273: The Philosophy of Game Design (part 1)

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The Philosophy of Game Design (part 1)

When you argue with your friends whether Starcraft 2 is a good game or if it sucks, it helps to actually define what makes a game "good." Robert Yang discusses game design using the philosophies of a couple Greek dudes you might have heard of before: Aristotle and Plato.

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Well, I am not as good with Plato, but I know Aristotle and I think you misrepresented his POV in the article. While Aristotle's main idea was, in fact, that the best people make the best states, he wasn't that much of an aristocrat-lover. He viewed aristocrats as people that should be leading the state in the interest of the poor, simply because they can.

You make the guy sound like a person who is all for injustice and inequality. All he was is a little too traditional.

On the topic of games, though, it's all well and good.

Another thing, though, a game that can properly challenge is, in fact, a good game. But not every game with great players is a good game - yet every state with great rulers for Aristotle is a good state. I don't think the comparison there is justified.

And that last page sounded a lot like something Daniel Floyd would say. 'Tis a complement.

I think I remember watching BobisOnlyBob playing that sequence in VVVVVV, although I can't remember if he finished it or not. I also remember watching him play Megaman 2, and concluding that it looked like a terrible game, but he didn't seem to think so.

*Sits and waits for Bob to turn up*

I've got to say that this article takes the relatively simple, universally understood concept of "different people like different things", ignores it, and puts a lot of fluff and nonsense about "developer-centrism vs player-centrism" in its place. Talking about Plato and Aristotle seems to serve little purpose other than to obfuscate the lack of an actual, clearly-thought out idea.

"developer-centrism" is, in particular, a vaguely-defined notion. It almost sounds like you're trying to talk about the objective and intellectual analysis of art vs. subjective opinion, but you're not offering any insights on the matter.

I was a little disappointed to come to the last page only to discover that this piece was simply an introduction to the whole series, but don't take that as a bad thing. It just means I'm looking forward to the rest of your articles. =)

And at least I won't have to wait for them as long as I've had to wait for Radiator 1-3. =)

Philosophy FAIL.

The article is right in saying that a game's goodness exists outside the mind of the players. But by saying it only exists in the mind of the game developers is moving it from one group of people to another.

Plato would argue that a game's goodness exists by itself, not in the subjective mind of the players or game developers.

A good game is one that is unified, proportional and whole - based on the sum of its parts.

Disproportional games:
Great graphics but no gameplay.
Great story but short length.
Great music but bad sound effects.

A good game is proportional, unified, and whole and it doesn't matter what the game developers declare it to be a great game.

Robert Yang:
The Philosophy of Game Design (part 1)

When you argue with your friends whether Starcraft 2 is a good game or if it sucks, it helps to actually define what makes a game "good." Robert Yang discusses game design using the philosophies of a couple Greek dudes you might have heard of before: Aristotle and Plato.

Read Full Article

In the end, video games are just going through exactly what music has spent the last few thousand years going through. Since the earliest days of written music, there have been two clear classes of music--"art" and "popular." And the debate has long raged over which is the REAL music.

"Art" is the music written as an expression of the composer's will, with all its complexities. It often "dares" the audience to figure it out. "Popular" music is just the music "of the people"--music that's meant for singing or dancing, often much simpler and accessible. The art folks will argue that it's just the uninitiated taking stabs at imitating what real music does... and the popular music proponents will say that the art folks are just missing the spirit of music. Often, neither will recognize the other as "real music."

And really, they are both parts of the same art. The argument really centers on which is the "more important" portion. Time to weigh the pros and cons here:

Art Music:
PROS
- Forward-thinking, innovative, experimental.
- Challenges the audience to grow, rather than just providing more of what they already like.
- Gradually increases the demand on the creators of music as audiences mature in their tastes and expectations.

CONS
- Often, doesn't have a "ground floor," so the audience ages over time with no new additions.
- As with any experiments, some just plain fail. There will be more that people DON'T like.

