"Game Development and Theory of Entertainment": the main theses of the book by Raf Koster
In June of 2018 in Russia it was published translation of the latest edition of the RAF Coster "Game Development and Theory of entertainment" ( A Theory of Fun for the Game Design ).
Raff Koster is one of the most famous and respected game design theorists, holder of the title “Legend of online games” (2012). Although the first edition of Koster’s book on game development was released more than 10 years ago, his work on the etiology of a person’s love for games and why we need games and what they should be in modern conditions is still relevant.
Under the cut - a thesis retelling of the Russian-language edition of the book.
Why do people like games?
According to Koster, the main reason is the peculiarities of the human brain. Since primitive times, he has been asking for food in the form of “cutting” , organizing reality. When a person finds himself in a new, unfamiliar situation, initially seemingly chaos, the brain tends to streamline it, to find its patterns, patterns, in it, discarding everything insignificant. It is this trait that has become fundamental for the survival of humanity as a species, it also underlies all the learning processes. We are engaged in “cutting” constantly, every day and every hour meeting new phenomena and leading them to a specific pattern. But in real life, the stakes are too high.
“People don't like chaos. We like the order - not a strict system, but some kind of stable structure, within which minor changes are possible. ”
That is why games are so attractive. The game is a delicious concentrate of “slicing”, yummy for our brain. In games, there are no high stakes peculiar to our daily life, so we risk nothing. Games give us the opportunity not only to find patterns and integrate them into the overall picture of the world, but also to train in their mastering, to translate the ability to work with patterns to an intuitive level, and in the end to “roar” them. In normal life, the brain has to spend resources on filtering secondary, unnecessary details. While games based on abstraction and excluding any kind of secondary “slag” are already “ready food for our mind”, which can only be chewed.
That is why games are a fundamental and very powerful learning tool.
Why are games fun?
Entertainment (or fun ) is a source of pleasure. The immediate physiological cause of pleasure is the release of endorphins and similar substances inside our body, which gives us positive sensations. Such a surge occurs, in particular, at the moment when we unexpectedly understand something or solve a certain problem. Learning as a source of pleasure is stimulated at the physiological level because it is important for the survival of the species. Playing as a concentrated form of learning turns it into a drug. At the same time, the balance between sensory deprivation and overload is also important, because if a player is fed up with the proposed patterns or their complexity, he can refuse to play.
“In the end, people are thoroughly adept at learning patterns; they are ready to give up everything that complicates or oversimplifies this exercise. ”
In addition to satisfaction from the mental solution of the problem (this is a fundamental feeling), Koster distinguishes other sources of pleasure from the game :
- Aesthetic evaluation does not always bring satisfaction, although on the whole it is a pleasant process. Aesthetic evaluation is the most interesting form of pleasure: it is a delight that covers us when we recognize a famous pattern, but it also surprises us.
- Automatic (unconscious) reactions are physical in nature; relate to solving problems at the physical level.
- Some form of demonstration of social status, corresponding to our sense of self and position in society. Almost all the emotions here are related to the fact that you have somehow surpassed someone or advanced along the social scale. This may be Schadenfreude (gloating that covers you at the moment when your opponent fails), Fiero (triumph, feeling associated with significant achievement), Naches (pride that you experience when your protege succeeds), Kvell (boast, the feeling you have when telling about the success of your student), etc.
The role of the plot in games
The classical scheme of game development in our day is repelled by the plot. Most developers come up with a plot, in the course of which the player will have to solve fairly simple tasks. It looks like a novel in which in order to move to a new chapter, you need to solve a crossword puzzle. As a result, the player often experiences powerful emotions from the plot, not too straining mentally and physically. But this decision of the developers does not carry in itself the teaching principle, which would add value to the gaming system. As a rule, the plots of games in terms of complexity and skillfulness are more like the literary opuses of a high school student than a mature literary work. In addition, since most of the games are devoted to the conquest of power, violence and the achievement of other primitive tasks, the plots are also chosen appropriate, - about power and domination.
“In general, people are addicted to games not for the sake of plot. The plot in the gaming system - only "seasoning" for the mind. "
What is needed for a successful game?
So, games are not just a fascinating story. They exist not for beauty, not for pleasure, and not for raising social status. Games are important as a form of training in conditions where you are bound by any obligations.
With all the differences, games that are successful include the same basic elements - the “atoms” of the gameplay, or “Luda” (Ben Cousins):
- Training. Any player's actions related to the game and performed before it starts, such as healing of wounds, training, calculation of strategy, etc.
- Game space. A battlefield in a war game, a chessboard or an arrangement of bridge game participants.
- Clear basic mechanics. That set of rules, which fit the content of the game. Typically, basic mechanics is a fairly simple rule (evaluation of curves, optimization, balancing, classification, matching, etc.); complexity is due to too large set of rules or their sophistication.
- A series of obstacles. This is every enemy that occurs in the game.
