TED Talk: Using play for everyday activism

Well look at that, I gave a TED talk! I spent a lot of time on it and found out firsthand that this sort of public speaking is a completely different skill than stuff I’ve done before, so it was quite the experience. Watch the video and see an extended script of the talk below.



  • we can use play for everyday activism

Given current events, this is on everyone’s mind. Over drinks, through social media, the classroom, this is the question I get the most when discussing social problems through my work. Police brutality, settler and native conflicts, poverty, climate change, labor, all of these are huge, epic issues that we are now tasked to solve. “How do I end sexism?” It’s easy to be overwhelmed with not only trying to imagine a world without social oppression and irresponsibility, but how to even get there. Many people feel powerless in affecting the world in any tangible way. But with this heightened awareness, there isn’t a better time to activate grassroots efforts of ordinary people. I believe the answer to better futures is one rooted in everyday activism instead one that engages mostly on an epic scale. And the process of this everyday activism will be one of play.


  • we need to rethink how we are currently using games for social impact

I am not the first person to suggest games and play can be used to impact the world’s many problems. Six years ago, Jane McGonigal gave an influential TED talk about how epic gameplaying can help tackle epic social problems. It inspired me and many others interested in how culture works to pursue our interest in games as a medium of choice to enable social change. There is a whole genre called serious games that specifically uses play for education and social interests. You may have heard of Games for Change, an organization dedicated to social impact games that’s been around for more than a decade. These are epic initiatives, which stand in contrast to this everyday activism I am speaking about today. Game design here is typically used in a top-down system where a client wants to make people feel or do things differently and a game designer uses fun in order to encourage desired behavior or takeaways. My experience in the field finds that players of serious games are only really interested in the game part of that process, and as soon as their interest in the game fades, so does the underlying mission of spreading social messages. So how much are games impacting the world for good?


  • there’s not enough numbers on whether or not games are changing the world

We actually have no idea. I wish I could have a nice bar graph that showed you the issues of the world before and after serious games came around, but there is little research on the topic. Not only do very few companies and developers release data on how much they’ve impacted their target issue or audience, few even do that data collection in the first place. The discipline doesn’t have a good sense of how they are impacting the world, if they are at all. This is an issue when games promised to change epic problems. Instead we see game design deployed more for entertainment and business, which are fine uses on their own but are not the ways we as creators are going to enable people to change the world. We do need people working on epic problems, but I believe we ignore the people in our lives in order to be the hero for the final boss we don’t know how to reach.


  • what makes games a commercial success does not work for social change

The problem lies in how we fundamentally think of games and how to make them. Current design principles used for serious games come from the entertainment industry, using the interactions and themes of commercially successful video games hoping to capture the amount of people that commercial games do in scale. You’ve probably seen points, levels, quests, and leaderboards snuck into various spaces over the years in hopes to engage you in a social issue or service. Serious games are also known for taking popular game formats and adding social messaging to them, like adventure games, mobile puzzles, and platformers. Entertainment games focus on capturing the user’s attention and creating loops of fun to keep them playing as long and deeply as possible, and aren’t known for their sophistication in communicating complex topics to audiences. This is like choosing a spoon to cut your steak; you can technically do it, but it’s not going to work well and the result won’t be pleasurable for the person receiving said steak. Instead, we need to build from the ground-up new processes and design values that start with social impact instead of tacking it on a more superficial level.


  • playing with the everyday will change the world faster than epic games

Our new activism will have to draw from the everyday to find our resource material and interactions. Maybe instead of focusing on games as objects, we think in play as process. Creating play is manipulating environments, bodies, and social systems to reveal new possibilities. We are playing all the time without thinking. We play the roles of the genders, races, classes, and other social positions we choose or are assigned to us, moving to deeply ingrained scripts while making it our own. We are playing speaker and audience right now, informed by the rules we’ve learned through experience. But we also more explicitly play in economic systems with where and why we choose to spend our money. We play along with what life throws at us and sometimes we play with each other’s hearts or our food. Practically, we play more with everyday life than we do with games. This outlook enables grassroots movements, where epic games continue the tradition of only the few engaging with social problems.


  • it’s a method for granular, non-incremental change when epic change is impossible

The idea of epic games are too large in scale for any one person to actually find themselves in, distancing the average person from doing anything and leaving the action to those with the resources to tackle epic problems. Rather than trying to get everyone to pay attention to the same general social issues and rally as a united worldwide movement, I propose we all turn to the people next to us and work on our relationships. Can we even conceive of solving something so pervasive like racism when we haven’t creatively explored the topic with those close to us? I don’t mean to educate on the meaning and existence of racism, but to understand how the power dynamic of racism exists between you and the person next to you. This is intimate, vulnerable, and real, and work too few of us do. It is emotionally intensive and will continue for as long as you know someone. Imagine if our message was not for everyone to unite against one problem in one movement, but to engage on a one-to-one basis solving local and personal problems. This is a scale everyone can manage.


  • Gesturing Toward Utopias & Everyday Play

Referencing the work of queer and performance scholar Jose Esteban Munoz, my colleague merritt kopas sees games as model utopias where we can act out idealized futures. Understanding that we can find play in everyday life reveals infinite points of access for people to perform these utopia games with each other. This can come in the form of rituals, improv, remixing social rules, layering alternate realities in public spaces, anything that involves a call and response between people and social systems. But we can’t create utopia all at once through games. Unfortunately, there is no real metric for social change as a whole as our problems constantly shift and mutate as time goes on. What is one person’s utopia might be another’s hell. So play is used to gesture toward utopias instead of trying to make them instantly fully realized. Like fashion and memes, these gestures will beckon more gestures to create a connection with culture. Because the social problems we face aren’t purely mechanical, we have to work on changing culture, which can only happen with the participation of everyone inside of it.


  • games are instrumentalized instead of creating frameworks of relating

The games of today can’t do this because of how mechanical they are. First and foremost, they are products, designed to be used for a purpose. Games are made as objects that dispense experiences, whether it is to learn or feel something. They are ultimately authoritarian in the way they plan to affect those who play them by passing down preconstructed messages that don’t properly fit into people’s lives. Gesturing towards utopias through everyday play is a framework in how we all relate to each other. It aims to fill every moment of our lives with meaning and potential for creative and radical use. What I’m getting at here is everyone can make games that only require everyday life as their materials, whereas conventional game development continues to be gated and hostile towards marginalized people. Many games anticipate players who have excess in leisure time and resources to burn. Everyday play aims to be a pluralistic form of experience design.


  • gesturing allows us to imagine and express ourselves in ways achievement can not

Gesturing towards utopia isn’t about winning or productivity. The structures that allow those cannot contain the different ways we need to relate to each other in order to challenge social issues on a personal level. The design goals of entertainment games are notoriously narrow because of the prerequisite of fun being linked to winning. Instead, religious scholar James P. Carse points towards ‘infinite games,’ or a kind of play which seeks only to keep itself going. Think of it as an elongated and more subtle “yes, and” from improv, a kind of play that seeks out response that will want a reaction in turn. This constant back and forth is creative as much as it is a designed experience. The strengths of both art and design exhibit themselves in everyday play.


  • there is a diversity issue in types of play and tactics

Though it is getting better, we have a diversity problem in the tech sector. Women are beginning to get more lead positions but are often still kept from the top from decades of sexism entrenching men in roles that don’t change over very often. Even with more women being involved with making games, those who are making decisions in these epic games are overwhelmingly white. When homogeneity of perspective is coupled with minimal research, you get ineffective works at best, but most likely game experiences that are exploitative of its subject matter. I’m reminded of a conversation I had at a games conference where a white man approached me and wanted to make a VR experience about being a poor black woman. There are more ‘empathy games’ made by white people about everyone else than a focus on how marginalized creators wish to express their own experiences. Everyday activism wants to reverse this process and begin in the personal exchange of two people, gesturing to others who might want to gesture back.


  • Performance Art

I am in the middle of my research exploring the different tactics we can use to implement everyday activism in our communities, companies, and platforms, but I want to share some sources of inspiration that are helping me create a practice around gestures. The first being performance art, particularly happenings. Back in the 50s and 60s, Allan Kaprow created this term for performances that took place among the daily motions of life, sometimes unbeknownst to the people around the performer. He was firm in his practice of drawing from everyday life and resisting designated art spaces. The programs of happenings resemble a list of rules that the performer follows to start and complete the piece and is very specific to the time and location of where it will take place. I believe these programs hold the more formal nature of everyday play that links them to design and serve as a jumping off point for artists and institutions.


  • Video Game Zines

Back in 2012 there was a DIY revolution in games led by trans women that took game-making tools that didn’t require programming and made personal video games for their communities. Punctuated by the publishing of anna anthropy’s Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, there has been an increase in people making games for personal expression instead of entertainment products. Not requiring programming knowledge allowed marginalized people kept out of the discipline to add their voices to the growing medium, and the result was a more diverse rebirth of shareware from the 90s. It draws upon zine culture from the same time period that helped establish radical queer communities, so now we see games about self-care, prison abolition, safe and consensual sex practices, and many topics we rarely see in epic games. We can tap this ethos for our everyday play, a support network of gestures that shifts culture making into community.


  • Transition Design

Drawing from design disciplines outside of games also helped form my ideas about everyday play. Considering we can’t ignore how institutions and companies interact with people to create culture and social conditions, service design becomes a useful perspective when connecting our personal play to more complicated networks. More specifically, transition design, coming from Carnegie Mellon’s School of Design, takes the strengths of service design and moves them away from just corporate solutions to thinking about long-term sustainability. Where most of design is concerned with solving discrete problems, transition design wants to tackle ‘wicked problems,’ problems that have many moving parts, like needing a large amount of people to change their behavior or mindset about a topic.


  • Mainichi

Though much of the play I am thinking of isn’t discrete pieces, rather continuous lightly structured actions, I’d like to share some of my experiments that attempt to connect to people on personal rather than epic levels to communicate a social message. The first was my own zine-like game Mainichi that depicts a section of my everyday life and the problems I encounter as a trans woman. I made this game for my best friend who, while supportive of me and my struggles, couldn’t fully grasp the nuances of my decision-making in spoken conversation. I gave her this game where she went through the decisions I have to make before leaving the house, including how to present myself, and the impacts of how others treated me and my resulting mental health. When I released this game to the general public, it caught on because of its specific and personal nature and has toured event spaces for the past 4 years. This game took me a week to make, where most epic games take months and years.


  • empathy machine

The following years of Mainichi’s release saw a rise in ‘empathy games’ and using technology to enable users to empathize better with the subject matter at hand. Wanting to resist the experience tourism I saw happening in my field and to my work, I reimagined Mainichi into a performance and installation. Using physical computing to turn my body into a controller, players attempted to play the game as I performed actions from my daily life. At first I tried to keep silent and wanted this pure performance where people understood the intrusiveness of current empathic uses of technology, but soon I started to converse with players as they mentally worked through the dissonance they felt while playing. I realized during this performance that I couldn’t expect to enact change by putting up this one-way art, but by enabling a conversation in an uncomfortable situation.


  • EAT

Picking up on the influence of the happenings and the performative program as game, I created a calendar where a past partner of mine had to reenact a period of my life where the stress of acquiring student debt and trying to find work in a job market that didn’t have room for me was at its highest. He would have needed to act according to specific rule amidst his daily motions until he couldn’t anymore. The game runs infinitely on google calendar, acting both as a game reserve and a memoir to a particularly tough time in my life that I feel like I need to share with people who don’t experience the struggles I do.


  • we can activate everyday change by gesturing through play

The work for making everyday play a real force is still underway and not an effort that can be taken alone. It’s a process for communities, partners, friends, colleagues, institutions, not for a lone artist to dispense to everyone else. Games and play are exciting and new ways to engage with social change, but aren’t merely all fun as the words imply. The first step is discovering the play around us and learning how to use that play to speak to each other. Like all new processes we have to learn this new way of relating, but the barrier to entry is as low as one can get. If we can further anchor play into our everyday lives, gesturing towards utopias, I believe we will find ourselves in a new era of social change.

Thank you!

2016 at Alternate Ending

Writing has been weird for me this past year. My decision to move to New York was a last attempt to find a place for myself in the field of games. I admit, I don’t really feel like I belong, or if there is a place for me. But I’ve put in so much effort, I felt like I needed to give it one more push before giving up. Interest in the written word about games, and well everything on the internet, is steadily dropping. Now a lot of people engage with video and streaming, some still with podcasts. I’m one of the fortunate few who makes any sort of money outside of mainstream publications and that has helped me explore avenues and alleys in games that few try since there is such little support. Now I’m deeper in organizing, stepping up in my role at IndieCade and doing project management for multiple indies. Come this next semester I will be adjuncting at both NYU and The New School, and by the end of the year, finished with my masters. I’m learning more and more about how much things aren’t solid or decided in games yet and the different forces that stand to gain by controlling the narrative of the discipline. It’s hard to say whether I will be ‘in games,’ but I guess my professional roots will always begin from them.

