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Showing all 3 posts in April 2014.
What is a game?

This topic has been covered in several other places but I feel like we as a culture have never really come to a solid decision on what constitutes a game.

Webster defines a game as "a physical or mental activity or contest with rules and that people do for pleasure". This gives us a pretty good starting point on this topic. It's something we do that has rules and that the participant finds enjoyable. I think it's important to note here that it's up to the person performing the action whether it's fun to them or not. I greatly enjoyed Gone Home but many people seemed to have very strong feelings that opposed mine. To quote my favorite user review from Metacritic "This 'game' is not actually a game, [sic] it's a very short interactive movie." What this person fails to consider is that the player's progression through the story of Gone Home is tied to a tried and true mechanic. I'm not entirely sure which game first put locked doors into level design to block progression and then required that players search for said key to progress but Gone Home shares a close ancestry with this mechanic. The difference is that you're not looking for physical keys but are instead looking for journal entries that might give you a locker combination or tell you of a secret hiding place that you can go through. Also, while there are no enemies to kill while searching for these "keys" the game uses the lack of action to give the player glimpses into the personal lives of the family members, giving the player a chance for some introspective thought on the events that took place before the player arrived. The fact that the game requires players to explore the environment in search of the "key" to progress and that someone might enjoy the process of doing so makes Gone Home a game by it's very definition. Though I suspect that the backlash aimed at Gone Home has less to do with it "not being a game" and more to do with certain story elements.

In my last blog post I wondered if Viscera Cleanup Detail was really a game and if so would that make cleaning my apartment a game as well? Using the definition of "game" that we got from the dictionary we can apply that to VCD and determine that it's a game. The game's rules require that you clean a facility until it's spotless. Along the way there are more rules that cause the player to have to analyze the situations that are presented to them and find the most effective way to clean the area without making an even bigger mess. Once you feel like you're finished and try to clock out the game will score you based on how you performed. However when i clean my apartment there really is no rule set that governs my actions. I mean, true, the overall goal is to clean things up but the only standard I'm held up to is my own. No one is scoring me and there is nothing in place to make things more interesting. I simply clean until I stop because I'm either satisfied with the work I've done or I'm just tired of cleaning.

What if I have a job that I find fun? Every job has rules that governs our actions, so what if i have a blast doing my job? Taking inspiration from my time playing Euro Truck Simulator 2 recently, let's say that I'm a truck driver. DOT regulation and traffic laws control what I can do and I'm penalized for "cheating" so that meets the rule requirement and it's already been established that I have fun performing the act. So would my job be a game? There's one massive difference between ETS2 and actually driving trucks for a living. That's the ability to simply stop the moment I feel like i don't want to play anymore with out consequence. If I've been playing ETS2 for a while and I'm only halfway to my destination but I'm tired of playing, i can simply save my game and leave it for later. If I drive trucks for a living and I simply tire of it so I pull my truck over and abandon my rig on the side of the road I'll end up facing some very real consequences. With this in mind I feel like the ability to stop participating with no consequence to the player should be part of the definition of what a game is. If you're performing an action which carries a consequence if you stop before the designated time to do so, you're no longer playing a game but are instead working. I feel like at that point whether you have fun with what you're doing or not is irrelevant in factoring whether you're actually playing a game. If you face consequence for stopping early then it's no longer a game. By that new addition I suppose you could also say that Professional DOTA2 or League players aren't gaming anymore when they're in a tournament or practicing. They're working. If they just walk off in the middle of a tournament they lose out on potentially making money. If they simply stop practicing they might lose their place on the team that they worked so hard to be able to join. It's interesting to see how how many activities stop being or become games when held to these standards.

You guys have heard my thoughts on this but I'd love to hear yours. How do you feel about the current definition of what makes a game? What do you think of the addition of the requirement of being able to stop without consequence to the definition? Do you have your own definition of what makes a game? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Why I Love Viscera Cleanup Detail Or: How I Discovered That Tedium Can Be Fun

So I'm in love with Viscera Cleanup Detail. This baffles me because it's not really the type of game I usually enjoy. While I have an eclectic taste in games the one constant theme among all of my favorite games is that I need some sort of action or strategizing to be constantly happening.

If you're not familiar with what Viscera Cleanup Detail is, it's a game where you play a janitor at a facility that has the very unlucky job of cleaning up after the hero has fought back some alien menace. The game is early access at the moment so not much is known of the story. Even then what is known of the story is only discovered in the form of PDAs with mission objectives left behind after the hero or soldiers have left the area, leaving behind the bodies, blood spatters, and bullet casing in their wake. All of that is irrelevant though. You're not the hero, just the janitor. So the game consists of you retrieving empty bio hazard bins and buckets of water to dispose of the blood and bodies. There's no foe to fight or puzzle to solve; just mopping. As you play the game more and more you start to devise strategies on how best to approach cleaning the area you're in. Walking through blood will leave bloody boot prints behind you, which you'll have to cleanup. To complicate matters human and alien limbs have some how worked their way into the machinery which disburses your water buckets and waste bins to you. So if you pull waste bins or buckets of water too frequently from the machines you run the risk of having those limbs come out of the machines instead of the desired item. This further complicates matters because now you have to clean those up as well. If that weren't enough you have to dispose of the bodies in an incinerator that isn't always next to the rest of the machinery that you use, causing you to need to plan your path through the facility around where it's located. Did I mention that the aliens and heroes made a huge mess? Sometimes the mess is so large that the blood seeped under the floor panels or splashed up to the ceiling (which you usually can't reach). So you need to remove floors panels looking for stray puddles of blood or stack crates to get up higher to reach the ceiling. Oh! Be careful carrying filthy buckets of water around because if you accidentally drop it you'll be stuck re-mopping up all that bloody water. Cleaning the average map will take you two to three hours and you better get every speck up. If you clock out before the job is completely finished you will instantly fail.

Why the hell would I want to play that? Even being someone who really enjoys the game, just reading about it makes me think the game wouldn't be fun. The answer is that it's the only game I have that fills a niche that no other game I own does. That niche is mindless tedium. The game take very little thought to complete and is tediously repetitive and that's exactly what I love about it. Sometimes I'm not in the mood to play a game that's going to require actual brain power or skill. Sometimes I want to play a game simply for the act of doing something. I'll just tune into Pandora or start up a podcast and just focus on that while I engage the rest of myself with mindless repetition. I suppose the real question is whether VCD is actually a game. I believe we could all agree that cleaning the place you live couldn't be called a game. So why is VCD different? That's a question for another day. In the meantime, I have some alien remains to mop up.

It's been a while.

About 7 months, actually. When I started doing 2Nerds with Lonrem I'm not entirely sure what I was looking for. In the end life sort of caught up with us and there just wasn't room in either of our lives for 2Nerds anymore. I worked a full time job while being a full time student who also had a kid to take care of and a marriage that was falling apart. Lonrem had his job and acting as CM for Anook, which isn't as easy as he makes it look. I never stopped thinking about it though and always knew I wanted to pick it back up again. Well this is me picking it back up. It'll be mostly in the form of blog posts (to here) and the occasional stream for a bit. Eventually I plan to start back up with the videos though. So if you're interested, keep yours eyes on this space.