Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rant: Criteria for Ranking Video Games

Erica sent along this little Top 10 PC Games of All Time article to me, which is causing me to have to go on a rant. I realize that I usually entertain more intellectual pursuits here than video games, but I feel like this is an important point of view.

I will copy and paste my email response to some friends as well:

I'll lay into this bullshit right here and now. WoW might be the most played (human hours invested) game of all time, but the idea that it's the #1 PC game of all time is absurd. I'm not actually convinced it's the best MMO of all time, though I admit that its interfaces are intuitive and its visual impact is startling. The best PC game of all time should be based on the fun value of the game, which can't be possible in WoW thanks to hours of mindless grinding, repetetive combats, and end-heavy content.

Owing to its stature, I would surely allow WoW to breach the Top 10 and it is certainly the top MMO (which is actually kinda' sad), but to call it the Best PC Game of All Time is absurd. There's no mention of the Half-Life Series or the truly innovative Portal. I fail to see how X-Com could miss the mark. It would have been intellectually dishonest of them not to include Civilization, which is truly one of the best all-time, but while I enjoy SimCity, I find it hard to believe that it is worthy of the top 10. Too often in these sort of Top 10's we get the "Most Innovative" or the "Best Selling" games. Why aren't the games evaluated based on what should really matter: how much fun they are to play.

I think that really needs to be my jumping-off point. I don't think that anyone would argue with me that the primary purpose of games is directed toward enjoyment. Sure there's probably lessons in teamwork or coordination or strategy involved, but we play them to relax, to interact with our friends, and to have fun. I don't have anything against World of Warcraft directly (I played for a while even), but it seems to me that it is reasonably antithetical to some of the things that are important to me. So, for the benefit of those still reading, here's a convenient list of why I think these are important criteria for game designers to consider.

1. We play video games to relax: When we are playing video games it is in our downtime. It's time we're not spending fulfilling our primary obligations. This being the case games should be as user-friendly as possible to their targetted audience. Now sure, maybe some games are too complicated for some people or are of the wrong type. Like books and sports, not everyone likes the same things, which is okay. But in the case of video games, they should be designed with an eye toward the recreational. To put it another way, just because it's my downtime doesn't mean I want to be wasting time. While extended travel times and complex interactions might provide a gameplay-balancing or immersion effect for some players, especially in simulation games like Eve Online, noone wants to play an action oriented game where you have to sit on a bird for 15 minutes to fly from one town to the next. Having to spend hours looking for a party to go to the dungeon where you have already been 6 times just to defeat one boss so the piece of loot you need will drop is another example of how this is bad.

2. We play video games to interact with our friends: I love multiplayer in video games. I've almost gotten to the point where I don't want to play single-player games anymore, although I find some that really speak to me from time to time. But what exactly does multiplayer mean? Is it trading off as my brother and I did in Super Mario Bros. when we were kids? Is it charging into the first room of the Truth and Reconciliation level of Halo in the living room of Adam and Michelle's old townhouse over and over again on Legendary with Jacob, Dean, Baxter, or Adam alongside? Is it the cheering/jeering/laughing competition we had when we multi-boxed Halo, splitting into upstairs and downstairs teams? Is it the experience of joining alongside one or two friends at your own PC screen as Adam, Norm, Dean, Rob, and I did in Neverwinter Nights? Is it the hours of shouting at one another over XBox Live as we schooled n00bz together online? Is it the experience of making new online friends we felt in City of Heroes and World of Warcraft? Which of these experiences provided us with the most fulfilling experiences? Which do we remember most vividly? Can a multiplayer world be so big and expansive that it makes friendships less invigorating? Do you act or talk different when with your real friends and your online friends? When the group is mixed? It's a lot to think about.

3. We play video games to have fun: This seems pretty self explanatory. Maybe we don't all have the same exact definition of fun, and maybe we like different types of games. The point is that whatever you play should be enjoyable. For me, at least, a lot of that enjoyment comes from sharing my gameplay with a friend or two; over XBL or, even better, in person.

