I agree with you that language is important and is part of the reason we have some of the turf wars taking place in Game Development. By not agreeing on terms, limiting if you will, we end up arguing over things that should have been settled. In the music industry, we see accepted practices like pitch; keys, and time signatures. Yet despite a common language and tool set, we see new music being created all of the time. Limits help creativity. How else can we explain that with 26 letters we can write so much? I think that placing limits can paradoxically lead to a kind of liberation. Below I respond to specific points in your blog-letter:
You wrote: ” I personally find this a fascinating perspective, particularly because I have not encountered this before.”
I find this to be surprising since I consider my point that games are about the play of measurement to be a elucidation on your definition of game (with my emphasis):
“McGonigal’s approach is similar to the early Bateman and Boon, who in 21st Century Game Design suggest that a toy is a tool for entertainment, and a game can be understood as a toy with some degree of performance. ‘Performance’ here is intended to be ambiguous, to include at its furthest extremes the kind of qualitative measures of play inherent in tabletop role-playing, where having a “great game” may simply mean the player’s performed their roles in ways that were satisfying. However, it expressly includes victory conditions, failure states and metrics for measuring progress, and as such expresses the same reward aesthetic that McGonigal ultimately prefers to the victory aesthetic.”
I believe you left some wiggle room by qualifying ‘some degree’ since you were loath to pigeon-hole games to be primarily about performance. I can appreciate that. But what is the toy-user or player performing? Is it an action? Attaining a high-score? Reaching a personal goal? Mastering a skill set? It could be all of those things!
But as I thought about it, I was not happy with leaving it at performance. It felt too loose and broad for me (which is possibly why it satisfied you!). I was sure that there was something more subtle that made games distinct.
Essentially, I began deconstructing what a game is. Is it a win state? Some games you can’t win. Is it about skill development? The games War and Bingo possess no skill but are known to be games. It had to be something else…
Then it fell into my lap. On Twitter, I read about a banking scandal in the U.S. where Wells Fargo was caught cheating its records. Google’s former employee Matt Cuts beautifully summarized the entire scandal:
1. You get what you measure. 2. The thing that you measure will be gamed.
1. You get what you measure. 2. The thing that you measure will be gamed.
— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) September 10, 2016
Measurement! Measurement is how one successfully wins at War or Bingo. Measurement is the primary way of tracking performance. Measurement is personal, but also can be objective like a high score or a win/loss state. Measurement is how we track whether we are developing increased skill or resources in a game. A CRPG, being stats based is about using measurables to check for resolutions. The measurables found in an online-shooter is captured primarily through its physics engine.
Measurement is what allows games, sports, gambling, and cheating to exist and co-exist. It also is what what makes the ‘demands of the game’ off-putting for those who advocate a more exploratory experience as Tale of Tales did in their notgames.org post ‘Not a manifesto‘. Measurement leads to pressure and some will cheat to circumvent that pressure. The goal to make one’s own life easier at the expense of others was criticized in the Old Testament which demanded the practice of ‘just balances’:
Differing weights and differing measures, Both of them are abominable to the LORD. (Proverbs 20:10)
Despite religious condemnation, cheating or tweaking measurements is common practice in the world, including Games. You wrote in Imaginary Games that cheating (Walton called them unofficial games) is just a different kind of play. I would elaborate that cheating is playing by a different set of measurements, one for the cheater and a disadvantaged one for the rest. It could be said that they are breaking the rules, but I think it is more subtle. It does not feel like outright cheating or stealing if the other party is at least getting something, even though it is less!
You write: “Chris Crawford’s logic gates are at the opposite extreme here, and I find it fascinating that this is an influence behind your thought here. Secondly, that your model draws attention to the experience of make-believe as a playstate (Role-plays)”
I think that Crawford contributed some necessary insights. When he said that a Puzzle needs a goal but does not need a competitor, I found that to be a fascinating insight. While I don’t think he got the definitions correct, I really appreciated his attempt to put some kind of systematic analysis to understand what makes the different things we play feel different. What I wanted to do is take Crawford’s simplicity and find the single most essential trait found in the different Playstates. He did this through a process of adding traits. I did it by stepping back and thinking about how Play functions.
A soccer ball is a Toy and can be played with by tossing or kicking it at our pleasure. By kicking the ball a certain distance we may decide to translate that measurable accomplishment into a point. Now that we are tracking points, we have created a Game thanks to more measurables. When one collects enough points against a competitor, we have created a Sport. Switching gears, we can treat the surface pattern of the soccer ball as a type of Puzzle. Finally, we can imagine that the ball is a dragon’s egg and we Role-Play being its keeper.
It was Imaginary Games that helped me see that make-believe is a distinct form of Play practice. I took this as inspiration and permission to let my imagination run wild and deconstruct what Play is. Crawford’s logic gates created an unhelpful hierarchy but was really elegant. Your egalitarianism was inspiring but led to an abandonment of concepts. I feel that Playstates successfully blends the Old Chris and New Chris. The fact I also happen to be named Chris is just a freak of nature. 🙂
You write: ‘I can find no reason to restrict ‘game’ as a concept to measurement when every child in every English-language country says they are playing a game when they enter into a Role-play playstate.’ and ‘Here is a valuable lesson in language. You don’t change language by laying out a new map of the territory. You change language through a game of aikido-like legerdemain, where the rival move is turned against itself. I wonder: is that game part of your playstate of ‘sport’, or is there a whole other playstate missing from your model…?’
The play of measurement can be measured in multiple ways. The Role-Play “game” children are playing is the magical circle, a mutually agreed space and time to conduct the business of play. Framing it as a Game makes sense since space and time are just forms of measurement though the activity within the magic circle is not a game. The game ends when the play space is left or when the play time is over. After-all, if you say you are a pretend knight, there needs to come a point in time or space when you switch out of that role! Otherwise the nice men all dressed in white will be visiting you with a tight-fitting jacket. 😉
I’ve elaborated more fully about why Games are about the Play of Measurement in the following post:
In conclusion, I believe that all forms of play should not need to be a game. Games should be distinct from other forms of play, because it allows for each kind of play to stand on its own since they have a different feeling and practice. When successfully blended together, we can experience amazing new play experiences as evidenced by Video Games and their compelling command on culture. The five Playstates are in a state of draft and can be modified and added to, though I doubt I will see any being subtracted from since thus far the five do stand up well.
I do not intend to change your mind, but wish to elaborate for both of us (and anybody else who may be reading) the concepts so they make more sense. How can I say that you are incorrect when your terms work for you? I found that parts of your terms did not work for me so I struggled with new ways to think about play. So while we can agree to disagree about some of my points, I want you to know that your influence was essential and remarkable. I am forever grateful!
With respect and affection,