Need for Acknowledgement
|MOTIVATION VERSUS SELECTION
Game-playing requires two components: a game and a player. The game designer works to produce a game, and so her immediate preoccupation is with the game itself. Yet, her final goal is to educate, entertain, or edify the game-player; hence, the human player is the proper primary concern of the game designer. Why do people play games? What motivates them? What makes games fun? The answers to these questions are crucial to good game design.
One way to address the question of the purpose of games is to inquire into their history. Games now are too varied, too intricate, too involved, to indicate a single clear function. Perhaps their fundamental nature would be more evident in their earliest incarnations. How far back must we go? To MONOPOLY, created during the Depression? No, card games were played long before that. Indeed, the discoverers of King Tutankhamenís tomb found among the wealth there a wooden surface with regular divisions that appears to be some sort of boardgame. But even archaeology does not take us far enough back. If we wish to get back to the beginnings of games, we must go beyond the realm of the archaeologist and into the realm of the paleontologist. We must reach not thousands but millions of years into the past to find the earliest games, for games predate not just history but all of mankind. They are not a human invention.
Fortunately, direct recourse to paleontology is unnecessary. A trip to the zoo will suffice. There we find two lion cubs wrestling near their mother. They growl and claw at each other. They bite and kick. One cub wanders off and notices a butterfly. It crouches in the grass, creeps ever so slowly toward its insect prey, then raises its haunches, wiggles them, and pounces. We laugh at the comedy; we say that the cubs are playing a game, that they are having fun, and that they are such fun-loving, carefree creatures.
We are right on the first count: these cubs do indeed appear to be playing a kind of game. We can certainly see in their behavior all four of the fundamental game attributes described in Chapter 1: representation, interaction, conflict, and safety. We may be right on the second count; who knows if lions can have fun? But we are dead wrong on the last count. These cubs are not carefree. They do not indulge in games to while away the years of their cubhood. These games are deadly serious business. They are studying the skills of hunting, the skills of survival. They are learning how to approach their prey without being seen, how to pounce, and how to grapple with and dispatch prey without being injured. They are learning by doing, but in a safe way. Better to make mistakes with butterfly and sibling than with the horns of the wildebeest.
Games are thus the most ancient and time-honored vehicle for education. They are the original educational technology, the natural one, having received the seal of approval of natural selection. We donít see mother lions lecturing cubs at the chalkboard; we donít see senior lions writing their memoirs for posterity. In light of this, the question, "Can games have educational value?" becomes absurd. It is not games but schools that are the newfangled notion, the untested fad, the violator of tradition. Game-playing is a vital educational function for any creature capable of learning.
The incidence of game-playing in animals is itself instructive. Game-playing has been observed only in mammals and birds. The phylogenetically earlier orders (fish, insects, amphibians, and reptiles) have not been shown to engage in game-playing. (See Animal Play Behavior, by Robert Fagen, Oxford University Press.) Game play seems to be associated with that quality which we have clumsily attempted to measure with brain size, intelligence, and ability to learn. This correspondence cannot be attributed to accident; clearly game play is an important component in the development of many creatures.
We commonly associate the playing of games with children. Indeed, "play" as an activity is considered to be the almost exclusive preserve of children, and the term is applied to adults either disparagingly or jocularly. Children are expected to play games because we recognize (perhaps unconsciously) the fundamental utility of games as an educational tool. As children grow up, cultural pressures change and they are encouraged to devote less time to the playing of games so that they can devote themselves to more serious activities.
I claim that the fundamental motivation for all game-playing is to learn. This is the original motivation for game-playing, and surely retains much of its importance. This claim does not conflict with my other primary assertion that computer games constitute a new art form. Consider, for example, humans and food. The fundamental motivation to eat food is the base desire for nourishment, yet this has not prevented us from embellishing this fundamental activity with all manner of elaborate and non-nourishing customs, rituals, seasonings, and garnishes. I do not mean to imply that food is an art form; only that we humans can take an activity far beyond its prime cause without denying that prime cause.
I must qualify my claim that the fundamental motivation for all game-play is to learn. First, the educational motivation may not be conscious. Indeed, it may well take the form of a vague predilection to play games. The fact that this motivation may be unconscious does not lessen its import; indeed, the fact would lend credence to the assertion that learning is a truly fundamental motivation.
Second, there are many other motivations to play games that have little to do with learning, and in some cases these secondary motivations may assume greater local importance than the ancestral motivation to learn. These other motivations include: fantasy/exploration, nose-thumbing, proving oneself, social lubrication, exercise, and need for acknowledgment. I shall examine each in turn. Top
A very important motivation to play games is fantasy fulfillment. Like a movie, a book, or music, a game can transport the player away from the tawdry world that oppresses him and create a fantasy world in which he can forget his problems. Games are potentially superior to the traditional means of escape (movies, books, music) because they are participatory. Instead of merely watching a movie, reading a book, or listening to music, the player is actively involved in the game. Indeed, the player drives the game, controls it in a way that is quite impossible with the passive fantasies. This need to escape, to fantasize is certainly an important motivation.