Popular Music:
PROS
- Accessible and inviting to the layperson.
- Safe and comfortable, ensuring maximum appeal.

CONS
- Can lead to utter stagnation of the art, as giving people more of what they are comfortable with will only increase their dependence on that comfort.
- Gradually decreases the demand on the creators of music as the list of "safe and accessible" techniques and ingredients becomes gradually boiled down to the lowest common denominator and a handful of stock formulas.

The exact same things are true of video games. You have your "high art" games--which aren't necessarily the ones you'd THINK of as art. These are the games that innovate and push the boundaries of challenge in order to reward achievers. You have your "popular" games (including the dreaded Farmville) which can serve as a 'ground floor' to a lot of people.

Both are necessary. The difficulty is that (as with music) no one seems willing to work in the area BETWEEN them and bridge the gap so that the willing can cross. (In music, this is what Aaron Copland tried to do.) We have two cold-warring factions, each uncompromising and unapologetic in their stubbornness, and few mediators in between.

And, as with music, it is the "hardcore" folks in the high art camp that speak the loudest. It doesn't mean they are the most right (or wrong), just that they (by the very nature of being "hardcore") are more passionate about it. However, they do often allow that passion to drive newcomers away.

If a game has a learning mode, with a sliding difficulty scale, they'll berate it as being too soft. If an MMO doesn't have a stiff enough death penalty, they'll call it a carebear factory. Any sign of compromise, and they become fanatically purist in what they consider good enough.

The other folks, who might be new or more casual in the gaming world, just want to play a diversionary game. If the environment of the hardcore gamer stresses them out, they just go elsewhere (and the market shows someone is always willing to provide an easier game). If they hit a puzzle that challenges them too much, they'll just look up a walkthrough and be done with it.

There can be "good games" in both of these categories. To my mind, however, the BEST games are those that work to bridge the gap between. A casual game that occasionally thwarts an expectation or rewards out-of-box thinking or presents a more demanding puzzle or problem... a hardcore game that has a robust learning feature that systematically teaches the player the requisite skills (rather than assuming they learning it from 'Earlier Game X') beyond just the basic controls.

I suppose I side more with the Developer-oriented side personally, simply because I'm more inclined to view games the way I view art. That is not to say "games are/aren't art," just that I view the craft in a similar way. The developer has a responsibility to give the players what they want inasmuch as it will draw them to the game... but the real challenge is "What do you do with them THEN?"

- If the answer is "take their money," both camps are fine as-is.
- If the answer is "make them better somehow," we need to find that middle ground.

As Handel said, after the massively-favorable reception to his oratorio "The Messiah":

"I should be sorry if I only entertained them, I wish to make them better"

The Philosophy of Game Design part 1 page 3:
Should we be ghettoizing games like FarmVille as "social games," as "shallow" games rejected by many hardcore gamers

Farmville is a very bad example to use. We should not reject it because it's a "social game" or "shallow". We should reject it because of the philosophy of the company that stole and repackaged it, and their methods of attempting to get more money out of their players. That is why we should reject Farmville. I don't really have any problems with "casual" games or the people that play them, but I do have a problem with the methods employed by Zynga.

On the most basic level, at its very core definition, games cannot be art. In order to be art, it must be, at least in theory, accessible to everyone, yet stand on its own entirely, without any outside interference. I think that's bogus though.

Wasn't expecting this to be (sort of) actually about philosophy. Although the presentation of the theories (where are Aristotle's infamous categories?) was a bit simplistic, the basic concept is interesting. Should video games be held to an ideal Form or a subjective development? It's a good thing that the question cannot and should not be definitively answered.

So whether a player likes a game or not does not accurately reflect the quality or "goodness" of a game. This is true to a degree... which is why the essence of this debate is subjective. There's a lot of high quality crap out there. However, I believe an acceptable litmus test for "goodness" is simply time itself. Decades from now will tell us which current games are "good".

LostInTheCosmos:
Philosophy FAIL.