So here are the top 10 read posts of 2016, maybe it will reveal what people are most concerned about for 2017:


#10: “Remembering Monsters: Morinth

Current initiatives surrounding diversity in games focuses on making main characters more diverse for identification purposes. This is typically supposed to be a positive identification, that players will see themselves acting heroic and saving the day so, in effect, the world sees more people as capable. I see the value in this process, though I am aware of how much this is basically a palette swap, or the quality of storytelling doesn’t shift when new kinds of people are depicted in usual scenarios. Now that I’m teaching about games, I’m trying to find other ways to talk about representation in games outside of good and bad, particularly finding subtle or subliminal, possibly unintentional, forms of representation. Looking at Morinth from Mass Effect 2 was an attempt to look beyond the main character, deeper into what the game does to characters through choice architectures. We’re used to seeing characters as static representations, but really all things in games should be seen as the whole of everything choice architectures manifests of them. Maybe like Schrodinger’s cat, Morinth is both left dead on the whole of an Omega apartment and shambling towards you as a grunt banshee that you will gun down without much more thought. She can’t be either or, but both at the same time. As I become more interested in the save file as playful artifact, I wonder about the more complicated we can deal with characters, and see what systems of choices do to them, using that as our barometer for ‘representation’ rather than simply the character model put on the box.


#09: “Teaching Representation in Games

One of the first big things I did in 2016 was teach my first class at NYU’s Game Center last spring. It was a fun ride, I learned a lot from the experience and I feel like I exposed students to perspectives they wouldn’t readily encounter in both games and media studies spaces. My main angle was to rethink ‘representation;’ what does it mean to represent something or someone in a media context? Often I think people believe representation is just about accurately depicting people of different identities, but the juicy issues are located in how fraught identity is in the first place, and then the warped agendas of representation adds on top of that. It was more of a taster course, sampling some 20th century philosophy along with more mainstream games in order to get students thinking about the topic in a more complicated way than I think a lot of critics and developers currently do. It was mostly lecture-based the first time around and I plan on making it a little more interactive and project-orientated for this upcoming spring. Feel free to chat with me if you’re thinking on teaching about representation in games yourself!


#08: “New Difficulties

Those closer to me know that I have a secret affinity for strategy games, but I also have this strange perfectionism problem that never lets me complete them. There is something about moving pieces and the passage of time, cause and effect, that makes me want to create the perfect scenario. But it’s not perfecting the quantitative aspect of these games, rather the qualitative. I’m never in it for the perfect score, rather the perfect scenario. This was particularly true when I was playing Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest this year, where it was purposefully difficult to advance in the scenario-sense, with pairing up your characters, getting them to have children, and raising the kids to their full potential. It’s not the most innovative, but I can imagine future games that make the shaping of the story and its outcomes difficult or challenging with the end purely being about what it is you want out of the story rather than just winning battles or puzzles. Saves come up again in this piece, again in reference to BioWare games, especially considering their difficulty levels scale only in battle, not with conversations. I wonder if the problems with conventional difficulty is that it’s a tired tradition rather than getting rid of difficulty all together.


#07: “Amnesia: Memories & Metafictional Otome Games

As I mentioned in my games roundup, Amnesia is an interesting landmark for otome games, one that shows it’s a truly reflexive genre. While I feel creators like Christine Love are doing more interesting things in the realm of visual novels, otome are beginning to push against themselves, understanding the unique placement of being ‘for women’ in a world that is struggling with what to do about gender. Seeing that most of this is still mostly made in Japan and Korea and we have to wait for it to get translated over, I wonder when more people in English-speaking countries start putting out more heavy hitters when it comes to the genre. There are more coming out on Steam, especially with more queer content, so maybe 2017 will see a big wave of these games. I sure hope so!


#06: “Homo Ludens for the People

I’ve always been interested in bridging the gap between academic knowledge and the public. Despite what it looks like, I’m not an academic, at least not yet, but I understand academic language and tend to use it. Early in my writing career, this turned a lot of people off, and though I’ve come to improve how I integrate academic language into my work, it still can feel off-putting since a lot of academia assumed certain knowledges. It so happens that before 2016, I never really read any books on games, games design, or games studies. Given that I’m teaching about games now, I figured I should start reading the canonical texts so I can have better arguments than I currently do, and bolster my attempts to change or redirect the canon, or if anything, easily critique it. What surprised me going on this journey were the sentiments and arguments left out of the discourse I witness more and the political nature of what was plucked from these books and what was left behind. So I thought it was important for more people to have entry points into these texts, first by understanding how they relate to current discourse and then what is strangely left out of said conversations. The main example is the very first text in the canon, Homo Ludens by Johan Huizinga, particularly extremely racist and orientalist perspective he used to structure his understanding of play. I got too busy and had to stop reading, but this will most definitely pick back up come summertime when I begin reading for my thesis.


#05: “Queerbaiting and Fan Futures

Games tend not to enter culture on its own, it runs parallel to other nerd interests like technology, comics, sci-fi/fantasy in general, and of course, anime. The end of the year saw Yuri!! On Ice sweep, at the very least, Japanese- and English-speaking countries and will most certainly encourage more content like it, that is, somewhat obscured homoromatic, and sometimes homoerotic, boys playing sports, which has been a bit of a thing already but really came out strong in Yuri. One of the strongest rifts in the fan community surrounding the show is the topic of queerbaiting, or rather, whether or not the main characters are actually gay or not because there is no evidence of homosexuality. The show uses the language of queerbaiting, or implying that characters could be queer but not coming out and saying it canonically, in order to tell a story about love between two men. The thing is, queerbaiting is usually used as a pejorative, that it would be better for queer people if shows were more straight-forward with if characters were queer or not, instead of trying to have their cake and eat it too by trying to placate queer- and open-minded people with those who would be offended by queer content. I’m really curious about the interventions fans make on media that don’t really represent them, especially when there’s scant queerbaiting. Take Overwatch for example, which I’ve never played but everyone I know who enjoys it views every character as gay, even when there was zero comment on anyone’s sexuality until the recent Tracer reveal. I hold the argument that fans are the best to represent themselves and hoping that companies with business interests are ever going to represent them well is backwards thinking. Instead, I’m curious about how to further involve fan-made content, especially when it comes to queering characters, into games or further integrating the shipped content and stuff that bubbles up from the fan communities that surround it.


#04: “Rethinking the Games Conference

Close to my heart, understanding how events like conferences can benefit communities will probably always exist in my life and work. I’ve been to, participated in, and organized an alarming amount of events in games despite having such a short career in it, so I feel like I know the experience inside-out. The good news is that there’s an ever-increasing amount of events about games that tie in artistic and activist bends that take place outside of San Francisco, LA, and New York City. We’re at a point where we can look critically at the progress of these events and assess whether or not they are serving their communities, especially those who are marginalized and don’t have access to professional spaces. I think 2017 will be the year of labor issues for all arms of the games world, and conferences shouldn’t be an exception. Many events rely on the free labor of volunteers and speakers in order to run, and while many of us don’t have a budget to run events on, we have to think of alternative ways of respecting labor instead of resigning to exploiting others for some sense of the greater good. I also want to be thinking about how to have people from many different disciplines and background in the same event without speaking past each other; newcomers, academics, and developers using similar languages while retaining high concepts from their field. I will be announcing a conference I’m organizing in NYC soon to test out some of these things, so look out for that!


#03: “Murder Mystery Writing as Design

If I had to sum up my thoughts on playing games in 2016, it would probably be about mystery as design paradigm, particularly murder mysteries. Many of the games I played this year were murder mysteries, and at the same time I’ve listened to friends and colleagues who still feel like narrative is undervalued in the games industry. There are few games as an adult I can say the narrative elements really captured me, especially in mainstream games. But the few that did were overwhelmingly murder mysteries, and I believe this is because the genre of murder mysteries are inherently playful. They are designed narratives used to manipulate the deductive-reasoning parts of readers’ brains, so it feels like a back-and-forth struggle between the book and the reader with who is going to win when the killer is revealed. Add more deliberate games elements to that and I think there’s a strong method of integrating narrative into design. I’m not first nor last person to say this, but: we really have to stop thinking of narrative as content that helps design, and instead understand that narrative is a facet of experience design as much as play is. I really encourage both writers and developers to further look into murder mystery techniques as a method of creating games that have narrative and play as indistinct as possible.


#02: “Why things aren’t changing

This was an article born out of frustration, and I guess it resonated with a lot of people. 2016 was miserable for a lot of reasons, but now seeing hate groups that moved from harassing women in games back in 2014 rise to political influence in 2016 was the most painful transformation to witness. I can’t help but feel a sort of ‘told you so’ about it all. Ultimately, people with power are trying to ignore the problem as much as possible hoping it will just pass. So are consumers, who are made to believe they can’t really change anything because they only see change happening in broad strokes. This is a damning piece without optimism for the industry, but I think I can do that because I mostly don’t subsist off the industry. I know others do, so there is a need for optimism about video games, but you have to call a spade a spade. Most games institutions prefer to quietly profit off toxic cultures than actively cultivate and help those who are targeted and marginalized. Until that changes, the industry will stay the same. Until our relationship with progress changes, we will see our world continue to enter deeper into plutocracy and fascism powered by the ill will of those who want to keep their social status away from an era of equality.


#01: “Why I’m Boycotting GDC

I’m not sure whether I should be surprised or not that this was the most read piece of mine. Much like the previous, this is a product of frustration, how powerful institutions continue forward by using marginalized people without a culture of respecting them. Maybe that’s just the nature of industry, to be the most efficient, at any cost. I hope GDC can fix its problems and create a better, more enlightening culture around it.


And that’s 2016! I’m hoping to actively seek out different kinds of interactive, playful experiences this coming year and have that spurn new thoughts about the medium and discipline. I think you’ll be seeing more about design and hopefully about the body. We’ll see what the year holds! Happy New Year to everyone, see you on the other side.

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Top 10 Fav Games of 2016

2016 has been quite the year. It was my first full year in NYC, which I’ve taken to quite well. I’ve been spreading out from video game culture and investigating the different ways play manifests in the world through multiple disciplines. It’s been pretty rough considering politics, and so maybe it’s apt to talk about the top 10 games that have left an impression on me this past year. Many of these weren’t released in 2016 but I only got around to them now. I now site many of these games in my conversations with students and people outside of games, and in general, I’m interested to see where games go in 2017. But without further ado, in alphabetical order, the games:


Amnesia: Memories

2016 was definitely the year of getting more into otome games, or let say, games targeted at women in general. I’m fascinated by what game development companies think women want and what design values come out of not designing for men or the general gamer audience entails. Whereas Hatoful Boyfriend is a more direct satire on the genre of otome dating sims, Amnesia is probably an unintentional but interesting critique. The game is set up pretty conventionally, where you’re an empty lady protagonist courted by men with boundary issues and you live out a supernatural slice of life tale and eventually fall in love. But the twists are plenty, for instance, True Ending routes being clear depictions of unhealthy romantic life choices while the Good Endings are realistic and promotes only what I can call sane ideas of how men should be treating women. It’s definitely subtle and could easily be the problematic fav of the bunch, but it’s worth looking into if you’re interested in some reflexivity in the genre.


Bad News

I still have a strong interest in performance and how it can be applied to games, so I was happy there were quite a few games with performance elements in them this past IndieCade. One of the ones I really liked was Bad News, a game where you come upon a dead body and need to find a next of kin in order to break the news. The characters and locale are generated and the performer is assisted by AI to act out the characters and have the relevant information to give to the player if they asked about it. You know how in text adventures, the computer will often reject the commands you put in because it doesn’t understand what you’re saying? This felt like a neat answer to that problem by having a performer be the main thing you interact with. It allowed the experience be supported by rules-based design but not limited. Interested to see more performance and AI stuff in the future!


The Danganronpa series

Danganronpa was one of those games I saw the title of floating around social media but never really got around to playing it.  I’ve been getting really into the mystery genre in VNs, so throwing in the death game element just made it perfect for me. I think it presents an interesting new way to do narrative in a mainstream context, and really pushed the idea of mystery game design for me. While the concept of narrative in games is contested, Danganronpa connected some thoughts on narrative design I’ve had and discussions about literary mystery genre in academic contexts. It was during my time playing these games I was convinced of a new video game form or at least genre of mystery VNs, which take the basic form and some conventions of visual novels but uses mystery to complicate the usual slice of life elements you get from them. One could say the Phoenix Wright series started this new genre which eventually evolved into the Danganronpa series.