Fantasy fulfillment frequently takes the form of symbolic exploration. Thereís a big world out there, full of exciting things, people, and places, yet most of us are confined to a world ,of asphalt, plastic, and paper. Many art forms attempt to transport the audience into a different world, to present experiences or feelings not often known in the everyday world.
Consider, for example, the success of Disneyland. This place is undoubtedly the most successful of its genre. Such parks are often called "amusement parks" or "theme parks." These terms are misleading, for the success of Disneyland cannot be attributed solely to its amusements and diversions. These elements are technically excellent, but other amusement parks sport technically excellent rides. The success of Disneyland can be summed up in one word: fantasy. Disneyland creates and supports an aura of fantasy, a context of make-believe that permeates all of the activities within the park. Within moments of entering the park, the visitor feels that s/he is in a different world. Fanatic attention to detail in signposts, walls, windows, even railings has created an environment that encourages suspension of disbelief.
Fantasy is an important component of human play. It is critical to our recreation, our art and our games.
A common function of games is to provide a means of overcoming social restrictions, at least in fantasy. Many games place the player in a role that would not be socially acceptable in real life, such as a pirate or a thief. An excellent (albeit extreme) example of this is the game CRUSH, CRUMBLE, AND CHOMP by Automated Simulations. In this game the player is cast as a 1950ís-vintage monster going on a rampage through his favorite city. He stomps on police cars, crushes buildings, swats helicopters, and creates general mayhem. The box art shows a monster about to attack an IRS building as terrified citizens flee. This represents an extreme case of anti-social behavior made acceptable by the safety of the game.
Sometimes the playerís role is itself socially acceptable, but the actions taken are discouraged in real life. MONOPOLY encourages players to engage in what the Federal Trade Commission delicately calls "predatory trade practices." Wargames encourage players to start and win wars. Some games address sexual matters, allowing players to indulge in make-believe behavior that they could never exhibit in the real world.
The most telling example of this nose-thumbing phenomenon lies in the arcade games. These games emphasize violence, and lots of it. The theme is almost universal in arcades: destroy somebody. The coup de grace is not delivered discreetly or elegantly. On the contrary, the victim is dispatched with the most colorful animated explosion possible. Like a Sam Peckinpah movie, the violence is the whole point and purpose of the enterprise. Yet, even as we pander to these distasteful emotions, we delicately mask them in less offensive garb. We never, never obliterate human beings; instead, we vaporize ugly space monsters. The monsters have perpetrated some odious interstellar crime, so the player is cast as the defender, the protector, or the avenger. The case is often presented that the game represents a time of extreme crisis ("THE FATE OF HUMANITY IS AT STAKE!!!"). This heightens the playerís sense of urgency; it also conveniently justifies the use of extreme violence, thereby allowing the player to have violence without guilt. The player can thumb his nose at social strictures and engage in violence and mass murder without risking censure. The game provides a safe way to thumb oneís nose. Top
Another function of games is as a means of demonstrating prowess. All games support this motivation to a greater or lesser degree. Many game-playing communities sponsor tournaments or player ratings. Arcade games support this function by recording and displaying the initials of the top-scoring players. There are also players who carry this to extremes. Their prime goal is not merely to win, but to beat somebody, preferably somebody worth beating. Chess has an unusually high concentration of such sharks; so do wargames. A common question asked during a wargame is "Are you playing for blood or for fun?" Such players normally prefer games that allow their skill to be properly brought to bear, so they tend towards games in which chance plays a minimal role.
Despite this concentration of such players in deductive logic games, almost all games have sharks preying on the playful players. When a shark plays for serious rewards (e.g., social dominance) and -takes serious risks of failure, the crucial element of safety is eliminated from the game, and the game ceases to be a game; it becomes a conflict.
Inasmuch as all games have the potential for being played in an overly competitive way, some people who are especially sensitive to the social risks of game-as-conflict refuse to play games, for they do not perceive the games to be safe. If they do play, they prefer to play games of pure chance, not so much to disable or discourage the shark as to create a situation in which winning is patently unrelated to prowess. If winning is arbitrary, social risk is eliminated and safety is restored.
