DynamicsClint Hocking (LucasArts): 10:30am – 11:30am
(official GDC brief)

This talk builds on Chris Hecker’s question “How Do Games Mean.” (which is a play on words. not “what do they mean,” but “how?”)

The gist of Hocking’s talk was to push for an answer to this question by studying the current dynamics that create meaning in games. He focused on the ways editing is known to create unique meaning in the medium of film, and suggested we need to find similar mechanisms for conveying meaning in gameplay.

This topic is a deep rabbit hole to fall into, but I’m primarily interested in the ways it can specifically detract or add to the experience of “playing” the online learning exercises we develop at OSU Ecampus.

We’re often given a bland dump of data (like, say, a spreadsheet) and tasked with “bringing it to life.” The teacher wants the student to go beyond memorizing – to recognize the data’s connection to the real world, and engage meaningfully with it. (ex: They’d like the statistics gathered from a whale diving to paint a picture in the student’s head. They’d like the ecological attributes of various plants to add up to an appreciation of the complexity of nature, in the students head.)

I often slap a quaint story around the exercise, and whip up quick artwork & sounds, just to try and be fun. This becomes an expression of my personality, instead of the teachers. The teacher and I are both aware of this and tend to discuss and refine details to make it better fit their personality.

The idea that the gameplay itself is creating it’s own meaning in the student’s head is something else. I hadn’t noticed this before. Good thing to keep an eye on and think about.


    Clint moved from Ubisoft to Lucasarts, over 2 crazy years… Notes this talk will continue ideas first suggested in Chris Hecker’s talk on “what do games mean” (ed: last year’s GDC?).

    Talks about Topsy the elephant being executed on film as part of Edison’s PR during the ac/dc war. (ed: back when film was raw experience, and snuff films were exciting)

    Focuses on the Kuleshov experiment(film of dude looking blankly, intercut with soup, dead kid, and hot girl. People derived different emotions/meaning from juxtaposition, even though the reaction-shot footage was repeated each time). (ed: I thought Eisenstein was the king of meaning between edits. look this up!) ( wiki:Lev Kuleshov) … Talks about how if Kuleshov didn’t exist, we’d still be filming stage plays. We’d be missing out on unique abilities of film as a medium.

    “Games are still a curiosity, seeking this level of meaning.” Games mean via their dynamics in the same way film means by it’s editing.

    Clint Hocking Notes the GDC 2008 “MDA” workshop about game design. (mda = mechanics, dynamics, aesthetics) (ed: aka: Rules, behavior, feelings)

    Talks about spleunky’s whip preparation mechanic. Specifically how it leads to premeditation for the user, and an atmosphere of deliberation.

    “play” has too many meanings. “Edit” has one meaning.

    Compares the player piano (1905) to guitar hero (2005). Except games can’t play themselves. Dynamic interaction is core to the experience. (ed: Monty Python’s “Complete waste of time” comes to mind. Wasn’t the only way to win that game : to not actively play it? … maybe not.)

    Talks about the message model of meaning (mechanics heavy) verse the abdication of authorship (dynamics heavy) … Talks about splinter cell games (which he worked on) being about fragility proximity and sensitivity. Talks about how the dynamics were forced in the first game. (you couldn’t just follow the guard through the door. Had to use goggles to see what buttons he pushed on the keypad). In the second game (chaos theory) they added exploration, domination and precision mechanics.

    FarCry 2 was about “human savagery being worse than teeth and claws.” A reviewer said the game was about chaos, which you enable and abet. Wrote up an example of burning a guy to death, and how the game didn’t seem to approve of this gameplay action.

    Talks about Hemmingway “hills like white elephants” story. Also notes Hemingway’s six word short story “For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” The point is how the reader/player brings the meaning to the words. These stories let the audience express themselves as artist.

    So what does tetris mean?
    It involves: Precision (dexterity), Anticipation, Management (keep opportunity alive)…
    But it’s too abstract to discuss in larger sense (of the world at large. Or people’s emotional state.) It still manages to be about the person who is playing.

    … Color and title have massive impact on the “game” The Marriage. …
    Brenda Brathwaite is making games where the mechanic IS the message. goes through explanation of Train.