Moving to NYC means a lot more interactive theater is available to me, probably moreso than video games. They are kind of pricey so I haven’t been to much, but now that I’ve experienced Hamlet-Mobile and am getting some extra pocket change, I really need to start seeing some more. Hamlet-Mobile actually won best game design at IndieCade this year, a controversial but ultimately satisfying decision to help reconsider what design means for games. I was initially resistant to the piece when it was going through the jurying process because I’m familiar with interactive/immersive/whatever theater but little has yet really made me feel it was stretching the boundaries of what I saw as play. But when I experienced it for myself, I got it. My mind made an unexpected connection between the way Hamlet-Mobile was structured and material rules/design of video games. In short, there are many ‘rules’ or affordances that are not directly communicated to players but still shape their experience, like for instance, your character model will not pass through walls or whatnot. I realized that the kind of theater that Hamlet-Mobile was doing constructed a tight tunnel of experience through material rules much like video games, but at the same time, made me forget that I was ‘interacting.’ Very early on in the piece I stopped thinking ‘this is an experience’ and just experienced. And to do that without being gamey or using conventional attention loops really is worth noticing and thinking about.


Mini Metro

I am relatively new to public transportation systems, and they used to really intimidate me. The first subway I ever took was in NYC when I was a child and it was an awful experience, I didn’t remember it until recently and wondering why I kept a certain level of anxiety each time I rode the train (besides the fact that everyone on the subway are anxious about the subway). With that, I’ve come to understand I now have a ‘subway brain,’ or a part of me that is calculating my route and factoring in strategies for need to get where I’m going, which does give me more anxiety. Then I remembered seeing Mini Metro somewhere and for some reason decided it would be a great game to play while on the subway, since it doesn’t need an internet connection. Playing it occupied that subway brain of mine as it toiled on how to make fictional subway systems work. Though I’m trying to do a more Abramovic-like boredom exercise now whenever I’m riding the train, I would recommend it to anyone living in a big city that gets stressed out over the subway.


Mystic Messenger

There’s always that one game a year that I’m referring to everyone as an interesting experiment, and this year it’s Mystic Messenger. Whenever I make a reference to it in talks and lectures, half of the audience immediately goes to their phones to download it. I am super fascinated by the evolving presence of UI in the play experience, and this game struck me at where I’m weakest: texting with boys. I’ve played a lot of otome this year, and this stuck out to me the most because it used my natural habits of texting, email, and chatting to involve me emotionally into the story of the characters. The setting is very unconventional, a Line-like chatroom, and you learn about the others through this periphery method. But isn’t that true for how society works now anyway? How many people do you feel like you know well enough through Twitter, but the moment you meet them you realize you know nothing about their life? Also, the spontaneous calls from Korean boys always gave me a moment, especially when I had to answer in front of other people and explain the situation. I really hope this is iterated on and other artists take note on how we can use familiar interfaces to include more than just gamers into play.


Pokemon Moon/Sun

You know, I was very close to not picking up Pokemon this year. I’ve been fed up with the saminess and the PR around this generation seemed to be full of nostalgia. What began to tip me off that something was different were the leaks of very dark Pokedex entries. It was the first time I feel like a Pokemon game actively tried to court anyone above 12 years old, with more mature themes, while still at the edge, present. Finally, Pokemon mixes things up and tries new things, which points to a more interesting future for this legacy series. I played through it with Nuzlocke rules in place and it felt like a really challenging game that kept surprising me. I’m curious to see if the series takes more jumps in the future.


Stardew Valley

I believe the nostalgia wheel is turning to the kinds of video games I was playing when I was young and had too much time on my hands, evidenced by the strong impression made by Stardew Valley. Harvest Moon 64 was one of my early favorite games, and one of the only games my mother would watch me play. At the time I didn’t know anything of visual novels or dating games, genres I would come to love later in life; I dated farm girls before real life boys. The series ended up losing itself by just trying to produce a bunch of sequels and not really getting to the heart of why Harvest Moon was so good. In a way, Stardew Valley is a proper successor to Harvest Moon, in that there are some new things, and really affective flourishes, but it takes what I loved about those games and represented them in a 2016 context. I took a break from it and I’m itching to play it again, and I hope it inspires more like it. There aren’t enough games like this, which is a huge shame.


The Style Savvy series

2016 was definitely a year of me catching up on games I should have known about a long time ago but missed by chance. Style Savvy was such a case, a very cathartic and creative outlet for a time when I was more deeply exploring fashion. I have a lot of feelings surrounding ‘girl games’ and the contexts in which games aimed towards girls and women are forever pushed aside despite the fact that ‘boys games’ were used as a barometer to decide whether or not something was appropriate for gamers of all genders to play. There was something neat about many people publicly playing Style Savvy and related games like Happy Home Designer. The series made me think a lot about what style and taste mean in games, and how few games address the topic. Overall, the subjective experience is rarely played with, only preconstructed and handed to the player to consume. Can we as designers craft more experiences that revolve around personal expression or something so deeply ingrained like taste? Would be fun to see some progress on that front in 2017.


Zero Time Dilemma

Along with its prequel Virtue’s Last Stand, Zero Time Dilemma is one of the more interesting narrative experiences I’ve had in games in a while. It confirmed how much of a sucker I am for time travel and alternate dimension conceits, which I feel are particularly suited to video games but are hardly explored on a form level rather than just story flavoring. In these games you traverse the story through what looks like a narrative map which you might see while storyboarding or in the backend of Twine, story nodes connected so you can visualize the branching paths of the game. Parts of the path are blocked off until you do things in other paths and begin to piece the mystery together. I love the idea of exploring a situation from multiple angles by repeating time or changing some things but not others to see what happens. I’ve always wanted more Rashomon– or Memento-like games that really challenge players on a perspective level and play with time some more.

And there you have it! I’m excited to see weirder and more different games in 2017. Persona 5 and maybe the new Mass Effect are on my list. I’m interested in Death Stranding and I hope it is as weird as its trailers make it out to be. Having just gone through a Steam sale, maybe a new favorite will come out of games I’ve missed this year. Make sure to recommend new games to me!

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Creating Power Through Play

We are used to critiquing power and seeking to diminish its effects. But what attention have we paid to creating power for those who don’t have any?

This is a sentiment I’ve heard from artists, activists, and other interventionists over the past year. It’s not something I’ve considered before; I’m used to pushing back against oppressive forces and focusing on restorative efforts to help withstand the enduring presence of power. Critiquing power is the usual mode of politically-engaged art and activism, because the abuse of power is a very real threat to vulnerable people. This is ultimately reactionary and not a direct enough tactic on its own to substantiate political ideals. What’s missing is the creative, creating power that can challenge power. We know power itself won’t go away, so the act of diminishing its effects are a stopgap at best. The task is twofold, first imagining what ethical uses of power looks like and then how to build it up for the people who need it most.

Power can be disciplinary and creative, taking liberties with how philosopher Michel Foucault describes it. We are most familiar with the disciplinary part, the kind of power that controls, suppresses, kills, limits. Creative power is more slippery since it is often a response to disciplinary power but stands on its own after it’s seized agency. This isn’t to say either power is inherently good or bad, just that it is much harder to gain and wield disciplinary power when you’re a marginalized person, but creative power is something we all have access to and can better exercise. Let’s take identity as an example. The power of identity is that you can essentially craft who you are and a lot about how you relate to the world. Clothes often help us telegraph that to the world, as how you dress yourself not only identifies you through cultural markers, but also implies how you want to be interacted with, or who you consider a community. You can disrupt expectations, insert yourself, be visible, manipulate dynamics. However, the other aspect is the creative power of the people who interact with you. Much like art, people get a gut feeling and a bunch of assumptions when seeing you and respond according to their life experience and social context. No one is completely in control of themselves because of this aspect of creative power, we are all also made up of others perceptions of us. This back and forth between performance and reaction is a type of a play that can be structured and manipulated for anyone’s use.

Games is no stranger to ideas of power. They are known for their power fantasies and illusions of agency and choice. Mainstream games allow people to wield disciplinary power in realms that attempt to separate themselves from life. Keeping to this paradigm reinforces the current dominance of disciplinary power and leaves creative power to be a neat flourish or a just enough tasty carrot on a stick to feel like we’re involved in developing our own agency outside of a system. I’m not the first to say that conventional games are machines for training players into being good denizens of current structures of power, internalizing a respect for disciplinary power over creative. It’s possible that a roadblock in games’ ability to grapple with important topics is this one-sided approach to depicting power, since true creative power on the part of the player could easily break the structures of contemporary design and ultimately be too expansive.

Thinking about creative power would lead us to thinking about game design differently, looking more to how people connect through play and use those moments to build power. It would be an ongoing practice, like only being able to take one action a day or responding with pre-established protocols to the spontaneity of life. We can play with identity roles, formality customs, fashion, courting rituals, ceremonies, education, labor hierarchies, politics. Since no one person contains or can express the ideal world that fits everyone in it, we all must act out our values and actively mix them together with those in our lives and those different from us.

Living in an increasingly fascist world, it’s time to come to terms with the fascist nature of interactivity in popular games. Games in a new world of resistance will have to reimagine design and accommodating this dream-making of creative power we need to build up to be a match against today’s problems.

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Games for people

Ever since my move to NYC, I’ve been spending more time hanging out with people who are not in the video game industry or related fields. It’s a breath of fresh air really, both because I’m not hearing about the same old thing everyone else is talking about, but whenever I say anything half intelligent about games and play, everyone is pretty impressed. I’m challenged to explain issues in our field to outsiders because not only do we have specialist language that comes along with a particular artform but a general barrier to entry when games considered ‘good’ have gamer-specific competencies and tastes tied into them. I find often that if someone didn’t grow up playing games frequently, they didn’t really get what is interesting about them on an artistic level, only that the industry is competitive with Hollywood.

Even in more progressive circles of games, there’s still a distinction between games that are made for mass audiences, often called casual games, and those made for those with extensive gamer literacy. While the industry is trying to include those who mostly play puzzles on their phones on public transportation as ‘gamers,’ media, developers, and scholars clearly look to games developed for gamers as ones with cultural meaning, the stuff worth calling ‘art.’ Yet at the same time, we are always bound by the low bar consumer entertainment creates, experiences are always deep “for a video game.” The creation of the term ‘mid-core’ for a kind of game that pulls casual players in the direction of more ‘hardcore’ experiences shows that the industry doesn’t want to expand what it does, rather indoctrinate more people into the existing model. Given the industry’s frequent image issues on the social front, it’s not hard for discerning adults to resist the temptation.

Brie Code shares similar thoughts in her attempts to get her non-gamer friends to play games that really touched her. This really got to me because of her reference to Tim Gunn and the fashion industry’s reluctance to create for the range of bodies that exist in the world. That is, we have to be more frank about the doublespeak in games being something for everyone while being so obviously for an already established consumer base. What does it mean to design games for people rather than gamers?

If I had to guess, it would be creating opportunities for people to engage with the contexts of their lives. We often look for parallels of ourselves in our media and project aspects of our lives into art either for catharsis or as a basis for reimagining our present situation. It’s common for video games to be escapes for acts of heroism or accomplishment we can’t get in our lives, and there’s a place for that seeing it powers a monolith of an industry. Yet it seems escapist power fantasies aren’t often linked with the kind of depth and universality we would need to make games for people.

At the very least, if we’re going to leave behind entertainment consumer products to be entertainment consumer products, games aiming at social engagement and public art have to think more outside of industrial standards to have a respectable impact on the inner lives of people without gaming literacy. It shouldn’t be how to get more people playing mainstream video games, rather how can we reach past gamers to find more universal elements of interaction and craft from there. We have to remember it’s not just themes and genre preferences that connect people to an experience. Our design process is geared towards thinking of gamers, and it might be that the act of creation also needs revision, to come up with new processes that build up from the ground up, a New Design, something that speaks to more than nostalgia of a chosen few.

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Making games during sad times

This month is soaked with deja vu. Habits and nervous ticks I hoped long-gone resurfaced and many of my friends wear tired faces. Two years ago I felt like I went through a natural disaster and had to cope with what the existence of large groups of hate mobs after me meant for my life online and off. In its natural evolution, these groups have seized the imaginations and fears of the country I live in and all the lives we touch. New Yorkers told me that the day after this election felt like 9/11, that something about the world was irrevocably changed and wrong. Despite the implications of 2017 and on in America, my mind switched to a survivalist mode. Not necessarily fending for myself, but reevaluating what I do in the new context I’m in.

