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Philosophy of Game Design - Part Four

Robert Yang | 19 Oct 2010 12:06
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There is also the argument that it is never possible to break free of rules: The instant you implement some sort of interaction, that very interaction is constrained by rules. If you can simply move the camera with your mouse, that is a rule in itself; whether or not those mouse movements are meaningful and compelling, however, determines whether it is a good rule or a bad rule. By this account, pure notgames are impossible to create and exist only as low-interaction videogames.

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In "The Question Concerning Technology," the German philosopher Martin Heidegger argues that people need a "free" relationship with technology because right now, we're enslaved by it. When you begin Grand Theft Auto IV and it instructs you to "follow the yellow line" and you do it without protest or forethought, have you actually made a choice for yourself? Are you enslaved?

Proceduralism, accessibility, notgames, newsgames, social gaming. We are on the verge of something both wonderful and frightening. What could become paradise here and now could also be hell itself tomorrow.

This, I think, is the hardest question facing videogame design today, that no one wants to bring up: What damage is being done by videogames, and what is the designer's responsibility to mitigate that damage? How are today's videogames shaping thought?

To believe that there are only "good games" is horribly naive; this entire series of articles has been focused on debunking this collective idea of "good" and how we do not have a central idea of "good" as it pertains to videogame design. Alternatively, where is our sense of a "bad game"?

I'm not talking about a game that you found to be poorly designed and stupid; I'm not talking about sexy, violent videogames demonized by a 24-hour news cycle; I'm not even talking about the player exploitation of FarmVille.

There's a "bad" out there that's not even on our radar. A "bad" that is difficult to articulate or even fully conceive of.

Maybe someone should do something about it.

Robert Yang is currently an MFA student studying "Design and Technology" at Parsons, The New School for Design. Before, he studied English and taught game design at UC Berkeley. If he's famous for anything, it's probably for his artsy-fartsy Half-Life 2 mod series "Radiator" that's still (slowly) being worked on.

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