The article is right in saying that a game's goodness exists outside the mind of the players. But by saying it only exists in the mind of the game developers is moving it from one group of people to another.

Plato would argue that a game's goodness exists by itself, not in the subjective mind of the players or game developers.

A good game is one that is unified, proportional and whole - based on the sum of its parts.

Disproportional games:
Great graphics but no gameplay.
Great story but short length.
Great music but bad sound effects.

A good game is proportional, unified, and whole and it doesn't matter what the game developers declare it to be a great game.

So begins the circular logic.

A: The "goodness" of a game is independent of subjective perception.
B: The "goodness" of a game is based on is proportionality.
C: The "proportionality" of a game is based on subjective assessment of its observable parts.
D: The "goodness" of a game is therefore based on subjective assessment of its observable parts.
E: The "goodness" of a game is NOT independent of subjective perception.

After all, who defines "great graphics?" Or the even more nebulous "gameplay?" What IS a "great story," or an appropriate length? And then you mention "great music"--right, there's a topic everyone has agreed upon easily throughout the ages. It's all subjective, and Plato knew full well the hard reality that experience is always subjective, truth is objective, and so any attempt to ascertain the truth is only an attempt.

We've established there are two extremes:

1) "Hardcore gamers": This extreme thinks games should be tailored toward the elite. It should be difficult to master, and the enjoyment comes from the sense of accomplishment when they are mastered. Games that scale down the difficulty are just contributing to the erosion of the challenge (and thus the accomplishment).

2) "Casual gamers": This extreme thinks games should be tailored toward easily-accessible fun. The challenge is just there to help the game pass the time, or to provide goals that can be reached with time more than effort. Games that are too difficult or time-consuming are just narrowing the gaming market toward people with a lot of free time and disposable income.

Neither extreme is wrong, nor is either completely right. As with most things, the correct answer exists on a continuum BETWEEN the two. Games that are accessible enough that you're still building the next generation of gamers by providing new experiences that build requisite skills (and interest)... but are also challenging and innovative enough that the field of game design is moving FORWARD as both an art and craft.

Interestingly, but not unexpectedly, the hardcore gamers are the far more uncompromising of the two. Casual gamers will gladly play "hardcore" games in 'carebear mode,' but a great many hardcore gamers are vocal about their hatred of a game that even includes a 'carebear mode' of any sort.

You definitely put a lot of thought into this article, but I think you missed the main point on both counts.

Aristotle didn't believe that the aristocrats should be catered to because they were inherently better, he thought so because they were the ones in the best position to support the city-state. Do people who can beat "I Wanna be the Guy" on hard support the game industry more than those who can't? Not in the slightest.

As for Plato, I think this guy sums it up best:

LostInTheCosmos:
Philosophy FAIL. (censored for bad meme)

The article is right in saying that a game's goodness exists outside the mind of the players. But by saying it only exists in the mind of the game developers is moving it from one group of people to another.

Plato would argue that a game's goodness exists by itself, not in the subjective mind of the players or game developers.

A good game is one that is unified, proportional and whole - based on the sum of its parts.

Disproportional games:
Great graphics but no gameplay.
Great story but short length.
Great music but bad sound effects.

A good game is proportional, unified, and whole and it doesn't matter what the game developers declare it to be a great game.

Games are fairly inert and lifeless things until they are played. If a game has virtue then it is in the potential it has gain life and meaning when somebody plays it. One person playing that game and not enjoying it cannot destroy that virtue. I suppose that if that is true then a game also has has the possibility to be bad if it does more harm than good, over all, in terms of making more people feel worse than better.

So, if a game is made for the entertainment of a developer and nobody plays it then it cannot be called a bad game. If it is made for commercial or similar selfish reasons and many people are encouraged to play it and overall it does not encourage people to enjoy a good experience then the process of releasing the game and people experiencing it were overall not a good thing. Although, the game itself is neither good or bad, only the effect it has on people.

