Understanding Video Games

I went to the comic book store the other day and bought Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud. I’ve seen this book referenced in video game articles before, and the idea of a comic book that explains the medium of comic books sounded great.

I was on IRC when I said it would be great to have an “Understanding Video Games” game as well, and sure enough, someone sent me a link to Understanding Games: Episode 1. Episode one focuses on the rules, which are fixed and apply to everyone. Interactivity is needed, of course.

Episode 2 is about the motivation of the player. Why are you playing this game? What feedback is the game giving you to let you know what effect your actions have? Whether a goal is game-provided or provided by the player, a game needs one so that the player has a purpose.

Episode 3 demonstrates player learning, specifically through trial and error. This goes hand-in-hand with the feedback mentioned in Episode 2. If the player performs an action, there should be some feedback to indicate that something meaningful has happened. If the effect is positive, the player learns that the action is a good one, and if the effect is negative, the player learns that the action is not good to do. Such feedback should allow the player to discern patterns that will help in decision-making.

And finally, Episode 4 covers player identification. It’s fascinating how the theme of the game affects identity. Also fascinating is the idea that abstract characters can represent more people than realistic characters. Anyone can identify with Pac-man, but not everyone can identify with Lara Croft. Control schemes also affect identification. Black & White didn’t let you control the creature directly, which upset quite a lot of people expecting to BE the creature instead of the owner. In a similar way, The Sims had people complaining about the same problem, but something about the fact that the game played as a doll house simulator probably let the indirect control scheme appeal to more people.

While I enjoyed the four episodes, I wasn’t sure if the series really captured everything that is sufficient and necessary for what makes a video game. I couldn’t help but feel that the definitions were excluding an obvious game or if they included things that shouldn’t be games. I think what bothered me more was that it didn’t really comment on the possibilities of the medium of video games the way “Understanding Comics” does with regards to comics. Still, it was enjoyable to see and interact with an explanation of video games in video game form. I just wish there was more.

[tags] video games [/tags]