Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Gaming Abstraction

There is something I have noticed about games, their re-playability and their tendencies to being people's favourite games. This may not be the case for every person, but it definetly is the case for me.

It is all to do with character. More specifically, it is to do with the character (or entity) that an individual is or controls during gameplay. In my case, the greater the abstraction and ambiguity towards the player's character, the more I seem to enjoy and play the game. For some this could be entirely the opposite. Some people enjoy playing games where their character is a fully fleshed out individual or thing with a history, relationship and possible future (though this starts relating to the story of the game more than anything).

So what do I mean by this? For me, I seem to distinguish myself best when playing games that contain little to no story line, or can be played in some way other than in a single-player or campaign mode. This freeform action, whether it be skirmishing in RTS or deathmatching in FPS is (in my opinion) the most fun gaming has to offer. The ability to simply be yourself though not necessarily unique is where gaming becomes more than just 'playing through' or 'finishing' a game.

This is because these games simply have no end. There is no end condition to say you have done everything in the game and that it is time to move on. From a competitive gaming perspective, the only objective of the game is to get better at playing it. If this process is fun, spiritually fulfilling (on a personal achievement level) and allows you to cooperate or compete against other like-minded players, then you essentially have a winning game design formula. Because it never ends for the gamer it turns out to be a game that the gamer will always return to to play.

This should not be mistaken for a game like chess. Chess is a game where there is an end condition, to win. Whoever wins.... well wins, and that's that. Whether you win or lose in the types of games I am discussing is irrelevant. What matters is how you feel you have performed and whether or not you think you can do better, even if you DID win!

For me, games such as Unreal Tournament and Quake 3 are the defintion of this type of gaming. There is no real story, no final game objectives or requirements for playing. It is straight out FPS action without asking questions. Some may say that this is very simple gaming stemming from very simple game design. I completely agree, but that is the beauty of it! Games such as these allow the player to become better gamers, not through upgrades of gear, level or attributes, and not necessarily even through experience, luck or prior-knowledge. The skill-sets you develop while playing these sort of games are entirely your own. They can't be taken away from you and you can definitely express them in other games of similar caliber. In a sense, the person you control in game is simply you.

Below: Quake 3 - The most hardcore skill based FPS shooter ever!

That is not to say that I do not enjoy games of the RPG or story-mode style. I have many favourite (and sacred) games that I hold dear (MG:S, Legacy of Kain, Elder Scrolls). However ... ten years from now I don't see myself playing through them again. They were great at the time, but in terms of re-playability they have little to offer except the same story again. You cannot really play the game better a second or third time around, much like how in chess you can either win or lose.

From a design perspective this opens some interesting avenues. While I am not preaching that all games should not have any form of story or campaign, I do believe that some form of gaming outside of the usual quests, A to B, win or lose stereotypes should be included. What this is, however, is entirely up to what the game itself is about.

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