I think that, philosophically speaking, one of the better virtues that game playing could have is making people use their ability to reason in a way that improves their overall state of mind. But safely satisfying our desire for danger and conflict isn't necessarily a bad thing. If they are reasonable things to say then a game experience that is more like a vice might be one that discourages reason and encourages people to experience more negative emotions than they would if they did not play games.

I miss the days when gaming was just to put the cartridge in the socket, turn it on, and play.

I've got nothing against debate, on the contrary, but I cannot see the point of these. Even with my simplistic example, gaming is an industry, and industry that focus on profits. To make sure to earn it, games has to offer what players want. Nowadays, games aren't just a "kid's thing" so aiming to the top has become more diverse, if not difficult.

So the success of a game can be measured by the sales rate for developers, and by the experience the game offered for consumers.

I think Modern Warfare 2 is a failure, because the experience wasn't as near as good as Call of Duty 4 was for me, but I have to acknowledge the sales rate, and I cannot deny it did good. And before anything, I didn't have to suck to feel like this about MW2, the only thing memorable to me were the soundtrack, which deserves praise, and Soap's sexy accent.

In any case, I think that as long as gaming industry could bring a profit, there will be no shortage of games, hatters gonna hate, gamers gonna game, and the world will rotate in the same direction. And Plato and Aristotle can screw each other at Olympus.

Right, here's my alternative version of the article.

As i already mentioned in another thread, i call bullshit on both philosophers, because their idea of "good" and "bad" is logically disfuctional.

Good and Bad are - among other things - used to describe two different things:

A) If something is "wanted/desired" (good) or "unwanted/undesired" (bad)

Lets start with a question: BY WHOM?

According to Aristotle: A competent minory defines what's wanted FOR the incompetent. There is a little problem with that: There is no explanation how and why! If those incompetent people DO state that they want something else, then apparently they CAN (!!!) define themselves what they want. Sure, you can now bring in the concept of LAW - if someone is allowed to do something. But laws are completely arbitrary - just claim anything and enforce the belief in it, and you made a law. Thus, declaring something a law doesn't prove anything about truth. It's just a forceful claim with no evidence. Roll over Aristotle... next one please...

According to Plato: There is no referent - or rather, the referent is the world. The world considers something wanted/unwanted. Really? *Asks the walls in the room if system shock 2 is wanted*. No reply. Hmm, that didn't seem to work. Or maybe its an attribute of the game itself? The game itself defines that it's wanted? Great! Hey everyone! I hereby declare that i'm like totally unresistable. Everything i say is great, and girls dig me! *waits for it to happen, but doesn't bother to hold his breath* - Plato, move over.

According to plain logic and observation:
So, now after we got those unnecessarily complicated theories off the table, lets try something simple: Every being defines by itself if IT wants something. Thus, "X is bad" would be an incomplete sentence - it instead must be "X is bad/unwanted by Y". Any problems? Nothing at all? See, thats how confusion and theological agendas (both philosophers we're trying to implement the concept of "god") can make you search for a solution to a nonexisting problem.

So, that's that. Good and bad, as in "desired/undesired" or "liked/disliked" always corresponds to someone. Because liking/disliking is an action. If there's no one who likes or dislikes, then no liking/disliking happens.

This has important consequences: If a game is liked/disliked depends on the person playing the game. In other words: It's a matter of preference. Different persons may be looking for different things in a game - they may "want" different things. This does NOT imply subjectivity! Rather, it means that to understand a rating, you need to know how that rating was made:

To understand why someone liked a game, you need to know what that person was looking for. This type of "good/bad" therefore is verifyable! Someone may say that he disliked a game. But you like it, so you at first don't understand how that person can dislike it. But if then that other person explains what she likes and dislikes - what she was looking for - then you can (unless you're too egocentric) understand why that game is unattractive to her.

