Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
The Game Design of Art

Jason Rohrer | 24 Jun 2008 12:12
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Those lofty laundry lists won't feel like direct hits for everyone, but they make a fine starting point. How many existing games do something even remotely like this? Not many. Our goal is clear, the field is wide open and we can get to work.


Now we're ready for the central question: How can we make a game that hits some of those lofty targets? How do we deliver artistic expression through our games?

Since we've already taken this battle to Ebert's doorstep, we can use film as our starting point. Film is certainly capable of high art, and the "films cannot be art argument" is 60-years dead. Games have been frequently compared with films in contemporary discussions, especially in the "games as art" debate. Ebert is infamous for his negative comparisons, but even the positive comparisons have seen games as asymptotically approaching films. Someday, we're supposed to hope, games will become indistinguishable from - and perhaps even replace - films as the chosen expressive medium of modern culture.

But if we pursue artistic expression by making our games more film-like and less game-like, we simply reinforce the notion that films are more art-capable than games. Instead, we should compare games and films to identify their fundamental differences, then steer games away from films as hard as we can. We need to stop aping films and start tapping into the unique expressive powers of our medium.

The film toolbox is pretty full, essentially making it a superset of almost all the mediums that came before it. A filmmaker can use camera angles, camera motion, cuts, lighting, color, sound, music, scripting, acting, set design, costume design, animation and so on to communicate his vision. The very best films, particularly "high art" films, employ all their chosen tools in a way that resonates with what they are trying to express.

A game developer's toolbox contains a complete set of the filmmaker's tools; ignoring technical limitations, the medium can be seen as a superset of film. In other words, a game can do anything that a film can do. But games have one additional feature that sets them apart from any other medium: gameplay.

I shouldn't use a vague term like "gameplay" without reigning it in a bit. By gameplay, I mean the collection of game mechanics in a given game, and by game mechanics, I mean the rules that govern the interaction of the various game components. That's a pretty dry definition, but I find it to be more useful than a looser one like "'gameplay' is whatever the player does."

Now brace yourself as I restate an ancient piece of game design wisdom and pretend that it's novel: Gameplay is the most important part of a game.

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