It is impossible to design a game that is unalterably safe (i.e., invulnerable to sharks) without resorting to pure chance as the sole determinant of victory. If the game in any way allows individual prowess to affect the outcome, then the outcome is perceivable as a reflection of individual prowess. In most games, safety from social risk is conferred onto the game by the attitudes of the players, the willingness to say, "Itís only a game." Top
Games are frequently used (especially by adults) as social lubricants. The game itself is of minor importance to the players; its real significance is its function as a focus around which an evening of socializing will be built. Card games and some light board games serve this function. An excellent example of such a social lubricant game is a game utilizing a large plastic gameboard about four feet square that is marked with colored spots. On each playerís turn, a random process is used to determine which of four appendages (arms or legs) is to be placed on which spot on the board. As the players contort to fulfill the game requirements, they inevitably make physical contact with each other in innocent and foolishly humorous ways. Social interaction is thereby fostered. Top
Exercise is another common motivation to play games. The exercise can be mental or physical or some combination of both; in either event, the game is an entertaining way to stay in shape. Some players like to exercise their cognitive skills, while others prefer the use of intuition. Some players prefer to exercise their athletic skills. Furthermore, players need to exercise their skills at an appropriate level. A chess player will get very little exercise out of a game of tic-tac-toe. Similarly, a person who finds tic-tac-toe challenging will get little useful exercise out of chess. These preferences sort players out and route them to the different games available. Top
We all need to be acknowledged, to be recognized by other people. The acknowledgment we crave is not merely an acknowledgment of our existence, but of our personalities. For example, when we meet a casual acquaintance, we usually get a perfunctory acknowledgment ("Hello there, Jones.") We are more gratified when the greeting in some way acknowledges us as individuals with special personalities and problems ("Hello there, Jones; is that knee still bothering you?")
The popularity of pets provide another example of the need for acknowledgment. Why on earth do we keep in our homes animals that require food, veterinary attention, and sanitary maintenance? Because they acknowledge us. We can interact with pets; we talk to them, play with them, and emote with them. A dog is an especially responsive creature; it can read our facial expressions and interpret our tone of voice. A smile will trigger tall-wagging; a kind word will precipitate jumping, licking, barking, or some other expression of affection. Goldfish, by contrast, neither appreciate nor express emotion. Thus, even though goldfish are much easier to care for, most people prefer dogs as pets. People value acknowledgment enough to expend the effort to obtain it.
This is one reason why interaction is so important to a game; it allows the two players to acknowledge each other. A truly excellent game allows us to imprint a greater portion of our personalities into our game-playing. Such a game allows me to play in a way that only I could have played it. My opponent must look beyond the playing pieces and acknowledge my cleverness, my rashness, my deviousness, my entire personality. When such a game ends, my opponent and I know each other better than we did before we sat down to play.
Many factors play a role in motivating a person to play a game. The original (and almost instinctive) motivation is to learn, but other motivations come to bear as well. Top
We must be careful to distinguish between factors that motivate people to play games in the first place and factors that allow people to choose between games. In other words, the answer to the question, "Why do people play games?" can be quite different from the answer to the question, "What makes one game more fun than another?" Some factors motivate a person to play games; other factors help that person select a particular game. For example, sensory gratification is such a selection factor. A player who has decided to play a particular type of game will prefer a game with excellent graphics over games with poor graphics; yet the graphics alone will not motivate many people to play games. Motivating factors get people to approach games in general; enjoyment factors help them make their choice of particular games.
Distinguishing motivation from enjoyment is not tantamount to denying correlationís between motivating factors and enjoyment factors. Clearly, any game that does not deliver the experiences implied by the motivating factor will not be enjoyed. Thus, some (but not all) motivating factors will also be used as enjoyment factors. If a player is motivated to play a game for mental exercise, that player will probably prefer those games that offer better mental exercise than do other games. A game cannot be fun if its factors do not satisfy the motivations of the player. Two enjoyment factors that are not in themselves motivational are game play and sensory gratification. Top
Game play is a crucial element in any skill-and-action game. This term has been used for some years, but no clear consensus has arisen as to its meaning. Everyone agrees that good game play is essential to the success of a game, and that game play has something to do with the quality of the playerís interaction with the game. Beyond that, nuances of meaning are as numerous as users of the phrase. The term is losing descriptive value because of its ambiguity. I therefore present here a more precise, more limited, and (I hope) more useful meaning for the term "game play". I suggest that this elusive trait is derived from the combination of pace and cognitive effort required by the game. Games like TEMPEST have a demonic pace, while games like BATTLEZ0NE have a far more deliberate pace. Despite this difference, both games have good game play, for the pace is appropriate to the cognitive demands of the game. TEMPEST requires far less planning and conceptualization than BATTLEZONE; the demands on the player are simple and direct, albeit at a fast pace. BATTLEZONE requires considerably greater cognitive effort from the player, but at a slower pace. Thus, both games have roughly equivalent game play even though they have very different paces. Pace and cognitive effort combine to yield game play. Top
Sensory gratification is another important enjoyment factor. Good graphics, color, animation, and sound are all valued by game players. They support the fantasy of the game by providing sensory "proof" of the gameís reality. We see a related phenomenon in the movies: special effects. Some of the newer movies have excited great interest because of the excellent special effects they utilize. These movies have placed us in the thick of space battles, let us meet strange and wonderful creatures, and taken us to faraway places. The things we see look so real that we believe the fantasy; we know (subjectively) that the fantasy is real. Similar processes can be applied to games. Special effects, graphics, sound, animation-these factors all help distinguish a good game from a bad game. We must not confuse their role, however; sensory gratification is a crucial support function, not a central feature. Sensory texture enhances the impact of the fantasy created by the game or movie, but wonderful graphics or sound do not by themselves make the product. A movie without a believable or enjoyable fantasy is just a collection of pretty pictures; a game without an entertaining fantasy is just a collection of interactive pretty pictures. Top
So far I have discussed motivational and enjoyment factors as if they were absolute quantities whose significance is independent of the individual player. Such is not the case; the response to a given game depends heavily on the personality of the prospective player. How are we to deal with the personality differences that dominate the individual's response to games?