What does that mean for reviews? Well, it means that for anyone who is willing to think, rather than just immitate, the explanation of a game-rating is the most important part of the review! If a reviewer just says that the game sucks, all info you got was that "theres someone in the world who dislikes that game". Wow, how interesting. But if that reviewer explains various aspects of the game, in addition to stating if he likes them or not, then you the reader can not only understand the rating, but you may even notice "Hmm, but i actually like those things, so i'm gonna try that game" - you just got a review that not just stated someone else's "opinion" but also helped YOU to make YOUR "opinion".

-------

B) How well/good or bad something works (Function & Efficience)

Let's say we established which preferences we want to target in our game. We decided whom we want to make happy with our game. That still leaves the question open how "well" we succeed in doing this.

For example, we may decide that we want to give the player the feeling, that he is rewarded for his accomplishments (so, its not a game for masochists). If our game instead punishes the player for making progress, then our game apparently isn't that "good at" rewarding the player for accomplishments. Thus, our reward-system doesn't function efficiently - more like the opposite. This may sound simple, but this stuff often isn't that straightforwards - for example, we may add reward mechanics, but the combination of certain gamemechanics may result in punishing the player for accomplishments. The topic also becomes more complex, if we consider that if we reward the player too much, we may destroy gamebalance.

This is where actual gamedesign, as in "gamemechanic design", begins. Understanding how to create the "wanted" things as "well" as possible. Knowing how stuff works.

The interesting part about the this kind of "good/bad" is that it doesn't even change depending on the player. Instead, plato-style those indeed are attributes of the game itself. It's like: You want soft boiled eggs? Well, the method you use may result in raw eggs, soft boild eggs, or hard ones - so your method accomplished the "desired" result more or less. It's obvious. People may use different scales for rating this efficiency (what is "close" to one, may be "far away" to someone else), but thats just like measuring in centimeters or inches, and therefore no issue.

------

So, in summary:
You first decide which player preferences you want to cater to, and then look for methods to do this as efficiently as possible. Conversely, if a game is good to a certain player, depends on if it matches his/her desires, and how well it achieves that. Isn't that simple?

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Reenacting the "I am God"-meme - the Meta-POV:

Well, it's almost as simple as that. If we zoom out and take a much much wider look - i.e. which role gaming is playing in this civilization, and more longterm - then less individualistic questions arise. Many questions. I'm not just hinting at effects on society, as well as how society treats games. I also mean things like sustainability. For example, catering to the wishes of a certain audience may right now make a lot of people happy, and perhaps even be profitable - but may in the longterm result in a wasteland, that (almost) no one likes. The list goes on.

I'm sorry, but I just can't take this article seriously.

The poster who made his music-comparison was a much more interesting read and point of view and one of my personal views is that you can't 'generalize' something by philosophy, etc. if it doesn't actually describe what is going on or what the people actually think, motivation, etc.

It is like saying China is communist so they 'must' be such and such. When in reality, China is actually quite content with making lots and lots of money and preserving this status quo just like any other capitalist.

Describing with philosophy is just idealistically strange while in the music example it works mainly because a 'single piece of art music' does not cost 100+ million dollars to make.


---
Apparently to you, the unspoken 'dark side' is that the main goal of every game is to make money. Who cares if it is a literary classic among games, pushes the limits, etc. etc. It has to make money.

The consumers main goal is -> enjoyment, pleasure, experience of the object, etc.
The producers main goal is -> money.

This applies to pretty much 'everything'. Whether food, objects, etc. I produce something for money. Someone buys it to partake of it and enjoy it.

The quality of said product is what encourages people to buy more or, with competition, specifically from me as opposed to others. By definition, the 'good' of a game is different for producer or consumer. Good to the producer is that it sells and makes money. Good for the user is that it is fun for it's cost.

--
If I make a good game, that people should enjoy, then they should pay for it.

Very simple right? The technical difficulty is in what do people enjoy and how much are they willing to pay for it and i'm willing to spend on producing it.

