April 24, 2004

An Economy of Rules (part 5) – [musings]

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

some considerations

The rules of surface are motivated by considerations on the lower levels. Craft puts pressure on surface through the mastery of tools; a master of craft will be seen as someone who uses the "correct" tools, and so their surface will be defined by the tools of craft. Structure determines the relative importance of certain relationships, so it determines which of the elements would best be served in the surface presentation. Idiom affects surface through its influences on structure and craft, and also, as I discussed with the anime RPG, idiom often pulls in certain rules of surface by referring to idioms which are specific to certain elements.

(That seems like a rather dense summary, but I think it will do for my purposes.)

Likewise, craft is motivated the most directly by structure and idiom, and structure is motivated most directly by idiom. At this point, idiom appears to be a key influence for the higher levels of the production process. This agrees nicely with the ways in which different idiomatic genres are presented the the field of computer games: RTS games have their specific structures, craft, and surface; interactive fiction (IF) has a different set of structures, craft, and surface; both RTS game and interactive fiction are seen as distinct computer game genres.

Numerous attempts to trace both RTS games and IF back to some common ancestor rely on the differences between their idiomatic rules grounded against the form of the computer game. This tracing back of common ancestors is the implicit promise of a history of computer games: it will be a history of and only of those artifacts which specifically take the form of computer games, and which otherwise, on the higher levels, may have little in common aside from the claims that this game led to that game.

How does this relate to an economy of rules? Clearly the rules discussed so far have a connection to the production of computer games, that is to say the motivational production of games. This motivational production is one in which the rules themselves may be working for replication. This is most clear on the level of idiom, perhaps to the near exclusion of structure, craft, surface.

A rule of surface is one which is derived from a number of other levels. Any change in those lower levels may cause a fundamental shift in where the surface is found, and this change of surface wreaks havok on the old rules. The surface of a pen and ink drawing has different surface rules than a graphite drawing — different papers, different speciality tools — although they may both be drawings of the same subject/same idea.

I am trying to get to a visual image here, the idea that if you constrain a creative process on some low level, like holding a dog at heel, there is still some freedom of motion on a higher level, like the wagging of a dog's tail.

To pin down the creation of a computer game at the level of idiom still allows for variation of structure, craft, and surface. There may be optimal arrangements of these higher levels, but it is a big space.

To pin down the creation of a game at the level of craft only allows you to change the surface of the game. This, in the case of an RTS game, would amount to swapping out one set of graphics for another, without changing any of the missions (what is often called "skinning" or reskinning).

To pin down computer games as computer games is to put the constrant on the form itself, as was seen above in the project of computer game history. Computer games as computer games are free to move within the space of varying idiom, structure, craft and surface, and this is quite a large space (a space of higher dimension). In terms of our analogy, a fixed idiom is keeping the dog on a leash, while a fixed form is keeping the dog tied to a post with a 50 foot rope.

This notion of movement provides a visual metaphor for the development of new idiomatic genres (as well as new structures, etc). When the creative process pulls in a number of different directions, it creates stress at the points where the production of different artifacts diverge. When this stress occurs on the level of idiom, it can result in new idioms being formed. As the role playing genre (Ultima, Questron) was taking shape, the games started to adopt the first person perspective interface. But this first person interface appealed to players in conflicting ways: some enjoyed being able to explore worlds and the challenges of navigation, leading to 3D platform games like by Tomb Raider; others enjoyed the first-hand perspective on violence, leading to games like Doom; and the RPG players just wanted their character development and heroic plotlines, which now take place in textured high-polygon 3D environments.

(continued ...)

Posted by B Rickman at April 24, 2004 01:28 AM | TrackBack