- A number of opportunities needed to solve the problem. In most cases, new features are deployed as the game progresses, and at advanced levels you can choose from many different stratagems.
- Skills of using available opportunities. Resource management in the process of opposition, fast execution of actions, agility, ability to track all variables.
- Variable feedback. The result of the fight should not be predictable. Ideally, the better a player is able to solve the task, the higher his achievements.
- Accounting skills playing. Sophisticated players and experienced masters must be divorced in different weight categories.
- Losing should be worth something - lost opportunity, “life”, etc.
It is unlikely that a single game will be able to meet the needs of one and all - most likely, this is in principle impossible.
"The holy grail" of game design is the concept of a game that would constantly put new tasks to the player, demanding different skills from him. At the same time, the difficulty curve would precisely adapt to the skill level of the player. "
Game as a human activity
Some researchers argue that because of its interactive nature, the game is an absolutely unique entity. Others believe that it is precisely on the same basis that games cannot be attributed to art in general, because, unlike games, a work of art is supposedly completely subordinate to the author’s intention. But both are wrong. Any activity is interactive. Texts of literary masterpieces do not exist in isolation from their readers, who can invest in them completely different meanings. Musical works can be performed in different ways, arranged and perceived. All this is the normal interactive life of a statement.
The basis of all types of art, as well as the basis of games, is a closed formal system , with its own rules, artistic techniques, etc.
Another thing is that the games do not reach the works of art in their level and quality.
Alas, most modern games basically contain patterns that can be considered obsolete in today's world. Such patterns require us to react the opposite of what we should develop and train in modern realities.
In many games we fight against “aliens” - this was the key to the survival of our primitive ancestors. But in historical perspective, we are unlikely to want to win victories at the cost of wars. Other “remnants of the past” that are still reflected in the games include blind obedience to leaders and rules, strict hierarchy and a black and white world that primitive our ideas about social status, hard ways to solve problems that do not imply consensus, and Naturally, xenophobia.
Ethics, social responsibility and hedge games.
Although the basis of any game is formal abstractions — the very patterns — nobody plays games that are reduced to pure schemes, and to the pleasure that we get from solving a puzzle, other feelings are mixed with the “shell” of the game.
And this shell, in which the abstract DNA of the game is packed, can be used to propagandize aggressive topics, to splash out hatred towards certain social (ethnic, religious ...) groups, no matter how the authors themselves oppose this. Like any work of art, games have an impact on the outlook of their audience. Therefore, the authors of the games must take full responsibility for the social effect that their creations produce.
Most modern games are about violence (power, repression) and sex, even if these topics are served under different sauces, often in the form of lofty matters. It would be naive to call it their fatal flaw: these themes dominate any kind of entertainment.
But not only this worries Coster in modern games. What the lion's share of modern games comes up with is a means of relaxation, tranquility, escapism, monotonous patterns honoring the audience, unambiguous morality, predictable characters — all this can be called an irresponsible approach . When a new cardinal transformation occurs in a changing world, those who are accustomed to such a monotonous and predictable “diet” will be unable to adapt to the new reality.
Most modern game developers are subject to "designerite"- hypersensitivity to gaming patterns. They have encyclopedic knowledge in the field of games and use this to come up with new ones. But they usually do not offer anything essentially new, because their previous experience, their set of punches restrains their imagination. The result is predictable - countless repetitions. It is no coincidence that the most active and inventive developers of computer games today are those who are used to drawing inspiration not from other games, but from the outside - from books, cinema, real life.
“For all of us, developers of computer games, this means an extremely difficult task - to re-evaluate our role in this life. Feel that we are responsible to others, while we used to be careless. Take a closer look at what we are doing - the mechanics of the game and the reaction it causes, the peculiarities of the human psyche and perception - and, with this in mind, respect your audience. Players deserve something better than skipping to rush to the finish line in the arcade. As developers, we need to understand that it is possible (and highly desirable!) To provide them with higher goals. “
The main thing that modern games need to talk about in order to become a real, “serious” art is the self-knowledge of a person . Today, in many respects, we are on the threshold of new frontiers of self-knowledge, and games should help people to penetrate deeper into human nature.
The game should be a “hedge” that helps a person to know himself and develop those qualities that will help him survive and exist in the world of tomorrow. Games should push the boundaries of knowledge, influence our mentality and raise the problems of social responsibility. Games should provide us with questions and patterns that do not imply the only right decision - because it deepens our self-knowledge.
“I think we should initially decide that we want to invest in this game - some important, difficult message, something that requires interpretation, which does not imply the only correct answer. And then make sure that the process of the game each time presents a particular problem situation in a new light. ”
According to Koster, this game:
- encourages thinking;
- pushes for discoveries;
- contributes to the improvement of society;
- makes us reconsider our assumptions;
- each time gives us a new experience;
- allows the use of individual tactics;
- allows you to make mistakes (to a certain extent it is even welcome);
- does not put rigid restrictions;
- captures you and changes your attitude.