If the universe was 'perfect' then ideally, we would have people who make good games and consumers who buy them at reasonable price and enjoy them, and everyone is happy in utopia of product, consumption.

There are several problems which hurt this and I think your article (and time) could be better devoted towards that instead of abstract philosophy.

Some examples: People paying money for bad games. Would you buy a broken chair? A pot you can only cook with 5 times? You could argue, you get what you pay for, quality, etc. but too many people (whether casual, hardcore, etc.) give money for bad games and hey, guess what, if I can get away with making broken chairs and selling them at inflated price, then why not? Why fix it if it ain't broke and still selling?

Casual vs. hardcore. The problem isn't really accessibility per se. It is the game having the right difficulty curve for the player. Analyzed to death in terms of gambling and other statistical phenomenon but it comes down to this. Players hate losing all the time and players dislike winning all the time (well, except in gambling when you just get money then ;)).

If you lose all the time, it isn't fun. If you win all the time, it isn't a challenge, it isn't fun. Gambling (with psuedo-random win/loss ratio) actually qualifies as fun.

Casual games tend to be games that are either 'too easy' for hardcore (or even some casual) or games that are 'easy' but NEVER end. Web-browser, mafia wars, farmville, are by no means hard or 'strange' or anything. Beyond simple but never ending. Plants vs. zombies is a nice middle-ground with casual enough for people to start and go through, but with some elements to make it slightly more hardcore so that people ENJOY finishing.

Any game with an actual end has to be enjoyable to finish which implies journey and difficulty. You need adversity in any 'hero of a thousand faces' journey. Hardcore delivers that adversity so you feel like a champ when you come out. With proper difficulty controls EVERYONE can have a 'hardcore' experience.

I don't know where i'm going with this, but i have no idea what you are going to do next with 3 more parts and the basis of abstract philosophy which has nothing to do with what is actually going on.

C

I think trying to apply moral philosophy to video games is a bit of a stretch; there not exactly comparable or interchangeable as this article seems to be making out. However, Aristotle's Golden Mean is a universal teaching that can definitely be used as a healthy philosophy towards practically anything, including game design.

Though you did sort of mis-understand Plato's teachings about absolute goodness; this doesn't derive from 'philosopher kings' (there merely the best conduit of said teachings) but is an outside force existing beyond the human realm.

Goodness was a form and indeed for Plato there would exist, somewhere out in the cosmos, the perfect form of a good game and our "real" world counterpart is a pale shadow of this unified perfection. That is because as we exist in time we are subject to the imperfections of the raw matter from which the Demiurge crafted the world with and imbued with the Forms.

Hey everybody! I'll be the first to tell you that my understanding of philosophy is "imperfect" to put it mildly. Thanks for calling me out on everything.

BUT also understand that:

(a) the main reason for this series is to get YOU to talk about what a philosophy of game design would look like, so all my mistakes are happy mistakes that invite feedback I guess,

(b) I have to oversimplify a lot of things in order to fit it into my narrow frame. I try to remain faithful as best as I can. If you're new to philosophy then you should, of course, read the actual texts if any of this theory interests you, and then come join the debate.

(c) the "developer-centric" and "player-centric" frame is just a frame that I use to sort things out for part 2 and part 3. In Part 1, I'm pretty sure I emphasize that for practical uses, thinking like this is stupid because we borrow liberally from both sides without any concern for this dichotomy.

An interesting view.

As a holder of a mostly useless Philosophy degree, I am always heartened to see that people still use the stuff I learned in school.

Not sure where else to go with that, but still.

I wonder when Nietszche and deconstructionism will show up

Oh dear God... I never thought that philosophy class would ever have use outside of school... Bravo. Look forward to the next installments.

carpathic:
I wonder when Nietszche and deconstructionism will show up

How about.. now!

Friedrich Nietzsche:
I tell you: one must have chaos within oneself, to give birth to a dancing star.

Friedrich Nietzsche:
Plato is boring.

