Week 6 of “Understanding Video Games”, a University of Alberta Course offered by Leah Hackman and Sean Gouglas through Coursera, focuses on how to interpret / analyse a game with 5 videos this week.
Overall, the premise is that massive multi-player online games are ripe for study given the richness of information and diversity of players. The videos walk through the beginnings of MMOs with multi-user dungeon games (MUDs), and how MMOs added to it with advanced GUI and recognizable visual settings. In particular, Hackman and Gouglas work their way through Ultima (which added both positive social interactions and negative ones such as griefing), Everquest (innovation through adding 3D interfaces, but also led to selling characters in the real world and early references to online addictions), Second Life (showing that it wasn’t all about weird fantasy worlds), and the true powerhouse, World of Warcraft.
Back in Week 1, we learned about a variety of elements in games and Week 2 focused on how “games” differ from simple “play”. Week 3 introduced the contrast between linear, progressive gameplay and more emergent gameplay brought to it by the various players. Week 4 introduced us to a mechanical structure of how to break down games into component pieces, and Week 5 tried a narrative approach to explaining games.
This week stepped back a bit and pulled from literary theory to talk about a structural way of analysing games and the interrelationships between the parts starting with:
- Hardware, program code
- Meaning of a game (relying on semiotics, signs and symbols)
- Referentiality (and how it represents a genre or crosslinks to other games and gametypes)
- Socio-culture (how it fits within the outside world or what is brought to the game by players).
Again relying on literary theory, they add in “post-structuralism” tropes and how language defines reality, and thus a question about what can the language of a game tell you about the designer’s beliefs, arguments, views of reality, etc.? In particular, they talk about procedural rhetoric (rules, interactivity, language, mechanics to make an argument) and how the rules reflect the world view of the game designer.
However, for me, I am not convinced it is about a world view, so much as it is a slice of a world view, particularly as meaning is more than just the rules (i.e. as they note, it also includes play and agency). More importantly, when they talk about WWII fight simulators, and about what is missing due to focusing entirely on technology, I’m not convinced it represents a denial of the other pieces, just that the other pieces don’t make for interesting or fun gameplay. Often it is easier to set warfare on strange alien planets just to avoid controversy around “supposed meaning” rather than the intent of the designer which is to have warfare, but without the political arguments that might creep into the discourse, and distract from what is meant to be simpler gameplay, not a debate.