

(This website would probably use Google Maps or some such thing, as has already been suggested several times, as a means of organizing the information in a visual space. Of course it would need to accommodate the addition of information by website visitors. That's not so much my concern at the moment, though. I'm interested in what we could do in the physical world.)

Also, the trick would be to change the plaques as often as possible as a means of accommodating a high volume of stories as well as keeping interest. More than anything, though, changing the things would evoke the important notion that stories are fluid-- they come in and out of existence and fade in and out of memory.

I like the idea of having sites where people can walk by and tell their stories, like little tents or kiosks. Maybe we could have one in a high-traffic area, like the Gates, but not require people to talk about their immediate surroundings. Maybe on the way there, they saw a plaque with someone's story in the arboretum and it made them think of one. Just let them go with that. They don't have to have a story about what's around the tent --just a story about IU (or Bloomington in general, depending on the goal here).

A very intended consequence of making these random stories look so official is the potential "demeaning" of existing commemorative plaques. If you give a story about a long-forgotten student being mugged as much of a shiny dedication as "Beck Chapel was built in 19whatever," you risk making it seem like the "real" history of IU is just a bunch of bedtime stories, too. It's a risk that I like.

©The ideas and objects presented in this blog are copyright Marcela Poffald 2008.

Monday, September 15, 2008

More weird card game notions

I had another vague idea for a card game today. I was thinking about the grotesque Victorian collector cards I saw at the Slocum exhibit this weekend, and I was thinking about what you could actually do with them besides collect them. These cards had pictures of people on them, and instead of suits, these characters belonged to families. These were frequently indicated by occupation, like butcher or barber. The objective, according to the informative label in the exhibit, was to trade and collect an entire family.

I was thinking of a game in which one (or more?) of the cards in the deck were randomly chosen and hidden from all players. Then, each player would have a certain number of cards in their hand, which is hidden from the other player(s). The objective is to figure out the identity of the hidden card, and this is done by everybody taking turns telling stories which incorporate the characters in their hands. The trick is not to name the characters you're holding, but use their "personality" and a made-up history. You want to give enough information for someone else to successfully build on your story, but you're also trying to be the first to guess the hidden person. Each turn has to reveal another character in your hand. By process of elimination, someone can guess which card is hidden from everyone.

Since I haven't actually tried to play such a game, there are things I'm not sure about. Maybe it would be easier to have someone actually represent the hidden card and participate by giving clues. I also see that this game would require a great familiarity with the deck, so maybe there could be a "cheat sheet" with names and pictures of everyone in the deck, or maybe people could look at the deck beforehand.

I realize this could be so difficult as to not be fun, but I'm still thinking about it. I like the idea of collectively telling a story, and I like the artistic possibilities of the character deck.

I also just realized it reminds me of "Clue," which I honestly have never, ever played. I suppose people just like figuring things out before everyone else around them.

©The ideas and objects presented in this blog are copyright Marcela Poffald 2008.