It's important to think about what you get from your activities, what you want to be getting from them, and what you think you should be getting from them. We should always strive to examine our activities so that we know why we do them and how the help us become who we want to be.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Momentary - Amphiboly

An amphiboly is a fallacy of ambiguity that is marked by a failure in grammar. In other words it would be when the exact meaning of a statement is left unclear due to a failure in clear grammar. For example:

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

On Friendship

I sent out a bit from Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics to some of my close friends. If you'd like to follow along it's from Book IX, Chapter 9, from Becker numbers 1169B30 to the end of the chapter.

Nicomachean Ethics spends the first 7 books talking about virtue of character and intellectual virtue. In Book VIII, however, Aristotle begins a discussion of "friendship". To me it's a bit of a non-sequitur, but I think if you take into account what he's seems to be saying about man as a political creature it sort of follows to discuss friendship. Now if you are familiar with this part, he identifies three sorts of friendship: friendship of utility, friendship of pleasure, and true friendship. He identifies different qualities of each and discusses a surprising variety of topics related to them, but I'm interested in where he is heading, rather than any particular specifics of friendship.

In the Sachs translations of Aristotle, there is a lot of reference to "being-at-work", translated from the Greek energeia. What he means by this that I find lacking in other translations of energeia is something like an active condition. Not something you actively maintain, but some part of being that is actively enacting.

Now if, as Aristotle thinks, "thinking" is the primary action of man and the "intellect" (Grk: nous) is something like what we would call the self, why would we need friends? Why should man desire nothing more than self reflection and introspection, which, based on the passage indicated, seems to be the greatest good. Why do we need more than the awareness of being that we have within us?

If this "being-at-work" of self is so important, what is it? How can I share in a friend's awareness that "he is"? Do you suppose Aristotle is somehow right about intellect and the self? Another section that may be helpful to read for this discussion would be Chapter 8, especially the paragraph around 1169A.

The question becomes, "What is it about my relationship with my friend that gives me a greater good than my own awareness of self?"

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

For Thought - Love Story?

Do you think that Romeo and Juliet is a love story? What is the central conflict in the play? Who are the main characters? Think about the main action of the play. Which parts do you remember? Do you think the conflict in the play is about love? Could there be something else going on?

Assuming for a moment that Romeo and Juliet is a love story, what do we think of as the elements of a love story? Don't we see a story about the boy winning the girl (or vice versa)? Don't we see the lovers struggling with their feelings for one another? Isn't there a conflict between them as they try to overcome the obstacles in their relationship?

Question: Do you think Romeo and Juliet actually have any obstacles between them? Do they struggle with their love for one another?

What is Romeo and Juliet about? Do you think there is a better example of a romance in Shakespeare's works?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

To Boldly Go...

Recently I've become more and more reacquainted with my old Star Trek fandom.  I've been wondering quite a lot about why the stories of Kirk and Spock and McCoy that my mother and I watched when I was a little boy were so evocative.  Why do we feel so attached to Picard, to Riker, to Worf; even to Q?  Later on Deep Space 9 we can see a new frontier, ravaged by war and falling apart.  Do Cisco and Kira's stories draw us because they are so different from the semi-utopian visions we have seen to this point?  What about Voyager, so far away, yet driving forth on a hopeless 75 year journey home?

What is the draw that these stories have on us, with characters that feel so much like friends?  Gene Roddenberry originally intended the show to be a "wagon train to the stars", which I believe it was successful at accomplishing.  It is an adventure in the final frontier, a story told with such strength of purpose, finding such a joy in the human condition and in how we strive forth.

The ancient Nordic and Teutonic societies originally worshipped Tyr as the leader of the gods.  A god of war, warriors, and destruction was so very appropriate in their culture.  Yet over the course of time their leaders and shamans brought forth the god Odin/Wodan.  Odin was overwhelmingly dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom.  He hanged himself from Yggdrasil, the World Tree, for the sake of knowledge; traded his eye to the Norns for the sake of knowledge; and sent out his ravens Huginn and Muninn day after day to return to him with knowledge.  Yet Odin was still a warrior god, vengeful and powerful.

Space, the final frontier.  That which is beyond us.

To explore.  To know.

To boldly go.  With strength.

Where noone has gone before.  The unknown.