One academic solution to this problem is to postulate the existence of a very large number of personality traits that determine the individual response to a game. We next postulate a like number of game traits that, taken together, completely define the psychological profile of the game. Next, we measure and catalog all of the personality traits of any given individual, presumably with an omniscient "personalitometer". Then we measure all the game traits of the game in question with an equally powerful "gamometer". We then perform a matrix multiplication of personality traits against game traits. Sometime before the sun enters its red giant phase, our monster computer returns a number telling us how much that person will enjoy that game.
This approach will for the moment remain a gedanken-experiment. We must devise simpler, admittedly less reliable means of coping with individual differences. One alternative route is to observe and catalog groups of game-players, and identify the game traits valued by these groups. This method is made difficult by the youth of the computer game industry. We can at this time identify only a few broad, vague, and overlapping groups of players: skill-and-action enthusiasts, D&D enthusiasts, and strategy gamers. There remain several other game types, but they have not attracted so large a following as to present us with a definable group of players. The passage of time and further research will certainly give us more information with which to work.
Individual tastes in games are not static; as a person changes so do the tastes. The following analogy with music illustrates this point.
As children, we are all exposed to music in a variety of forms, but it has little impact on us because our tastes are poorly developed. We sing and dance to simple songs, but a full appreciation of the emotional range of music eludes us. The power of music arises from our ability to associate musical expressions with emotions. It takes years to develop these associations, and they are made in the context of our experiences. For many in my generation, the first deep contact with music came with rock 'n roll in the 60ís. The pounding beat, simple themes, and short durations were easily grasped by our adolescent and unsophisticated minds. We could understand this music. Moreover, the act of listening to and enjoying this music was itself an educational experience. As the range of our musical experience expanded, we learned more complex components of the musical lexicon and developed a wider range of associations. Soon we were able to understand and appreciate other musical compositions previously inaccessible to our untrained ears. Rock music changed to reflect this maturation; some of us stayed with rock. Others moved to jazz, country, or folk. Like some others, I moved from rock to classical in a series of stages. As I moved along this evolutionary path, the lessons of one stage enabled me to understand the material of the next stage. Other people followed their own paths, exploring and learning the areas of musical expression that most appealed to them. The common experience was that our musical tastes evolved, no matter what direction we chose. Rock music was the broad base we all shared, the entry point or ,junk out of which sprang many branches.
Just as rock 'n roll was the entry point into the world of music for an entire generation, so will skill-and-action games be the entry point into the world of games for the whole population. Like early rock 'n roll, skill-and-action games have broad appeal, and are easy to understand. As people become more sophisticated with games, their tastes will evolve down different branches. Like rock 'n roll, skill-and-action games will not go away; they will change to reflect the evolving taste of the public. We can see this happening already. The early arcade games are tame pussycats compared to the rip-snorting, fire-breathing games of 1982. Had TEMPEST been released in 1977, it would have intimidated and repelled players. Times change; people change. Skill-and-action is here to stay and will always provide an entry point for new players, but the public will not stand still. Many people will move on to explore other areas of game-playing.
People play games for many reasons. In this chapter, I have touched on a variety of these motivations. I readily admit that my treatment of the subject matter is thin, speculative, and uncompelling. People are complex creatures; we will never fully understand human motivations to play games. Yet me must appreciate the importance of these motivations and at least try to understand them if we are to master the art of computer game design.