Defining the rules that bend the rules.

After reading a rather thought-provoking discussion on this MetaGame blog post, the definition of what a game is in my mind has been subjected to significant change. Take in mind, that I am not reffering to the discussion between me and Keith Burgon, but rather the discussion between Jorge Sousa and Ruicraveirinha.

“Sculpture and architecture, for instance, in which observants positioning and movement count as defining traits of the experience, irrevocably change the mental conceptualization of the artifact, both in its emotionally expressive and cognitive qualities. Though we may stand still, and not act, our eyes also interact through movement (we have tunnel vision, so we can never see see everything that we see at the same time), which is why even static, immutable objects like Mona Lisa or Metropolis can actually be very diferent artifacts in our minds, only on the account of our eyes having moved differently, having seen different parts at different moments, attracted to different points of interest, and the particular order of images out of which we built “Mona Lisa” and “Metropolis” actually changes our “perception” of what they “objectively” are.” -Ruicraveirinha
 

Ruicraveirinha said this in response to an article brought up by Jorge Sousa. In the article, Scott Juster states that the difference between high-brow and low-brow has been determined throughout history by how much the art work can change given interaction. The low-brow being interactive plays and high-brow being plays where the audience accepts the way the writer has made it. Ruicraveirinha basically says that games are not distinguished by the degree of interaction.

After reading this, I think the distinction between games and other art forms is that the game designer defines the system by which the audience’s interaction abides by. With architecture, the rules governing human movement and in turn mental conceptualization of the artifact are somewhat fixed. The rules governing human movement throughout a building are characterized by social hierarchy, functionality of the rooms, how the people are meant to move around the building, the activities that are conducted on the premises and of course, how the building and its rooms are spatially arranged. All of these systematic factors contribute to how a building is utilized and interpreted; social hierarchy determines whether your looking at a hotel from the penthouse or from the bottom floor. Functionality of the rooms determines which people observe certain parts of the building and when. How the people are meant to move around the building changes; how they must act when moving about(eg. idle in an elevator or carefully walking up stairs) and how they’re perspective changes when taking certain routes. The activities that are conducted on the premises changes the mood and overall tone by which the building is conceptualized. The spatial arrangement of the building changes what is visible by who, when and where.

All these concepts intertwine and cannot be negotiated with when designing a building(unless in the rare case of an experimental work of architecture). The additional parameters by which the architecture has to work with do change the way that these concepts operate and lowers the overall complexity of the art forms rules. If the guy-with-money says that the building has to be a government building that dwarfs all of the people who enter, spatial arrangement is limited to making large rooms and social hierarchy considerations are limited to making the big-wigs spatially higher and overseeing. The architect has to add these parameters that work with the rules governing interaction with buildings, in order to influence how the people conceptualize the building. The architect takes in mind how interactive the building is, but is powerless to change the rules.

That’s where games are distinct from other art-forms. Games aren’t an art-form that are defined by how the audience interacts with it. Games are the art of defining the rules by which the audience interacts with elements of the game, because a game cannot exist as rules alone. A game’s contention can be defined by the rules, for example Monopoly or Osmos, but those rules still need art assets which the player can interact with in accordance to the rules.By providing rules that differ from reality, the entire aesthetic content of the game changes. A great work of architecture is not a great work of level design, for example.

Games as a whole cannot be classified as high-brow or low-brow, only individual games themselves. The idea that high-brow and low-brow works are distinguished by how interaction changes their contention is still quite a valid idea. How Monopoly is mentally conceptualized doesn’t change much because of interaction. Monopoly still remains to be a game about ruthless capitalist acquisition. Therefore according to this idea, Monopoly is very high-brow.

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2 thoughts on “Defining the rules that bend the rules.

  1. Lance, a few notes.

    The rules of a traditional game are open and negotiable. The rules of a videogame are closed, because the computer code defines, in a finite way, how interaction is processed. Don’t take my word, go ask any programmer. If the code is static, so is the space of exploration; this is valid for in any given game. Procedures are fixed, so players DO NOT alter rules and rules ARE NOT dynamic,. Some rules hint at paths of exploration, others constrain them, others outright ban them. Can you fly in Shenmue? No. Can you avoid kilingl Colossi in SotC? No. This is the same as in all art forms. The degree of interaction changes of course, but the principle is maintained.

    I would advise you to explore modern art installations to see how clearly they resemble interaction in videogames. Touching them, moving them, chaning their positions, moving about them, and even destroying or assembling them, are all options which I’ve seen displayed in one place or another.

    And, of course, there is very little in this that has anything to do with high-brow or low-brow.

    Cheers.

    Like

    • @Ruicraveirinha

      Yay, more thought-food.

      I know as well as you do that computer code is fixed. I wasn’t saying that the rules that constitute a computer game can be changed, I’m just saying that the rules that govern interaction are what define the game or interactive art alike. The concepts that are facilitated and explored within the rules are usually also fixed(eg. killing Colossi in SotC), but the rules themselves change the way the game’s content is processed by the player.

      I think I might be going a bit low-level with this, but it is still rather intriguing.

      About the modern art, I don’t really get the chance to explore modern art, because I live in the rural/suburban areas. I might go out of my way to see one sometime in the future though.

      Like

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