It’s easy to feel like there’s little you can do to change the world when you’re a game developer. The industry spends so much effort to keep an image of frivolity that when disaster strikes, no one is looking at video games as an actual source of change, only further regression away from the world’s problems. I remember vividly watching the news of the shooting in Ferguson when I was in the middle of writing what seemed then another inconsequential piece about video game culture. I know it’s many of our jobs to entertain, and I felt yet that shouldn’t be at the expense of critically engaging with the world. If games were going to be my life, I had to have an approach that let me work on something that could be my part in creating a better place for those around me.

What this looks like for others depends on each person’s life situation. Very few can pivot whenever they want into new work, and it’s not really the current work we do itself that is at fault. Rather we’re often not given the time and energy to contribute to personal projects and action using games, especially not for mass-distribution. We’re all creators in some right, and can use our craft to explore the world’s events with each other. I’m reminded of how DIY game-making sometimes uses zine culture as an analogy and that one of the driving impetuses of promoting easy-to-use tools is so the act of game-making isn’t a drawn-out affair. Making a game and putting it on the internet can feel pretty official, so getting clamped up in making something look respectable can easily roadblock someone who isn’t the jack-of-all-trades type. But maybe we could stand to develop habits of making games for people in our lives instead of the general mass audience that could potentially exist.

My hunch is we’re in an increasingly connected world without the structure or support to communicate well on such a scale. The internet was never really a place for you to be both vulnerable and your public identity, and as learn how social media is affecting our lives I see more people retreat into themselves. We feel like we need to say something well-crafted to the whole world or nothing at all. This is an unsustainable impulse. We need to start thinking more about our everyday practice. If you could only spend one weekend on a game, who would you make it for and what would it say?

Despite having its own industry, no one really has games for social change figured out. There’s no one who can say the tiny, personal games you swap with your friends are impacting the world more than an iOS game about climate change. Games and play as communication tools is still experimental, and I have a feeling that it will only be figured out when a bunch of people do it. I don’t know if we’re stuck with social media forever, but at the very least we could aim to make online spaces more intimate and vulnerable spaces through digital art.

Which is to say, just because you’re in games doesn’t mean you have to retreat into just making entertainment products and feel useless about what is going on in the world. If the past four or so years have taught me anything, it’s when something goes wrong, you have to change your mindset and behavior to move past it. The way we’ve been communicating about our experiences and how they tie to current events hasn’t been working. There is much to play with and interrogate with the design values of the platforms we use and are used against us. We’ve reached a point where any person can make a small weird game in their pastime and not have their entire career revolve it. 2017 will be a great year to exercise this new language to help us untangle how we got here in the first place.

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Queerbaiting and Fan Futures

If I’ll remember 2016 for anything, it will be the year of the queerbait. This year I’ve seen a rise in subtle homoeroticisim in games and other media that leave it up to the player to connect the dots for a queer subtext. Queerbaiting is usually used as a critical/pejorative term, where it is clear that the creators signal the possibility of characters being queer but never fully close the deal. We’ll see characters flirt, make dirty jokes, or even intimately touch each other, but no relationship or sex will emerge to ground the characters as definitively queer.

This year in anime brought us Tanaka-kun is Always Listless and Yuri!!! on Ice, which skirt the border on queerbaiting and being outright gay. In Tanaka-kun we have two friends bonding over the main character’s unnatural amount of lethargy to the point where the title character often implies he wants them to spend the rest of their lives together because he wants someone to take care of him. It is clear that they have been good friends for a while and nothing overtly romantic ever happens, but Tanaka consistently implies he and Ohta should get married or at the very least live together forever. As the show develops we see more of their relationship and there is a stronger display of a heterosexual love interest, if Tanaka has the energy to be interested in anyone romantically, we see some story pressure for our main characters to conform to traditional roles but the show ends without much resolution as to whether they get together or even actually have any romantic interest. Yuri!!! On Ice is more explicit yet still ambiguous. The title character admires a world champion ice skater (Victor) who decides to coach him to win the last circuit of his career. Victor is constantly revealing himself in front of Yuri, flirting with him, touching his face, proposing to be his boyfriend, yet it somehow is still unclear whether either of them are sexually attracted to one another. It’s also unclear if Yuri has a crush on Victor or if it’s just professional admiration, especially with the introduction of a girl from the past seemingly being an old flame.

Long before 2016 have fans read queerness into their media whenever the opportunity presents itself, no matter how vague or twisted the logic has to be. I’ve always been fascinated by this function of fandom to populate this alternate universe of queer stories since so few exist in canon material. Over time, creators, particularly of works aimed at women, began to respond to these tendencies by including queer subtexts between characters that generated more fanfiction and art, but rarely if ever confirm that characters were actually queer in any way canonically. This became known as queerbaiting and it holds a precarious role in media and fan cultures. In an time where diversity and representation are increasingly prominent values, queerbaiting appears to be a cake-eating tactic by creators that want to appear progressive but won’t commit to outwardly queer characters. Many queer people wish to see themselves represented in media following a Harvey Milk-like model of being out and to imagine future landscapes where everyone can be themselves and love whomever they love. Queerbaiting in this light is insufficient for queer people to see themselves, and is a discouraged practice.

I’ve come around to want to at least partially defend queerbaiting. I definitely believe there should be more out and open queer representation just for more diverse characters and stories, but I also like how queerbaiting resists tokenization and exploitation in the way of primarily straight creators attempting to canonize queerness they find respectable. A large part of queerness is always being on the outside, or non-normative, pushed into secret spaces and hidden communities.  At least, this is the queerness I resonate the most with. In a way, fully representing queerness is more a fantasy-fulfillment than it is actual representation; it is only recently that there are a sizable amount of queer people who are able to live fully out lives in relative safety and have a more typical high school and college romance life. Being trans I still don’t know whether someone would be cool with me flirting with them or if they are flirting with me whether or not they know I’m not cisgender. Queerness to me has always been subtle, tense, a guessing game. Though it is unintentional, queerbaiting best ‘represents’ queerness to me, because it doesn’t exist without an oppressive normative force constantly on the lookout for deviation.

Would it be nice to see a game where a trans woman is perceived as normal and gets to date all the cuties without having to worry about a potentially violent backlash? Sure, but that is definitely wish-fulfillment, not representing me or my life in any real way. I have to say that I am also generally skeptical of asking non-queer creators to make queer characters, and that we have to wait for queer artists to rise the ranks of popular media in order to have proper representation. I think this is actually a critical opportunity for fan communities, to further reimagine the canon with a queer lens to better understand the complexities of queerness that mainstream media won’t touch. There’s something beautiful about creators using a show to mostly create subtext for fans to run off with and make their own works. In a way, that’s the most ideal form of art, something that motivates underserved people to create their own worlds, their own futures, with the body parts of the old hegemony.

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Curating Diversity for IndieCade

Among the many conversations around representation and diversity rest the dilemmas and strategies of curation. No one’s fully figured out how to exhibit games, most typically using the model of product expos that offered either demos or the impossibility of playing the full game in a crowded space and a line. With the expo model came a certain standard for what would is seen as exemplar, typically in line with what pleased consumer media largely made up by hobbyists. It can be a tough landscape when you’re cognizant of the lack of diversity in works, bodies, and identities in our exhibits.

Unless you’re doing something specifically about identity, it never feels good to include someone just because they happen to be who they are. When you’re given notice just because you’re marginalized, down the road you suffer a large amount of self-doubt when people actually don’t know your work in any real capacity, just that it’s neat that you’re a brown woman who’s in games. Thinking on this problem, wanting to get more underrepresented people in shows without using their identity as a basis, I knew that a strategy or process needed to expand how we value games, because those who are left out of the spotlight are so because they are saying more unconventional things.

Then came this year’s IndieCade, where I was asked to be a jury chair to help go through our submissions and choose who will be nominated. IndieCade is an interesting festival because it continues to reach out to games in different formats and generally accepts more weird things than GDC and the IGF. IndieCade and IGF use similar judging systems where essentially a large volunteer group goes through and rates games, and then someone or a group of people looks at the ratings and trends and tries to pick out nominees and award-winners. This brings up a lot of issues, since we have so many different perspectives, agendas, and tastes that it can be hard to corral everyone behind a curatorial mission. An advantage IndieCade has is trying to stick to judging based on innovation as opposed to strictly quality, because standards of quality in games encourage reviewers to produce a homogenous set of recommendations that represent the most mainstream instead of interesting.

Despite being used so much that it is basically empty, ‘innovation’ is a useful for getting a group of people who do not have much strength in the arts or humanities outside of their narrow if existent use in games to look for things outside of the traditional. The theory I wanted to test going through this process is that if we push innovation as the major weight in deciding whether or not it belonged at IndieCade, and to also stretch our imagination on what innovation means. This is harder than one might expect, because it is our inclination to reward ‘good’ things, and that popular criticism is all about assessing how well something is crafted with interesting ideas often falling by the wayside. We are trained to see value in polish, certain amounts of content, and a strict sense of ‘interactivity.’ There’s a tendency for incremental change, such as the next Journey or a 2016 Legend of Zelda or more interactive twine game. It’s my guess that if we can put these impulses aside, we will be able to discover and celebrate more people from the margins of games, because at some level our art is reflecting personal experience, even when it isn’t about saying our exact story, and we will see different experiments coming from those who see the world and games differently.

There were many arguments over this because of the function of festivals and awards and what it means to celebrate games in this given social context. By curating in these games we’re deciding what is noteworthy, implying they are a standard others should strive for. With an ever-increasing amount of games being made, there’s this general concern for best game-making practices to be wider recognized and to hold up independent successes. Where this falls short is assuming that what we have now is the general shape games will always be, when our understanding of play and games are so undeveloped that we close off many new forms of expression.

You can take a look at the nominees to see the results of my efforts. 50% of the games had creators who weren’t men in lead roles and 25% had people who weren’t white (this number doesn’t include white-passing minorities). It shook out to only 33% of nominees being exclusively lead by white guys, which is pretty darn close to their representation in US demographics (31%). Only half of the games are exclusively digital, there were installations, performances, VR, physical computing, bespoke game objects. Many nominees were students or people who never worked in the games industry. I cite all this because this was a result of holding to values of innovation instead of inclusion, where what is considered innovative was expanded to naturally include people typically not represented in games events. We only did demographic checks after we chose our shortlists, not before, and it wasn’t a huge surprise to me that a diverse group of people would result because we chose an honestly varied selection of games. I haven’t seen any games event come so close to gender and race parity and not be ‘about diversity.’

I’m proud to have gone through a process that allowed me to present such a diverse offering of games and creators without tokenization, no one was there just because they are a social minority and many games where being a social minority was the most interesting aspect of the game were turned down from nomination. I wanted to write about this experience because I feel like many others are struggling to figure a system out. Or I want to challenge those who continually show mostly white men’s work and shrug their shoulders. It shows the importance of constantly reevaluating what we find to be good in games and understand how we as event organizers, curators, networkers, or anyone involved in casting visibility on others can make sure we’re showcasing interesting work without excluding people based on conventional standards of quality. It would be nice to finally get past questions of inclusion to more critical issues facing our medium.

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The Grasshopper for the People

Welcome back for some more game studies condensed and contextualized for people outside of academia. Given the nature of canons, these works build pretty directly off of what came before them, and so you might want to check out the previous two posts I’ve done before getting to today’s, The Grasshopper by Bernard Suits.

The Grasshopper is highly influential in games studies and design, and especially anticipates/predicates so-called games formalists. Whereas Huizinga and Caillois were preoccupied with the cultural implications of games and play, Suits embarks on thoroughly defining games for its own sake. It’s unclear whether Suits actually cared about games as medium at all, since the reason he wrote The Grasshopper was more about the act of defining things, and reacted to philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s use of games as an attack on the usefulness of defining things. Nevertheless, we can see this as an origin point on many attitudes about what games are conceived, since every assumption about what games are came from someone else’s agenda.

Worth noting is that the majority of the book is written as dialogue between the characters talking out the process of defining games. It uses the grasshopper and ants from Aesop’s fable to relate the pursuit of defining games similar to envisioning utopia. For the most part I’ve grabbed whole quotes but I should say that because of this structure, the book is easily readable and takes you through every bit of rationale as a good philosophy book would.



