Results & Competition

On my previous post, Patrick’s comment on skill gaming made me think about the nature of sports. Videogames that rely exclusively on mastering a particular set of skills, are usually considered digital sports. Such is the case of Unreal or Age of Empires that are part of digital olympic events.

The nature of skill-gaming has a lot to do on exploring that primitive side of us humans. And it’s great that we have today an artificial instrument to express that animal thrive. These games (which probably is all of the mainstream stuff we’re used to) express one of the biggest issues of modern societies: You’re either a winner or a looser. You belong to an elite of talented players or you’re just another mere mortal.

Just like Tennis, one of my favorite sports: If you’re not part of the top ten, you’re close to being a nobody. And that’s the by-product of competition, the law of nature that rewards merit and talent, natural selection Darwin would say, class struggle is Marx’s interpretation for history.

Art is about transcending the boundaries of nature. This age of information is essentially about democratizing the access to knowledge, and the creative tools that once where only possible in big studios can now be used on any regular computer. What if games could democratize talent by going beyond mere competition? I find Will Wright’s games as an excelent example for games that don’t care if you win or loose, in his games, it’s the experience what is intrinsically valuable, and not the result.

Play is the act of becoming one with art, and games are capable of transforming anyone onto artitsts.

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5 Responses

  1. Funny, I was just playing Sim City. I eventually got frustrated with the game itself, and just build a solar/wind power techno-utopia on an unlimited budget.

    I like this idea of designing sports, but also blurring into sports about things other than the hunter/gatherer instinct set. You’ll see what I’m talking about eventually amigo.

  2. (I heard once that some ethnologist considered sports event as a way for modern civilisations to “fight against another tribe” in a more pacifist way… sort of)
    I’m not really keen on win/lose schemes and rankings (my Quake Shambler papercraft is wearing a “this is not a competition” sign in his blood-tainted claws for instance… err) but somehow, I don’t consider Will Wright’s productions as “game”. Because I don’t really get the goal I’m supposed to reach. I always expected games to have rules (it’s only my opinion). I only admit the loser/winner idea when it’s about frustration and the urge to get better and go further. But not when it’s about crushing everyone to show his supremacy… just like those “I’m the best” players in online FPS games. I used to repeat every one and then “A dead body can’t harm you, so would you mind stop shooting in my avatar corps? That’s annoying. Thank you”

  3. There are two types of play: playing as a way to gain skills necessary to survive, which you call primitive; and play as in to play music, which allows us to express ourselves. There is also the passive forms of each, watching a wrestling match or listening to a story teller. The former probably engages our primal chakeras where as the latter might engage our higher chakeras or the union of all our chakeras. But what about competitive games like chess which engage lower chakeras for the competitive aspect and higher chakeras for the strategic aspect?

  4. Brilliant analysis Thomas. A perfect description of the term Play, which is indeed an intriguing word for me because there isn’t a precise translation of it in spanish.

    Chess is a lovely game. But it’s about training a more complex muscle: the mind, which gains power with the use of reason (and strategy is a great tool for applying reason in uncertain situations). But in a Chess game, you also feel that same anxiety and thrill that any other sport gives you. It’s the competitive thing that pushes our nerves.. beating the rival reminds us of our animal instinct.

    I must make clear that I very much like sports like football, basketball, tennis and chess.. even games such as unreal or Call of Duty surprise for their elegance in game design… But I strongly wish to see more game designers that shape “Play” to pursue a more expressive and creative act.. like you’ve said: I wonder if playing games could feel like Playing music.. or even better 🙂

  5. How about Rez, a somewhat passive-expressive experience or Parappa a more active-expressive experience (because it allows and rewards improvisation)? What would a “next gen” expressive audio game feel like? Something like a theremin? And is expression as expression inherently better than expression ala competition?

    I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I’d certainly like to see games that help us to explore these questions.

    BTW, check out my blog, I’ve posted my favorite speech from GDC 2007. The message is coming from a United States context and I wonder if it resonates with people from other countries.

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