Game Eaters

Monday, February 13, 2006

Single-player

Raph Koster took the time to respond to Clara's previous post with links to his blog. I originally posted a comment in response, but it got pretty long... so here's the response in its own post.

Reading his elaborations, I think a major element of his argument is equating the medium of digital "games" to non-digital games. I'm not sure if we've gone through this on the blog, but I've certainly discussed with the other Game Eaters regarding how "game" is fast becoming a misnomer of the digital medium as we know it, dictated more by genre laziness than anything else.

Electronic Entertainment (i.e. E3) is a much more accurate description of the thing we've got today that tries to lump The Sims, World of Warcraft, Fatal Frame and Battlefield 2 under one banner. The majority of entities that are accurately described as "games" are dominated, or certainly improved, by multiplayer. Entertainment, on the other hand, is a much broader term than games.

I don't think any of us will disagree that even single-player games are often enjoyed as social experiences. Audiences contribute a lot and there's always discussion around the game. The same could be said about many forms of entertainment, such as movies. However, to produce an effective piece of entertainment, must the content be explicitly designed for the involvement of multiple people?

I, for one, don't believe it's a requirement. Gamers are clearly used to single-player games, and just because the "non-gamer" demographic tends to prefer social games doesn't mean that they don't appreciate solitary entertainment. Music is traded in a social context but the success of the iPod shows that the solitary experience of music can be enjoyed and appreciated by the mainstream. Many kinds of emotion get harder to achieve with increasingly larger groups of simultaneous participants, such as sadness and fear, but the popularity of Korean drama and horror games clearly indicate there's an audience that enjoys such emotions in their entertainment.

Business managers are constantly reminded that you can't ignore market data, no matter what you believe. The growth we're seeing from Nintendo is being spurred by games like Phoenix Wright, Nintendogs and Brain Training. Whether they are "games" is questionable. Whether point-and-click adventure, pet-care and brain-teasers are genres that work well for a single interactor is undeniable. I don't want your hand-me-down Tamagotchi, I want to bring up my own. Don't tell me the answer to the puzzle. Let me read at my own pace. The experience can certainly be shared, as anyone who's tried to play Nintendogs in public or taken part in the MIT Mystery Hunt can attest, but "non-gamers" seem to be liking voice recognition and math problems tuned for the individual, and there's real, observable market growth.

I would argue that multiplayer games are actually targeted at a different kind of "hardcore" - the player who is willing to set aside time for the enjoyment of strangers. While everyone is willing to do this on occasion, most modern societies don't bring up people with this set of values. More people live in "apart"ments than communes; when company profit encroaches on personal gain, many would prefer to leave; one is encouraged to get out of one's parents' house or town when one grows up. It might be better for mankind, in general, if everyone decided that they would choose to share their entertainment with others, but this does not necessarily make a compelling case for business.

I agree with Raph that it is counter-productive to think of digital "games" as an entirely solitary experience. No Game Eater would support that contention. However, what we now know as "the single-player game" has been enjoyed in a social context for quite some time, quite far removed from the solitary "aberration" he paints it to be. Even with his caveats, to simply proclaim it "doomed" makes it very hard to take his proclamation seriously.

3 Comments:

  • OBJECTION!

    Actually, Pdawg makes good points. Objection overruled.

    One thing that comes to mind in relation to this topic are the players that go to MMOs only to end up "soloing." Certainly, part of this behavior is a result of the (perceived) rewards structures for particular styles of play, but there's also something more fundamental to it. I'm just going to throw out some observations at this point.

    It's different to 'lone wolf' it in a world where one also has the option to work in a group.

    MMO environments create a dynamic space, even for solo players, because the world is affected by the actions of other players. This is certainly not a fully realized game play just yet, but we can see tiny pockets of it emerging in the genre.

    Even if one does not always "play" with their guild mates, belonging to a social community provides a level of context (and comfort) for solo experiences.

    I'll try to address these issues more fully later, but I thought I'd toss around some thoughts.

    By Blogger Nick, at 11:17 PM  

  • I followed a link to one of Raph's blogs, and it seems like most people responding to him are making similar points as Philip. People are basically saying "Look, we basically agree with you. But why are you confusing your own point with sloppy language?"

    By Blogger Matt, at 11:52 AM  

  • Heh, I ran into Clara today at Living Game Worlds. :)

    I have expounded even MORE on my definition of single-player, trying to show that it really isn't as tortuous as people seem to think. It's on the blog...

    By Anonymous Raph, at 3:30 AM  

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