I don't think he would be impressed with game makers looking to Plato to justify using dry logical methods to create "ideal" games where players are only important as statistics in a spreadsheet.

More Fun To Compute:

Friedrich Nietzsche:
Plato is boring.

Haha. What a fantastic man.

I was pretty disappointed with this article. I hate the idea that philosophy is something that some hairy men made out of marble did in Ancient Greece. "What makes a game good?" is an interesting philosophical question, and I don't think asking "What would Plato say?" is a good way of answering it.

Speculating on the application of Platonic philosophy to game design is a perfectly valid thing to do, but it's a much less general question than addressing how the idea of 'goodness' applies to video games. It seems like the sort of thing that's probably only really interesting to philosophers, and even then of a particular bent. Why would you care if you didn't have an interest in Plato in the first place?

My real bones with this article is that it's reinforcing a negative image philosophy of being about beardy old Greeks and -ism's, rather than dealing with the really interesting issue and showing that philosophy is interesting and relevant.

(and yeah, I am a philosophy student)

Zamn: It's part 1, so I was trying to lay a base, and it seemed logical to start with the Greeks as a base. Part 2 might be more to your tastes.

Well. . . anything that gets people reading more of the Greeks is good I suppose.

Hmm I think I'm more into the Aristotle type games. Demon's Souls is easily a favorite... I like challenging games. If a game is too easy or "watered down" I just lost interest fast. Well, I guess there's a few exceptions here and there, like Spore for example. It didn't hold me for a long time, true, but I played it pretty heavily for a while just because it's a cool experience.

"incredibly difficult and unforgiving platformer" Megaman and Contra? Do come on, those games were nothing of the sorts. Of course, by today's standards a game of Solitaire might seem incredibly difficult without a checkpoint system that doesn't allow you to lose more then 5 seconds of progress and shiny arrows pointing exactly at where you need to go next, but nevertheless those games were not that difficult.

If you wanted to name an above average difficult game of the era, "Fortress of fear" would be my choice, but even that one helped by a bit of hand-eye coordination and experience an 8-10 year old (as I were the first time I played those games) just doesn't possess, can be coped with quite easily.

From more recent past, one game comes to mind as rather hard - "Shadowgorunds" - that one is a tough little son of a gun. Also, "Space rangers" with boosted Dominator AI can be a nut breaker of it's own kind.

Wow what a pointless write-up. You could have cut out the first 2.5 pages. Don't feed us an intro and call it an article, Escapist. Come on, you're better than this.

TheCapn:
Wow what a pointless write-up. You could have cut out the first 2.5 pages. Don't feed us an intro and call it an article, Escapist. Come on, you're better than this.

Lessee...from the opening of the article
'Ed. Note: This is the first installment of a four-part series discussing the philosophy of game design and how we define what makes a game "good." The series will continue in issue #274 of The Escapist Magazine.'

It's a 4 part series. An intro is exactly what you should expect.

/and I liked it-but I see I need to read many of the comments as this one seems to have sparked some brainfood in people.

Zamn:
I was pretty disappointed with this article. I hate the idea that philosophy is something that some hairy men made out of marble did in Ancient Greece. "What makes a game good?" is an interesting philosophical question, and I don't think asking "What would Plato say?" is a good way of answering it.

Speculating on the application of Platonic philosophy to game design is a perfectly valid thing to do, but it's a much less general question than addressing how the idea of 'goodness' applies to video games. It seems like the sort of thing that's probably only really interesting to philosophers, and even then of a particular bent. Why would you care if you didn't have an interest in Plato in the first place?

My real bones with this article is that it's reinforcing a negative image philosophy of being about beardy old Greeks and -ism's, rather than dealing with the really interesting issue and showing that philosophy is interesting and relevant.

(and yeah, I am a philosophy student)

I agree, it needs more Anaxagoras. And clear simple thinking.