“Let me begin, then, with the apparently outrageous assertion that there is no logical relation whatever between playing and playing games. […] I suggest that we ought to not concern ourselves with the word ‘play’ when it is used as equivalent in meaning to such words as ‘perform,’ ‘operate,’ or ‘participate in.’ Thus, we can play the violin, but this means simply to perform upon the violin. We can play a pinball machine, but this means simply to operate it. And, finally, we can play a game, but this means simply to participate in it. […] The existence of the expression ‘playing a game’ is not by itself a compelling reason for insisting that there is a logical relation between playing and playing games.” (pg. 220-1)

I’m actually going to start off with the end of the book to frame why I personally find The Grasshopper worth knowing about, that is, the fierce separation of games and play. Here, Suits posits that play is merely incidental in relation to games, more a hiccup of language than integral to understanding them. Since then there has been a disavowal of play, being something that is childish and too vague, for the preference of games as this idealized designed object. I imagine this was a popular stance when games studies was trying to differentiate itself for play studies, and game designers from toys and children’s activities. Now games are serious, professional, science-friendly. Suits did not necessarily mean for that to happen, more that he was sticking to his philosophical guns and needed to excise play in order for his definition of games to be sound. It’s worth keeping in mind as we read through the rest of these notes and when we think about how contemporary definitions are formulated in relation to play and the politics that arise from them.


“To play a game is to attempt to achieve a specific state of affairs [prelusory goal], using only means permitted by rules [lusory means], where the rules prohibit use of more efficient in favour of less efficient means [constitutive rules], and where the rules are accepted just because they make possible such activity [lusory attitude]. I also offer the following simpler and, so to speak, more portable version of the above: playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.” (pg. 43)

Here we have contemporary games studies boiled down to its essential core. There are many things that fluctuate in definitions of games, like whether or not there are rules or goals or the particulars of how players are involved, but there is a bedrock of this voluntary act of putting oneself in front of voluntary obstacles. Outside of this, such as involuntary play or necessary obstacles, completely upend thinking on games, or at the very least, aren’t considered to be relevant. Any connection to the real is disputed or at best garners highly ambivalent responses where games interact with culture, but by somehow being isolated from it.


“The attitude of the game player must be an element in game playing because there has to be an explanation of that curious state of affairs wherein one adopts rules which require one to employ worse rather than better means for reaching an end. […] Cutting across the infield is shunned solely because there is a rule against it. But in ordinary life this is usually—and rightly—regarded as the worst possible kind of justification one could give for avoiding a course of action. The justification for prohibiting a course of action that there is simply a rule against may be called the bureaucratic justification; that is, no justification at all. But aside from bureaucratic practice, in anything but a game the gratuitous introduction of unnecessary obstacles to the achievement of an end is regarded as a decidedly irrational thing to do. […] If playing a game is regarded as not essentially different from going to the office or writing a cheque, then there is certainly something absurd or paradoxical or, more plausibly, simply something stupid about game playing. […] I believe that we are now a position to define lusory attitude: the acceptance of constitutive rules just so the activity made possible by such acceptance can occur.” (pgs. 40-3)

Most profilc from The Grasshopper is Suit’s conception of the lusory attitude, which separates our day-to-day actions from games, that is, that feeling of entering what Huizinga called the magic circle, doing something useless for its own sake. This lusory attitude is valorized in conversations around positive aspects around games, getting players to exercise their imaginations and focus themselves in the pursuit to some (now elevated) goal. To be sure, Suits doesn’t believe in following rules for just following rules, so there is some sort of ‘use’ or need for the lusory attitude, though what that is is anyone’s guess.


“By amateurs I mean those for whom playing the game is an end in itself, and by professionals I mean those who have in view some further purpose which is achievable by playing the game. […] The attitude of amateur differs from these attitudes because he is motivated by a love of the game […] But although the attitudes of amateurs and professionals are markedly different, it is still the case that these differing attitudes are attitudes towards games, and not towards something else. […] If playing—rather than playing games—is activity which is always and only undertaken for its own sake, then ‘professional player’ is a contradiction in terms. On such a view we would be obligated to say that a professional athlete was not playing, but we would not be obliged to deny that he was playing a game. In the same way, while we would not want to say that a concert violinist was at play during his recitals, we would presumably want to grant that he was playing the violin.” (pgs. 154-5)

Suits follows Caillois’ impulses and aims to for good include games that are largely played for professional reasons or have some sort of gain in real life. Which is to say that professional football is a game but none of the players are deploying a lusory attitude. To be honest I’m not completely sure why this is such a contentious point for theorists, unless it’s just for this pursuit of a definition which real life is constantly trying to foil. There is this weird authenticity or purity at work in games studies that theorists aim to hold onto, and something like earning money completely ruins this purity somehow. I would say today that no one really thinks of professional players as markedly different from other players, but at the same time, that does reveal inconsistencies. This provokes questions regarding the opportunistic nature of games theorists and practitioners when it comes to how games are relevant connections to life and when they aren’t.


“It might be said that triflers recognize the rules but not goals, cheats recognize goals but not rules, players recognize both rules and goals, and spoilsports recognize neither rules nor goals; and that while players acknowledge the claims of both the game and its institution, triflers and cheats acknowledge only institutional claims, and spoilsports acknowledge neither.” (pg. 51)

Suits also continues the tradition of looking at the outliers of game players, with our old favorites the cheat and spoilsport joined by the newly minted trifler. While the former two are mostly the same just further pegged into a taxonomy, the trifler creates and interesting complication in way the many games pitch agency in games. According to Suits, triflers respect the institution of a game, going by its rules and customs, except they do not pursue established goals set out by the game. So if you’re playing RISK with your friends, where the goal is global domination, but you just want to take control of Africa so you can claim to be the new Nubian Queen and do nothing else, Suits would call you a trifler (trifling in slang is not wasted on me here). He doesn’t say it as polemically as this, but Suits ultimately considers a game, or at least a good game, one that has a goal in which the structure of the rules promotes you to obtain, so along with spoilsports and cheats (thought cheats are again sympathized with as being the most zealous of players), and professional players while we’re at it, triflers aren’t playing the game. It continues the lack of explanation by ‘formalist’ game theorists and designers on how cheating, mods, player-driven goals, and more are factored into tradition with something other than a handwave.


“The goal of participating in the game is not, strictly speaking, a part of the game at all. It is simply one of the goals that people have, such as wealth, glory, or security. As such it may be called a lusory goal, but a lusory goal of life rather than of games.” (pg. 39)

Here we have an interesting and short-lived turn regarding the application of play and games to life. For Suits life can be game-like and we can have a lusory attitude towards it but it seems that games are not the only thing one can be lusory towards. Because Suits is only concerned with defining games and not about games as cultural phenomena or their creation, we get to fill in the implications of thinking about our medium as either the games themselves or the attitude in which we approach things. At this point in time, the lusory attitude isn’t used to engage with life’s issues, rather games themselves are. Maybe it isn’t games that we really need to be concerned with in the first place? I think Suits would agree.


“I would define an open game generically as a system of reciprocally enabling moves whose purpose is the continued operation of the system. […] Heuschrecke thus correctly specified a game of make-believe as being ‘a reciprocating system of role-performance maximization.’” (pg. 146)

Here is where Suits addresses how games of make-believe fit into his definition of games, by turning the maintenance of dramatic effect into the goal of the game, separating it from performance in general through action-substantiated roles. To his credit, Suits at least questions why adults let go of open games and draws lines from preference for closed vs open games to capitalistic vs socialistic societies. These thoughts are still relatively untouched by most people in games who still valorize closed games and are more or less complacent as realms of business further mechanize games for profit. One would be hard-pressed to see the difference between open games and play at times outside of Suits’ very specific logic, but overall, inefficient means to an unnecessary goal stands as what’s allowed from the world of make-believe into games and what isn’t. Heuschrecke, by the way, is the grasshopper’s alter ego who has a scene of his own.


“H: You were playing a two-role, two-person, one-player game. It is also possible to play a two-role, two-person, one-player game where the person who is not a player (but, in effect, a device) provides you with dramatic opportunities with the conscious purpose of doing so. […] But the best way to get good lines is for your partner to be a player, because then he has a motive which is better than that of either of the others. The dupe is worst, of course, because he is least dependable, and most of the time he isn’t giving you lines at all but going about his own affairs. And the person who feeds you lines for some reward (or out of friendship or fear, it might be added), although we would expect him to be more constantly employed at his task than the dupe, is only indirectly motivated to provide the desired service. Only another player (or yourself as the other player) has a direct motive.” (pgs. 119-20)

Heuschrecke, or the grasshopper, shows how that games can indeed be played with unwilling or unaware participants, which differs from past theorists. Before, and with some after, everyone had to be within the magic circle to call what was going on play or a game, or else it’s real life and with consequence. As it turns out, open games can be played without the consent of all parties when those unknowing are treated like objects or devices rather than other players. Suits suggests these are poorly constructed open games because better ones would have another player who acts as a more active and intentional partner in perpetuating drama. Like most theorists, the deeper we get the weaker this life vs play distinction gets. Is there much use to keep the experience of the person playing an open game and the bystander apart? The only reason to is because Suits wants to reach a solid definition of games, no other reason. I feel the same impulse exists in games, that things are separated simply for the fact that a separation can be made, no matter how arbitrary that decision is. Given this example comes from ‘patients’ who didn’t know they were playing games, just that they enjoyed deploying roles, it seems like open games don’t require anyone to realize they are playing or in a game for it to be so. It really questions the need to hold onto this separation.


“S: But surely playing a part is the very essence of make-believe.

H: Playing a part is, yes. But playing what might be called a foreign or assumed part is not. One can also play, so to speak, native or proprietary parts.

S: What on earth is a proprietary part?

H: One way to define it is as follows: a part of such a kind that when one plays it, one is not conveying misinformation about one’s identity. […] Suppose that a Boy Scout […] dons his uniform and helps old ladies across the street. He is also playing a part, but it is his own part; that is, its performance conveys information rather than misinformation about the performer. […]

S: You are talking about role-playing in everyday life. […]

H: There are roles which enjoy a kind of objective or public status, so that they can be performed by different people for different purposes. They are in this respect like clothing. All kinds of apparel are for public sale, and I can purchase and put on something which correctly conveys my position in life, or I can purchase and put on something which misrepresents my position in life. For example, I can put on a business suit or I can put on the uniform of a full admiral. The only difference is that suits and uniforms are patterns of cloth and roles are patterns of behaviour.” (pgs. 121-2)

And on cue, roles that are used in games can include the roles we decide to have in life, through the requirement that the player, who may or may not know they are playing, is always trying to perpetuate their role through interactions with others. There’s a lot of implications on the rest of games when open games can basically pass for real life, or that the player can be ultimately unaware of their own playing. While Suits does his philosophical wheeling to serve his pursuit of definitions, I wonder how this can be used to press against convention and redefine convention and deployment of games outside of consumer entertainment products. It’s possible, though, that Suits was thinking of or anticipating LARPs and more formalized roleplaying.


“Our view of games occupies a middle position between two extreme positions which we reject: what may be called, on one hand, radical autotelism and, on the other hand, radical instrumentalism. Radical autotelism is the view that unless games are played solely as ends in themselves, they are not really games, that is, that amateurs alone are playing games. We have already rejected radical autotelism in arguing that professionals, too, are genuinely playing games. Radical instrumentalism is the view that games are essentially instruments, and we also reject that view.” (pg. 158)

To leave us off, we have Suits trying to complicate the use vs useless binary that games gets trapped in so often. He implicates basically all of games discourse, and even himself, since what is too autotelistic (something done for its own sake) and too instrumental is completely arbitrary. The only reason games would need to be completely for themselves is because there’s a value in separating them from life, and being instrumental is having some sort of end that amounts to something other the feeling of completing a game. I don’t know if any theorist has really addressed this deftly, it seems like something most don’t really want to deal with. At the very least it makes use have to consider aims like ‘for change’ or ‘education’ or ‘social impact’ when it comes to games, at least for Suits. It’s possible that the DNA of games from Suits and on resists proper use in areas outside of entertainment because of this attitude, and we’d need to revisit what it is about play and games we actually find to be at the heart of our practice to include them if these aspects are important to us.



And there we have it, another games theorist down. Let me know if these are useful to you and if there are any books I should consider for series. Until next time!

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Playing with UI

Once upon a time, I kept up with video game release cycles, Steam sales, and games Twitter fads enough to be aware of what games out there I should be playing. These past few years found me receding away from all these, and in conjunction with the exponential growth of individual creators out in the world, the ways games come across my plate is increasingly arcane. It’s a mix of (fleshspace) word of mouth, festivals, and student showcases that present a wide variety of ideas, audiences, and scale. So it stands out to me whenever I feel like I see a pattern coming emerging from a view of games not dictated by the press and whatever indie darling showed up that week.

