We Can’t Talk Yet Since We Have No Words

I’ve talked about the book Difficult Questions About Videogames already, but I have found quite a few more resources regarding the language and vocabulary we use to talk about games.

I’m still reading through the book, but I have to say that I am disappointed in the quality of the writing. The people who put the book together said that they wouldn’t do much more than publish the results, but could they at least have made it less painful to read? Simple spelling errors, grammatical mistakes, and others could have been cleaned up and still “kept it real”. It is still an interesting book to read. It is just not as enjoyable as it could be.

In any case, I’m now fascinated by the development of a common language to use in game development. A number of the articles will point out that video game language has so far been coopted from film, but film language isn’t always appropriat or available. Sure, there are certain terms to use to describe how a game looks. And there are terms to explain the narrative in role-playing (roleplaying? role playing? check google to see that there doesn’t seem to be a consensus here either) games. We can talk about technical aspects easily. But what about words to describe how items increase in power as a player goes through a game? Or how a game can provide you a situation and the player can create a plan based on it and the actions the game provides? These ideas are abstract and can be applied to many games in different ways. They’ve only recently been identified and given formal names.

Design patterns have sped up software development research by providing a standard way to talk about software. When someone talks about Singletons or Proxies, everyone knows exactly what he or she is talking about. Similarly, algorithmic analysis allows us to talk about the difference between algorithms that take constant, linear or quadratic time to complete based upon the input.

When it comes to game development, however, we seem to have very little to say that allows us to talk to each other. For example, what I mean by gameplay is different from what you mean by gameplay, so saying that Game X has better gameplay than Game Y is meaningless. Of course, it doesn’t stop people from having arguments about it.

I will be watching this field of study carefully, and hopefully I will be able to make my own contributions.

1 comment to We Can’t Talk Yet Since We Have No Words

  • I can recommend Rules Of Play by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman. The book does a very good job of explaining the foundations of game design. It’s also very valuable in the sense that it creates a common vocabulary about game design.

    In the preface the authors have this to say about their book:

    This is why we were compelled to write this book: not to define, once and for all what game design is, but to provide critical tools for understanding games. Not to claim and colonize the unexplored terrain of game design, but to scout out some of its features so that other game designers can embark on their own expeditions. We hope this book will be a catalyst, a facilitator, a kick in the ass.