Well that's interesting. It's a bit odd to think of how Plato's and Aristotle's philosophy on governance and life work with games though. I really think the one and only answer is always going to be that games are art and thus subject only to individual interpretation. Group decisions may label a game as "good" or "bad" but that doesn't decide on how I think it is. It's inevitably up to society (i.e. everyone with an opinion and access to the internet) to decided on what is good or bad but I know myself what I like and for me what makes something good is more of what I like. I just want people to make games that they would like and really put soul into it. I don't care if the end result sucks, making games just to put forth a creative expression would be so awesome. Still it always seems to me that "goodness" or "badness" is always the result of an aggregate of opinions with various weights (metacricit matters more then Joe blow after all) that leads to a label forever associated with the game.

The platonic idea that there is an essence of the thing that exists before the thing itself is one that consistently plagues me. Personal goals of understanding aside, I have to ask about the recent trend in dividing articles into multiple parts. Sure, it gives me something else to look forward to reading, but I'd much rather be reading this all at once. Give us some credit, it would only be a bit of reading, after all.

The main issue I have with the OP is that Aristotle and Plato were directing their arguments towards moral philosophy (what consists in and of goodness, and to what extent we are agents or patients of that moral essence). Games and indeed the act of gaming are not moral issues, but, as Plato would have said, ones of techne (or craft/skill) for which the arguments of objectivity are stronger and for which there need be no morality. The rest of the article pretty much rests on whether there should be any reason to believe that 'goodness' is something that can even be applied to games. Aesthetics I can get with, morality and the pursuit of eudaimonia; not this time...

Having said that, I love that there is such a broad and interesting approach to gaming articles of late, and look forward to next time's.

These are only quibbles. Your argument is obviously more narrative- than evidence-based, so it really doesn't matter if you got Aristotle or Plato wrong in an academic sense. But in case you're interested:

Robert Yang:
So, an Aristotelian philosophy of game design would presume the existence of a "citizen" - the hardcore gamer. Under this account, the game should chiefly cater to this "best of the best," allowing these players to excel, perhaps at the price of accessibility for every other type of player.

An Aristotelian philosophy of game design would look nothing like the Politics. Aristotle believed strongly that we should broach subjects on their own terms rather than impose existing models of thought on them. To philosophize in any other way would be unethical. E.g.:

Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics 1104a1-5:
The type of accounts we demand should reflect the subject matter; and questions about actions and expediency, like questions about health, have no fixed and invariable answers.

The Poetics would have made a much better point of departure than the Politics for this.

Robert Yang:
Plato would argue that Mega Man is good because Capcom made it, or because of the specific influence of certain "philosopher-developers" at Capcom. Mega Man's "goodness" has nothing to do with players - because, as we just established, players all have different tastes, skill levels and experiences.

Reread the Republic 595a-608b (about half of book X). This is the section on imitation that sees poets banished. Also see 811a-817d in the Laws for Plato's account of what a poet would have to do to get back in. It's the same thing a game would have to accomplish for Plato to consider it "good."

starrman:
The main issue I have with the OP is that Aristotle and Plato were directing their arguments towards moral philosophy (what consists in and of goodness, and to what extent we are agents or patients of that moral essence). Games and indeed the act of gaming are not moral issues

You're right that different lines of thought are being crisscrossed here, but games are certainly a moral issue. Everything's a moral issue on some level.

starrman:
but, as Plato would have said, ones of techne (or craft/skill) for which the arguments of objectivity are stronger and for which there need be no morality.

Technē is actually an Aristotelian virtue. It's deeply embedded within ethics in Aristotle's philosophy (is mainly discussed in the Nicomachean Ethics, in fact), though there are a few competing theories on what to do with it.

(Of course Plato and many others used the word "technē," which was after all a common Greek word. But they never used it as a philosophical concept.)

I love it! This is exactly the kind of piece and comments that make The Escapist one of my favorite spots on the web. Excellent intro that touches on a number of discussion threads in the gaming universe and deserving of investigation and analysis.

I am really looking forward to the additional parts of this piece.

Thank you!

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