In particular I’ve been thinking about a trend in metafictional use of familiar, pervasive UI that’s cropped up in games that catch my attention. Think Her Story, Cibele, and Killing Time at Lightspeed or even more close to what I’d like to talk about, Replica, Project Perfect Citizen, and Mystic Messenger. What all these games have in common is using the interfaces of technologies we’re familiar with as the the interface and setting of play. In Replica you’re playing with an iPhone interface (pity Apple probably wouldn’t let this game exist on its store) while Mystic Messenger mainly utilizes messenger apps like Line. Besides lending familiarity to a game that probably would prove more accessible to those who don’t consistently consume mainstream games, there is something innately more personal to these games by their very form.

This is useful to look at considering the particular brand of UI/UX craze that’s going on in design fields and now even seeping into games, despite the fact that the definition of game design should be designing experiences but, I digress. UI in games is largely taken for granted as just what’s necessary in order for players to operate the game. Meaning, it’s rare to play with UI in a way that it allows us to play in digital areas that are not usually considered ‘games,’ such as our computer desktops and mobile phones. In a way, UI might be the ultimate defining feature in digital games that signals what we play with, and to understand how to further engage with the world we have to think less of the content first but of how we can use UI to create unusual experiences.

What makes these types of games successful to me is the inherent transgression and indulgence of the public/private split in experience. A digital UI often designates a personal space only the user can see and therefore a place where private information is kept. There is something pleasurably invasive about these games that use non-game UIs because we are either making a new space our own or we’re looking into the private belongings of someone else. Intimacy, security, vulnerability, surveillance, all of these issues naturally reside when we use UI to knowingly create a private space for play that resembles actual ones we have in our lives.

These games, by effect, imply that there are hidden experiences or stories in our everyday uses of technology. Kinds of experiences that the current UI/UX designer isn’t really planning for because they aren’t considering their work as part of the playful act. In the height of experimental theater in the mid-20th century, happenings elevated the everyday lives of people to a more perceivable aesthetic plane. Performance artists who used happenings wanted to draw from life not just for content but for the form as well, to better relate the viewer who was almost always a participant, whether they realized it or not. I see something similar in the future of these UI games, where people are interacting with digital interfaces in a way they don’t realize is designed for playful experience or something other than pure functionality.

One could make the argument that video games often feel so much a like because UI design is strongly codified and similar between genres. Maybe the UI of a game has a stronger influence on what the game is going to be like than what conversations currently address. Why don’t more creators use the UI of other kinds of software to create their experience? Too meta? I feel like there’s a tendency in digital games that they perceive themselves as born out of nothing, when most people today encounter games within the UI of other experiences. In this way, loading up a video game might be serving the same function as walking into a museum, going in for a particular experience and leave ‘art’ inside and away from the rest of the world. But I think these ‘UI games’ (please don’t let that term become a thing) threaten that sacred space of games in only a good way. We should be thinking of the politics of the software and platforms we use everyday, and there should be art that complicates our uses of technology from the inside. Those who understand how experience is crafted in technology can undermine how top-down forces exert power through these sorts of interventions. And the idea of using a hack for a game, to actually alter the literal UIs we use themselves, has to be saved for another time. But I recommend you check and look out for these kinds of games because they have the potential to hold a unique creative power in games, that is, injecting play into spaces carefully crafted to hide their mechanisms from those who use them.

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Games, Art, and Design

I feel like a tennis ball hit between the rackets of Art and Design. When first exploring critical theory and occupying myself with creative writing and art history, I wasn’t really aware of an art vs design divide. My first university major was Interior Design & Architecture which sparked my interest in spaces and how they influence us even as I moved over to literature and writing non-fiction. Creativity was creativity to me, no matter if it dealt with functional objects or ephemeral forms of expression. But the apparent antagonism between the fields is how they mutually substantiate each other, that is, a lot of what makes design, design, is that it isn’t art, and also the reverse. The main tension is between design as utility and art being for itself; what a creative work is and isn’t useful for defines a lot of the conventions and values shaped around it.


Games have become increasingly bizarre and sometimes alien to because of my inability to locate it in either art or design, despite practitioners citing the medium being both. I am thoroughly interdisciplinary in my practice, so on that level games has intrigued me as, at the very least, needing art and design to work together to produce interactive experiences. It implies that there is this false binary between the fields and something exists beyond them that takes what’s useful to craft experiences. Yet I find in typical game development the less glamorous aspects of art and design, an unflattering utilitarian assembly line in the name of fun the cuts out a lot of the creative process for the expressive qualities of the game. Conventional game making practices reduce both design and art to gears of producing products instead of linking them through a shared creative process. I reflect on this because of widespread recognition of games not being very well made outside of narrow set of expectations of gamers. In my time lecturing around New York City, I find that there is, at best, still a stalemate at how many people treat playing games as a part of their life that they do with other forms of artistic media or designed experiences. We see this tension in games people still poo-pooing a dead critic for saying games aren’t art while very willfully resisting being held accountable for actually impacting culture in any meaningful way except for the act passing time for its own sake. People in the field of games are simply defensive if not apathetic about this dissonance since, when we boil it down, so much of games evangelism is done out of nerds wanting to legitimize how much time and money they spend on a hobby.


Being both a critic and creator implores me to wonder how to do better. It’s not a secret that the exemplar of games as medium are still lacking in effect to other disciplines; I was just at a panel where politicians and heads of games companies constantly harped on games being important because they make the most amount of money out of other entertainment industries. Not that they challenge how we think, not that they open up new forms of expression, just simply at the bottom line they make money for capitalists. This isn’t new, I’m sure you can look up any talk or article in mainstream venues about the importance of games and the first line will be how much more money the games industry makes more than Hollywood.


Researching design and art practices leads me to believe games as a discipline needs an overhaul for how it frames the creative process. More specifically, game design is so narrow in focus and shaped by industrial standards that severely limits the range of output because it excises many opportunities for imagination and exploration.


Let’s zoom out of game design and look at design more generally. Design is better identified by its process rather than what it produces, since design firms like IDEO can apply their process to whatever they are working on and produce a large range of things, from objects to organizational structures to live experiences. They could even make a game if they felt so inclined, and how they would differs from how game designers typically look at it. I feel it is pretty apparent that people in game design saw these design firms in their nascency and borrowed many of the terms superficially but barely evolved any of them. Most of the design aspect of game design rests in prototyping and iteration, with research into audience and needs being handed down from marketing as a given. That is, people want to have fun and the people we want to reach typically play games a certain way. In other design processes, who an audience is exactly and what they need start out way more vague and are identified as part of the creative process. Games are incessantly narrow because of this need for a ‘fun’ product and developers pulling in a range of assumptions of how people want to engage with play. This goes hand-in-hand with why there isn’t a strong idea of how social impact games actually impact the world, because the creative process rarely includes actually finding out what people need. The assumption is that people ‘need’ to have fun, to be addicted, or whatever usual game design buzzword you can come up with. Weirdly, games try to use a utilitarian creation process to create self-described useless work, and aim for a very specific kind of uselessness. Imagine if we exploded play outside the confines of market understandings of what the general landscape of gamers want and applied a process with engaging local communities and current events. Imagine what games would look like if everyone wasn’t in a rush to be the next blockbuster and understand their worth mostly through that level of revenue. I honestly wonder if games as a discipline truly grasps experience in its totality instead of continually drawing from the same dry well.


Art is disciplined by this process into livestock, meant to not imagine but lend to this very particular line of uselessness. We do see individual artists express themselves through games enough that we can see a creative output that is unmistakably at work with life contexts outside of game industry. This divide and conquer use of design against art rarely allows creators to engage with topics without first serving this industrial notion of fun or a waste of time. With the rise of 21st century independent game development this impulse is getting pushed back, however even much of this work is unable to imagine itself further incorporating an artistic practice, since game development is long held to be a drawn out and financially draining process that result in this one shot to make it all back. While they do exist, so few games creators display a creative practice simply because of how few games they are able to work on in any given amount of time.


It is worth noting that both art and design share the need for a creative process, and that one does not need to separate them on the basis of convention. Games are in a unique position to reframe this creative process to not be so skewed towards design and art industrial standards and create an honestly new kind of engagement. Every creator will have a different process and we can engage with different contexts instead of being held hostage by the traditional model of being a games creator. I’m actually super surprised with how different the field of design looks from games, and it doesn’t surprise me that so-called games ambassadors took business by storm because of how secluded the practice is. In a time when we’re struggling to understand games’ place in shaping culture, I don’t think we can afford to take any assumptions that the game design field hands down to us for how to create work. The most obvious benefit is for the social impact sector, but also just for our personal fulfillment as expressive humans who have a wider range of emotions than the current landscape of games would lead us to believe.

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Performance & Mimicry: Do Video Games Even Have Rules?

Performance and how it manifests in play takes up more of my thoughts as time goes on. We do see some mention of performance in games, typically that players perform with games as an aesthetic perspective. Players and objects as agents influencing each other, rolling into one another like improv acting is generally something I’m on board with. It allows us to see what sort of prompts each agent involved gives the other and the politics of the relationship that rises from the call and response that results. What trips this up however is a shallow look at what sort of prompting games give players, particularly video games. Instead of a performance we see the glorification of interaction and interactivity, or rather just the fact a call and response of any kind is happening. It influences game design, critique, and playing to understand video games as things that prompt interaction rather than objects with agency that lend themselves to performance.

Having just spent time going over my notes to Roger Caillois’ Man, Play, Games, I found myself thinking about his ideas on mimicry as a category of play and where performance fits into that. In this context, mimicry is the suspension of disbelief and evoking illusion over ourselves and the environment as a setting for play. Caillois cites games of make-believe to theater as the domain of mimicry, all of which performance is the evocative element that substantiates play. The quirk here is how in his classifications of games, mimicry is one of the types that doesn’t have rules: “the continuous submission to imperative and precise rules cannot be observed–rules for the dissimulation of reality and substitution of a second reality.” So there seems to be here a clash between performance and rules, because the sacred space of performance is marked by the act of performing rather than the bounds created by arbitrary rules. With rules, we don’t make-believe, we submit to the rules and act by their affordances. Performance, which is more than just literal action, requires manipulating illusion and revelation of the self in relationship to reality; being outside of it is like trying to have a call and response relationship with the void.

What looks like is getting in the way of creating, observing, and participating in performance with video games is the craft’s insistence that they are rules-based games. While there is ambivalence on this point for tabletop and live roleplaying games where there is performance with actual written rules that create the space one is in, video games have no such thing as rule-bounded realities for play. Instead, they have what designers call ‘material rules,’ or rules implied by what the code of the game and physical inputs does and does not allow the player to do. Thus follows the interactivity-based lens which looks at video games chiefly on what a player can and cannot do, and how they act within those constraints. Performance, narrative, and experience can only be described as an action report in this perspective because ‘what counts’ is that the player is doing, not necessarily what the player is doing.

We can shift focus then and see material rules as an attempt to classify video games as Caillois’ agon, competition or strife (the computer being who we play with) within established bounds of rules, when they actually do not have rules and are games of mimicry. Most if not all digital games do not have rules unique to themselves when it is recognized the game either will or will not let you do something. Unlike rules-based games in Caillois’ perspective, video games don’t dissolve away when a rule is ignored. Because video games are designed, analyzed, and played as rules-based games through convention, performance is rare. The times performance tends to happen is when perceived rules, said material rules, are broken or changed, much emblemized by the phenomenon of speedrunning. We see illusion and subversion in mods, hacks, glitches, and player-created challenges. While many designers embrace uncertainty in what the player will do and experience through creating multiple avenues of agency and adding procedural generation to everything, these are not used as prompts for performance as the creator could anticipate the possibilities of play down to a fine level of detail. Rules are more conventions that creators use as they make video games rather than what players eventually follow. For example, painters will use color and perspective to manipulate how the eye travels across their painting, but general viewers themselves are not following the laws of color and perspective on any lucid level. This is particularly apparent in fighting games, which are often described in performative language. Without questioning skill and dedication, all fighting game matches are predictable in concept by the creators, and in this perspective players are operating the game in the way it was made to operate. It’s obvious that creativity is at work in fighting games, and the community surrounding them attests to that, yet the games themselves are not platforms for generative play. The main way performance happens in video games currently is when a game is improperly used and purposefully broken which creators do not anticipate. When players do this we don’t see the game as necessarily ruined or dissolved, but evolved and on-going.