    … Purposefully ruins tetris by applying a dark context, similar to the context of Train. (where each “tetris” represents a train car efficiently packed, and shipped out). Encourages you to imagine the standard Tetris game play again, with this new context, in your head. You probably don’t want to stack the pieces effectively, or complete lines at all, anymore. So by changing the fictional skin, the game takes on new meaningful importance. It changes how the game is played, which changes how it means. (ed: actually it changes how you want to play it, but the gameplay mechanisms/abilities are the same. for some reason this example reminds me of “correlation verses causation” arguments. He tricks me into drawing a correlation to horrible things, but the game controls don’t cause me to draw this connection. hmmf. Guess I’m getting confused between “gameplay” and “game control”…)
    “This is a way we can control the dynamics and communicate with the user.” … This version of tetris is more about honor than Medal of Honor.

    Street fighter is fundamentally not about a battle between Ken a Ryu. Competitive pressure has massive impact on game meaning.

    … Talks about a classic go game, pivotal to Japanese culture, which was covered by a famous writer. (novelized as The Master of Go by Yasunari Kawabata). Clint lays out a specific critical mid-game scenario, when the master made an aggressive move that set up final battle. (talking about context of this one move). The response was a bookkeeping move, which demanded a simple reply move, gaining him two more days.
    The master felt kitani’s move ruined the game.
    He sees the game as a work of art, not just a competition.(“A masterpiece of a game can be ruined by insensitivity to the opponent.”) The master lost game and died soon after.
    The game wasn’t about old culture verses new. But this match was. This instance.

      Meaning in competitive game is:
    • Synthetic
    • Rigorous
    • Instantial

    Understanding long division isn’t fun, but it is important to developing your brain.
    Talking about “organiponicos” in Cuba, (and distributed energy grids) which developed after food shortages (they couldn’t grow sugar to trade for oil). When massive industrial networks fail, the machines are re-purposed. (ed: very cyberpunk!)
    Games are making us rethink and re-purpose art.

    … Clint notes this talk isn’t about any specific call to arms. It’s just about pointing out that games don’t yet have a Kulashov. So we haven’t internalized [the meanings of gameplay] yet (like most filmmakers have).

    Notes there is lots of territory to explore… Doesn’t think editing is just a tool of narrative; Rather, he thinks it is the key building block of what defines film as a medium.


lots of food for thought here. not a lot of conclusions. *shrug*

My mind wanders into thoughts like:
it’s interesting how games teach you to think within their ruleset. often the key to enjoying a game is exploring the limits of these rules (like, repeatedly trying to break a simulation). I think there’s something key there, with regard to god-like control over a reality.

Many educators have noted the amazing ease with which people pick up video games. Their excellence in teaching. There’s something unique about the way control/interaction is different in every game. you don’t have to figure out how to watch a movie everytime you sit down in front of one. But that’s part of the fun of a game. What’s the paradigm here? what are the limitations?

And sometimes the goal of a game is purely social. I think there’s something key there. In the way some games are only worth playing when others are also playing. Strange to me that there are so FEW solo board games, and so MANY solo video games. Makes me think video games can offer a sort of vital immersive feedback that you normal get from the input of others.

I think a lot of people get distracted by story in video games (many would claim there are simulation video games, and then there are story driven video games). but I think this is stupid. for some reason. I think story is just an easy way to distract people from the unique properties of video games. because people are used to stories in their movies and music and literature. Especially in their TV shows (currently the most popular and widely used form of entertainment?). I think the key to video games lies more in the sense of achievement than the completion of story. easy to confuse the two. interesting to note that people who would never sit down for a 60 hour movie will happily play a 60 hour RPG (“to see how its story plays out”). I think people can only do this because of the way video games serve up little senses of achievement along the way. … and this reminds me of how I usually wash the dishes and clean my desk before I start work on any project. the little achievements get me in a positive mood where I feel I can complete some insane impossible tasks.

And I keep thinking it would be wise to focus on the differences between video games and board games. Because I think they’re almost identical. Feel like the theorists and academics are missing out on the rich history of board games and puzzles. (it feels like video games aren’t really that new. just a new mix of age-old cards and boards and charades and improv) the key difference being that video games can enforce the rules more reliably. ? … and I guess it’s hard to top the social immediacy of a group of friends or family, gathered around a board game. … but it’s also a lot less permanent to play a board game. Harder to analyze why it worked, or what you did. Harder to change the game to specifically match you …

anywho. I’ll stop wondering at all this for now. but really enjoy thinking about it.

Electric Elephants and Communism by Facehat

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