To nurture performance in video games, creators have to craft for it beyond the base of interactivity. Performance is generative, it creates. So far, the idea of performance is used as an on/off switch, that games aren’t ‘alive’ until performed. Performed in that usage simply means to operate. Crafting for performance means creating prompts and continuous calls and responses that you cannot possibly predict. The implications of performance and video games is most felt in their exhibition, and by effect how they are played overall. Despite being interactive, video games do not impart aesthetic experiences very well when put in exhibits or shows, since most are made for consumption in private spaces. That curators and event organizers only know to place a video game on a computer at a station shows that we do not fully understand the aesthetic experience video games have to offer. A computer in the museum is, in this context, no different from a picture frame on the wall. The art is dead and kept away from the people. In this light, I don’t think many people in video games have seriously considered games as artistic experiences outside the forms of entertainment consumption.

Performance has a history of interrupting the usual flow of commodification and consumption of art. Performance art challenged ownership, meaning-making, and methods of expression. Video games routinely run into what seem to be unsolvable issues that center around these sorts of issues, particularly engaging with social issues with any depth, interrogating relationships and intimacy, dealing with the subjective experience of shared events. This was an impetus of a work I performed earlier in the year, empathy machine, which moved a video game I made, Mainichi, into a performance context that activated its meaning through public engagement. It came after years of seeing Mainichi played in exhibitions on computers and completely lifeless. The proper context for a call and response was missing and instead people just glazed over it much like every other game curated around topics of social importance.

It’s possible what I’m talking about isn’t video games but something beyond them. Maybe this is to say that video games actually require a stronger presence of hacking, cheating, and modding for performance to come alive. Is it that they should be designed for maximum availability for exploitation or have vague enough material goals so players make their own? I’m only beginning to dig into performance and games, and these are just ideas, but I do think it’s a conversation worth having as games become increasingly absorbed into art and theoretical circles.

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Man, Play and Games for the People

Back with some more game studies theory where I take commonly taught text, grab the important quotes, and explain their significance for the non-academic and academic who needs a refresher alike. Last month I did Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens which is the oldest in the canon, and this time we’ll be looking at Roger Caillois’ Man, Play and Games which was inspired by Huizinga.

Caillois was a French sociologist who wrote Man, Play and Games in the late ‘50s specifically building upon Homo Ludens to create a methodology using games. At least in this canon, he seems to be the first to have clear classifications of games, separating from his predecessor who mostly detail with the vagueness of play and barely touched on games proper. And like Huizinga, Caillois cares more about what games imply about his chosen field rather than the construction of games themselves or any sort of discipline dedicated to them. So, let’s see what he has to say about games:



“The preceding analysis permits play to be defined as an activity which is essentially:

  1. Free: in which playing is not obligatory; if it were, it would at once lose its attractive and joyous quality as diversion;
  2. Separate: circumscribed within limits of space and time, defined and fixed in advance;
  3. Uncertain: the course of which cannot be determined, nor the result attained beforehand, and some latitude for innovations being left to the player’s initiative;
  4. Unproductive: creating neither goods, nor wealth, nor new elements of any kind; and, except for the exchange of property among the players, ending in a situation identical to that prevailing at the beginning of the game;
  5. Governed by rules: under conventions that suspend ordinary laws, and for the moment establish new legislation, which alone counts;
  6. Make-believe: accompanied by a special awareness of a second reality or of a free unreality, as against real life.” (pgs. 9-10)

In post-Huizinga texts, how a theorist decides to define play and/or games tends to reveal their agenda and show how they are building on those before them. Most of what we see here is pretty much lifted from Homo Ludens, with a small distinction. Caillois sees games as either governed by rules OR make-believe, not both. So not all games have rules according to him, and games with rules can only see make-believe as accessory to the experience instead of in tandem. This runs counter to many people that come after him, who believe all games have rules, no matter how obscured or loose. This division of rules vs make believe sets up his categorizations and the fundamental tensions he views when he takes a sociological perspective.


“After examining different possibilities, I am proposing a division into four main rubrics, depending upon whether, in the games under consideration, the role of competition, chance, simulation, or vertigo is dominant. I call these agon, alea, mimicry, and ilinx, respectively.” (pg. 12)

Here are the four main categories of the classification Caillois bases all his observations on. Agon comes from Huizinga’s ‘agonistic’ properties, basically referring to fair competition and honor. All competitive games fall under this category and anything involving conflict is read through agon. Alea covers all games of chance, including gambling, which is a hot topic we’ll get to. Mimicry centers around taking on roles, mostly characterized by make-believe and includes theater and all forms of acting. Ilinx, the one with the least amount of precedent, are experiences of intentional vertigo, from amusement rides to any sort of antic that evokes that cathartic loss of control. Caillois believed all games fit into one of these categories, and the categories interacted with differing levels of compatibility. Noteworthy is that agon and alea complement each other by virtue of being rules based and centered around the equal chances of success while mimicry and ilinx employ make-believe and suspension of the self. In true 20th century social science style, the former pair is associated with more ‘developed’ and Western societies while the latter with ‘primitive’ cultures and indigenous peoples of Australia, Africa, and the Americas.


“In general, the first manifestations of paidia have no name and could not have any, precisely because they are not of any order, distinctive symbolism, or clearly differentiated life that would permit a vocabulary to consecrate their autonomy with a specific term. But as soon as conventions, techniques, and utensils emerge, the first games as such arise with them: eg leapfrog, hide and seek, kite-flying, teetotum, sliding, blindman’s buff, and doll-play. At this point the contradictory roads of agon, alea, mimicry, and ilinx begin to bifurcate. At the same time, the pleasure experienced in solving a problem arbitrarily designed for this purpose also intervenes, so that reaching a solution has no other goal than personal satisfaction for its own sake. This condition, which is ludus proper, is also reflected in different kinds of games, except for those which wholly depend upon the cast of a die. It is complementary to and a refinement of paidia, which is disciplines and enriches.” (pg. 29)

There is a sub classification binary of paidia vs ludus, which is mostly forgotten after it’s described, but important to note because it seems to hold in language that exists today as what play vs games are. Paidia exists before any sort of codification of conventions while ludus is completely about the conventions. What strikes me as most interesting is how paidia seems indistinguishable from life at some level, that people from the outside wouldn’t really know you’re playing until focusing on the fact. Even though Caillois is strident about life and play being separated, paidia seems to somewhat flout this. I think paidia is used as the beginning phase of a game trending towards ludus, and a general timeline that Caillois makes, following Huizinga, of ‘primitive’ play to sophisticated modern games. I feel like ludus describes the main perspective in which the values of games are interpreted in contemporary discourse.


“In the confused, inextricable universe of real, human relationships, on the other hand, the action of given principles is never isolated, sovereign, or limited in advance. It entails inevitable consequences and possesses a natural propensity for good or evil.

In both cases, moreover, the same qualities can be identified:

The need to prove one’s superiority

The desire to challenge, make a record, or merely overcome an obstacle

The hope for and the pursuit of the favor of destiny

Pleasure in secrecy, make-believe, or disguise

Fear or inspiring fear

The search for repetition and symmetry, or in contrast, the joy of improvising, inventing, or infinitely varying solutions

Solving a mystery or riddle

The satisfaction procured from all arts involving contrivance

The desire to test one’s strength, skill, speed, endurance, equilibrium, or ingenuity

Conformity to rules or laws, the duty to respect the, and the temptation to circumvent them

And lastly, the intoxication, longing for ecstasy, and desire for voluptuous panic

These attitudes and impulses, often incompatible with each other, are found in the unprotected realm of social life, where acts normally have consequences, no less than in the marginal and abstract world of play. But they are not equally necessary, do not play the same role, and do not have the same influence.” (pgs. 64-5)

Here we see the qualities Caillois feels like the different classifications of games lend to societies during enculuration. This is what he means, to borrow from Huizinga, how play is lifelike but not life. Games are meant to create time and space to facilitate these impulses and that experience stays with people after they play games, but exerts itself in a chaotic manner in life. To Caillois and most games theorists, games are supposed to be safe and orderly spaces where we can indulge in lifelike experiences without consequence. What has been, and still is, vague is how games actually affect life while being separated from it, though he takes a decent stab at it.


“Games discipline instincts and institutionalize them. For the time that they afford formal and limited satisfaction, they educate, enrich, and immunize the mind against their virulence. At the same time, they are made for to contribute usefully to the enrichment and the establishment of various patterns of culture.” (pg. 55)

Huizinga saw the calcification of conventions from play as a plight of the modern man, but Caillois interprets this as how the values of play transfer to culture. Particularly interesting for people interested in power, the image of games disciplining human impulses into attitudes and aptitudes lends a lot to contemporary conversations around if and how politics manifest themselves in game design. This reads to me that games are ultimately always instruments and players trained through their mechanisms. Play is a wild force that must be cultivated into culture, and games acts as the translation process from this ‘primal’ state to a sophisticated one.


“It is certainly much more difficult to establish the cultural functions of games of chance than of competitive games. However, the influence of games of chance is no less considerable, even if deemed unfortunate, and not to consider them leads to a definition of play which affirms or implies the absence of economic interest.” (pg. 5)

Though it might seem to be a trivial point to most people, where Caillois disputes Homo Ludens the most is the treatment of gambling. Huizinga and by example theorists after him tend to separate gambling off from the rest of play since money is involved. I feel like much of Man, Play and Games is about how our perspective on games changes when games of chance are included. His logic is that games of chance might have resources exchanging hands but the net outcome of the game doesn’t result in a gain or loss. It’s seems like a lot of stretching to me, to try and have gambling games matter but still be inconsequential. Caillois has a couple case studies on gambling games in the appendix that are worth reading, and also kinda undoes his claim about gambling remaining inconsequential in my opinion, but I don’t find that a bad thing.


“Inasmuch as I am also convinced that there exist precise interrelationships of compensation or connivance in games, customs, and institutions, it does not seem to me unreasonable to find out whether the very destiny of cultures, their chance to flourish or stagnate, is not equally determined by their preference for one or another of the basic categories into which I have tried to divide games, categories that are not equally creative. In other words, I have not only undertaken a sociology of games, I have the idea of laying the foundations for a sociology derived from games.” (pg. 67)

And here is the main agenda of the book. Where Huizinga wanted to create a method of interpreting history from a cultural anthropology standpoint of games, Caillois wants to use games to create a method of interpreting societies. As far as I know, this still seems pretty unique and isn’t really used in games discourse too often. You see the classifications come up and their interactions, but in general parlance you don’t see games interpreting life, only life interpreting games. And though Caillois somewhat qualifies that there isn’t a one to one relation between the games preferred by a culture and the values of said society, he ultimately acts that way in his readings.


“Recourse to chance helps people tolerate competition that is unfair or too rugged. At the same time, it leaves hope in the dispossessed that free competition is still possible in the lowly stations in life, which are necessarily more numerous. […] To gamble is to renounce work, patience, and thrift in favor of a sudden lucky stroke of fortune which will bring one what a life of exhausting labor and privation has not, if chance is not trifled with and if one does not resort to speculation, which is partly related to chance.” (pg. 115)

Though I don’t really jive with how Caillois arrives to his method of interpretation, I have to say that what he does interpret is super relevant and surprising to see from a games perspective. He sees modern societies ruled by games of agon and alea and sees similar tensions from their differences in the values and problems we since in the world. Caillois believes that democratic societies value agon since it speaks to the values of egalitarianism, promoting fair competition for honor and wealth. But foiling this process is the presence of alea, which is the random force of nature that births people into different stations of life with different abilities. Even though society promotes equality through privileging competition and constantly undermines and devalues games of chance, alea cannot be fully erased and the idea of equality remains a farce since the accident of birth greatly determines people’s lot in life. Caillois observes that the disadvantaged rely on alea because they come to understand that the playing field isn’t even and true agon cannot manifest. Interesting implications for those looking at class and marginalization in games.


“Everyone wants to be first and in law and justice has the right to be. However, each one knows or suspects that he will not be, for the simple reason that by definition only one may be first. He may therefore choose to win indirectly, through identification with someone else, which is the only way in which all can triumph simultaneously without effort or chance of failure. From this derived the worship of stars and heroes, especially characteristic of modern society. This cult may in all justice be regarded as inevitable in a world in which sports and the movies are so dominant. Yet there is in this unanimous and spontaneous homage a less obvious but no less persuasive motive. The star and the hero present fascinating images of the only great success that can befall the more lowly and poor, if lucky. An unequaled devotion is given the meteoric apotheosis of someone who succeeds only through his personal resources—muscles, voice, or charm, the natural, inalienable weapons of a man without social influence.” (pgs. 120-1)

Caillois paints a fascinating image on identification and representation through this conflict of egalitarianism and the staying influence of chance. He sees identification as a sublimated form of mimicry that has been put into the service to maintaining agon, or its illusion. Because ultimately life isn’t fair and many people recognize that, the only way to keep people following the current social order is to use that element of chance is to glamourize the rags to riches storyline. So instead of actually being a system of fair competition for all, large portions of society try to replicate the situations that current lottery winners have, and eventually resign themselves to being disadvantaged.


“There is doubtless no combination more inextricable than that of agon and alea. Merit such as each might claim is combined with the chance of an unprecedented fortune, in order to seemingly assure the novice a success so exceptional as to be miraculous. Here mimicry intervenes. Each one participates indirectly in an inordinate triumph which may happen to him, but which deep inside him he knows can befall only one in millions. In this way, everyone yields to the illusion and at the same time dispenses with the effort that would be necessary if he truly wished to try his luck and succeed. This superficial and vague, but permanent, tenacious, and universal identification constitutes one of the essential compensatory mechanisms of democratic society. The majority have only this illusion to give them diversion, to distract them from a dull, monotonous, and tiresome existence. Such an effort, or perhaps I ought to say such alienation, even goes so far as to encompass personal gestures or to engender a kind of contagious hysteria suddenly possessing almost all the younger generation. This fascination is also encouraged by the press, movies, radio, and television. Advertising and illustrated weeklies inevitably and seductively publish pictures of the hero or star far and wide. A continuous osmosis exists between these seasonal divinities and their multitude of admirers. The latter are kept informed with regard to the tastes, manias, superstitions, and even the most trivial details of the lives of the stars. They imitate them, copying their coiffures, adopting their manners, clothing, preferences, cosmetics, and diets. […] It is obviously not the athlete’s prowess nor the performer’s art that provides an explanation of such fanaticism, but rather a kind of general need for identifying with the champion or the star. Such a habit quickly becomes second nature.” (pgs 121-2)

Coming out of nowhere, Caillios wraps up his application of a games sociology on Western society with the obsession of celebrity and the function stardom and heroics. It’s a really interesting premise since we see the values of games come full circle to dictate which games are fostered in our culture and how they are deployed. We can see contemporary games being used as escapes into heroic fantasies as a part of this process, where we can identify with achieving the success of agon in a system where it isn’t realistically possible. The other side of discussions around games training players to be in a society of capitalist labor now includes the pacifying element that encourages people to play along with the current system and its illusions. This implies that using games and their design as a critical lens actually has some legs, especially now that we live in a world of gamification and designed social platforms.


First anthropology, now sociology, next time will be philosophy with Bernard Suits’ The Grasshopper. Feel free to let me know if you use this or you find it helpful!


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Subjectivity and Reverse Difficulty

This past year has been an exercise in exploring the more fuzzy aspects of video game design, particularly around style and taste. These subjects have my interest outside of games and I’ve experimented in how to incorporate them, and at times these disciplines feel squarely at odds with game design. Expressing yourself often comes out in video games as completely extra and unaffecting, or overly mechanical and easily gamed. When it comes to play, the looser the bounds on the game are on separating life and play, the easier it is to incorporate more subjective expressions into the experience. Video games however attempt to completely isolate themselves away from the messiness of life to create simulated order, no matter how obscured. Because the game tries to contain the majority of the experience within its physical and digital bounds, it can only account for style and taste with its own arbitrary rules, which will mostly stay static from the moment it is shipped.

Staying within the conventions of game design, production, and distribution makes it hard for us to break out of these bounds. There are some online aspects that allow social elements to filter in and typically create what we would consider a fandom, however these aren’t central to the experience. Trying to get these subjective experiences into video games might just be a selfish task to further my consumption of them, but I can’t help but be interested in the possibility.

There’s a chance that what we think of as a good game might be standing in the way of understanding how we can incorporate style and taste further into game design. When gamers and designers look at works like Style Savvy and Happy Home Designer, they see a vagueness rather than a carefully constructed method where the player proves they’ve mastered the system. In both games, the player is presented with fairly easy quantitative obstacles to move around which in many cases barely constrain the amount of answers you can give. In the Style Savvy series, customers describe to you what they want, say a pink skirt or a sporty outfit, using words that you can use to filter through your stock room. As long as what you choose has those quality tags, the customer will be satisfied and buy what you offer them. Happy Home Designer is even less restrictive, usually only requiring the player to include a couple types of objects, but the specific objects and the design of the entire house and rooms can be anything and the client will be happy. The only degree of quantitative challenge is dispelled in the tutorial phases of both these games which leaves the traditional player bored only because a quantitative standard of difficulty isn’t present. It can be perceived as some sort of reverse difficulty, where the biggest challenge is upfront but also doesn’t severely limit what you can do. If essentially you can do anything and be ‘right,’ what is the point of the game?

This is a puzzle-solver’s mentality that is ingrained into both game design and playing. We expect to not only figure something out, but figure out a specific answer set up by concrete facts of the game’s rules and system. This can be as obvious as figuring out the placement of numbers in sudoku or instinctual for understanding all the physics of a fighting game and how that relates to what your opponent is doing. The designer creates an environment where the player has to grow through the material constraints of the video game, and the player expects to discover themselves through ever increasing challenge. This is a fundamental assumption present in the overwhelming majority of commercial products, to the point where games like Style Savvy can be described as vapid or lacking in substance not merely because it’s read as a ‘girl game’ and is about fashion, but because there isn’t this process of mastery involved.

At some point in time, this expectation molded both game design and playing to the point where current attempts to incorporate style and taste can be at best subpar. How do you quantify what we perceive to be unquantifiable in reality? Two people can look at an outfit, sit in a room, eat through a course meal, and have completely different experiences despite the identical processes. How is a video game going to account for that in the methods used for conventionally good games? It isn’t difficult to imagine that the lack of diversity in the kinds of interactions we have in video games is influenced by having challenge and mastery fixed as a cornerstone in how we create and play. To include commonly ignored, botched, or underdone subjects like style, expression, sexuality, and culture, video games would have to set aside this challenge-based call and response and expand it to where we can conceptualize how a computer can help us play with these topics. This doesn’t mean that the current methods for expressing style are the best, but rather an attempt to get players used to the ambiguity past the challenge. If you know that you will most likely surmount the obstacle in front of you, then surmounting the challenge is most likely not the point.

A solution would most likely appear in how we actually encounter all of these things in life. How is style expressed, recognized, created? Games that want to further dive into fashion would have to create societies with their own preferences, social issues, and methods of spreading trends that happen independent from the player’s actions. Look at today’s fashion for some examples: Why are hemlines longer and bigger? Why is there so much brown? Why are workout clothes replacing other parts of our wardrobe? It’s because a creativity industry that dictates what is made is being influenced by multiple factors, such as what are fashionable people on the street wearing that isn’t on run ways, what past decade is currently being revived for inspiration, seasonal conventions, and current social and design provocations. What is missing in Style Savvy is a living source of inspiration that prompts creativity. That is, the calcification of styles such bold or gothic in quantitative measures cuts the player off from being inspired or inspiring. Other characters will always react the same because their programming is looking for the bold and gothic flags and nothing else. It’s almost like the last vestige of challenge in the game is what holds it back the most. Some experiments in procedural generation imply the use of creating societies with their own biases and history as a way to actually explore style and taste. Because the point shouldn’t be to replicate real-world fashions and training players to understand them, rather understand the process of how taste and style are cultivated and expressed.

Applicable is the famous and much recited Yves Saint Laurent quote, “Fashions fade, style is eternal.” As much as I love Style Savvy, it is a game about fashion, not style. Fashion lends itself to games easier because there is a perceived right and wrong of what to wear. However what it is we want to play with is style, and that requires a system that is beyond right and wrong. And I think if we can wrap our heads around that, we can both design different games and play games differently than we’ve grown accustomed to through the height of video game consumption.

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UnREAL, Feminism, and the Reality Game

I recently wrote on the different ways reality TV games approach play and game design that differ from conventional attitudes on the topic. Despite how much film is seen by games people as a static medium, the form of reality TV using games to generate narrative, politics, and a wider scale of participation via spectacle all deserve due recognition. After writing about this, I’ve had friends tell me about the TV series UnREAL, a fictionalization of one of the creator’s personal experience being a producer on The Bachelor. It’s a very well done dark comedy and drama that also wrestles with contemporary issues surrounding feminism in a rather refreshing way, that is, everything is super fucked up and no one is holy. I recommend watching it if you can.

What fascinates me the most about this show is how it’s using a game as the central allegory for the struggles of feminism within contemporary society. Consider: first there is the literal game of a group of women who must woo the bachelor into letting them stay every elimination, with different motives not always romantic (bachelor included). Then there’s the producers who split the girls between them and receive financial incentives to goad them into drama and get them to the end. On top of that is the showrunner who has to produce high enough ratings for the network (and they usually want to degrade women in some way for such a purpose) so she can keep her show but also keep a bare minimum of loyalty with her production staff who are trying to retain any sense of conscience that they can. Most of this might not really be seen as a ‘game’ by most, and since this is a TV show everything is scripted so nothing seems to really be ‘played,’ but I believe the success of UnREAL shows the potential for a speculative wave of reality TV game design that could better access social issues on a populist platform. I have previously equated the struggle of personas on social justice twitter to reality TV, and the dynamics this show produces creates a heavy pause for reflection on how contemporary feminism is critically compromised.

Social justice and the general progressive mentality mainly deals with issues in large-scale political motions. Which is needed for sure, but also creates this ‘go big or go home’ attitude that has most people feeling like they can’t do much about all the crappy ways the world works if they don’t have a large reach of influence. Using reality TV as a game allows the show to reveal and unpack a complicated web of interpersonal struggles where decent people are stuck in a crappy situation and are compelled to pull each other down for their own survival. The focus of the show is how women are forced to use other women as stepping stones in order to get through the mess of their career, so the show features mostly women, but men appear around the edges to always fuck things up and make the situation worse. A reality-based game is well-suited to talking about this because they aren’t purely game theory strategy puzzles, rather largely dictated by how contestants struggle with social systems.

The striking metaphor for me is the relationship between producing and performing. UnREAL is completely meta, being a TV show about a TV show, using that distance and irony to reveal the process of how something seamless like a television program is produced in a very messy and contemptible way. The show of Everlasting, which is basically The Bachelor, is the reality in our imaginations, how we understand the world. There’s all the tropes you can think of, the bitch, wholesome wife material, spinster, angry black girl, the slut, the not-so-reformed dallying Ken doll. The ‘it is what it is’ or ‘that’s just reality’ part of us when we accept the subtle ways media and social systems have portrayed other people to us. But as we see in the show, the games are used as a structure to manufacture drama that can eventually be edited out of context in order to create this fantasy version of reality. Claims that reality TV is completely staged is way too simplistic; those things really do happen, we are watching reality, but there is an active force shaping those events, much like how we imagine systems of power in society. There are many lines in the show like ‘don’t blame me that America’s racist’ or ‘no man wants a dried up old woman’ that speak to how media and audiences are constantly reflecting each other in a never ending self-fulfilling prophecy, where the production staff is forced to twist women into nasty tropes and completely disillusion them from the fantasy world they were promised because audiences won’t watch it otherwise, and audiences receive a master cut of footage completely unaware of the context in which it was produced and on some level accepts it as ‘reality.’

It is fitting that the show chose The Bachelor to model instead of a game based of off athletic skill or conventional puzzle solving. The women of the show can’t display any sort of objective merit, the undercurrent challenge of the show centers around their worth and how they can shape others measuring their worth. Watching the show gave me many ideas for participatory experiences to involve people in power struggle on a social and societal level as opposed to a purely strategic. Different strata of people, the contestants, the bachelor, the producers, the showrunner, all have different forms of power and different sources of pressure while they all hurtle towards the final episode where it matters to every single person who is chosen to be the bride-to-be, just for widely different and typically unsavory reasons. Fairness isn’t really something that exists in this game, and the only rule seems to be that you can only leave once you’ve been eliminated. In this sort of game, it’s questionable whether anyone ‘wins,’ rather everyone just eventually gets to the end and has to reflect on what happened.

We can see UnREAL as film’s take on using the unique properties of reality games for commentary. It used the medium’s strengths of representation to show us mostly plausible parable and used suspense devices associated with reality games to keep us deep into the messy relationships as we try to figure what we would do in similar situations, and coming to the conclusion there is little wiggle room for the martyr narrative we have in actual reality. Good deeds are squeezed out of a great deal of compromises and the only people who can actually change anything are the rich and powerful who don’t really care about the pain of those under them until it comes to affect their routines. Games people interested in exploring social systems would do well to follow the example and look into reality games.

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