Games * Design * Art * Culture

Friday, October 29, 2004
Games: The Cultural Elaboration of Play
At the Game Designer's Workshop in Seattle last weekend, Hal Barwood read a quote from Wittgenstein, in which the philospher claimed that it is ultimately impossible to define "game," since the term refers to a whole panopy of related phenomena that have overlapping, but no truly shared, characteristics. Barwood did so for the (legitimate) reason that he wished to close off a burgeoning argument on the subject. The question of how to define "the game" (like the argument over the role of stories in games) is one that can be debated endlessly, generally to no real benefit. And we had other fish to fry.

But these kinds of questions are meaty, and are worth exploring, at least if there is something interesting to say about them.

Wittgenstein's peroration is, in fact, quite beside the point. He was not a scholar of games, and in fact, was not attempting to apprehend them on any deep level. He was instead making a point about language--that some words refer not to well-defined ideas or entities, but instead to a family of ideas and objects. The point is unexceptional, but I would argue that the example he used to make it--the game--does not, in fact, support his argument. I think there is something about games that makes them different from, and sets them off from, things that are not games--games are not simply grouped together from some sort of historical accident, but because the things we call games do indeed have something fundamental in common.

Back in 1994, I wrote an article entitled I Have No Words & I Must Design, in which I took a stab at defining "the game." The piece has been quoted and referred to many times and, to my surprise, is the main source of whatever modest reputation I have in the scholarly community. Since then, people have, rather than surrendering to my obvious wisdom on the subject, rejected it and sought to introduce their own definitions, purblind fools that they are. (If you are having problems detecting the tongue in my cheek, please go down to the corner store and buy yourself a couple of liters of irony.)

Salen & Zimmerman, in Rules of Play describe something like a dozen definitions (including mine), from Huizinga on up--and then propose their own definition. (Which is sadly deficient, incidentally, since it would exclude extant game styles such as MMOGs and tabletop RPGs).

The thing about all the definitions Salen & Zimmerman discuss, including mine, is that they are essentially formalist. That is, they look at the variety of things we call "games," and attempt to deduce a meaning of "game" that derives from their shared characteristics.

Today, I'd like to take a different approach. I want to approach the definition from the top down, rather than the bottom up.

Games are cultural artifacts. This is not a definition of game; it's an observation, and a means of including games in a larger class of things that are also cultural artifacts. Cuisine is a cultural artifact; so is the novel, the theater, and the reality TV show. So is virtually everything you encounter in the day to day, unless you're a national park ranger or something.

What are cultural artifacts? Cultural artifacts are human complexifications and codifications of innate human behaviors, needs, and drives.

Let us take cuisine as an example. All animals eat. Humans, however, create a cultural artifact out of eating. Not simply content to ingest fuel to survive, they create rituals, methodologies, and locations around eating, and imbue the act of eating with cultural significance. We eat to cement family relationships, to make business relationships, to explore friendships; we eat in chic Soho restaurants and fast food restaurants and greasy spoons and around the family dining table; we braise, roast, stir-fry, and bake; we write and read books that explain how to create particularly tasty food. Only humans take the simple act of ingesting nutrition, and elaborate it in this complicated way. And it isn't just Western culture that does so--every human culture assigns cultural meaning to food.

Or let us look at story. Language is natural to humans--indeed, language is what sets us apart from the animals. Given the existence of language, it is inevitable that we will want to describe past events to each other. Past events must be described in a way that gives a sense of context, and the actors involved--fundamental building blocks of story. Once we have learned to relate past events, it is inevitable that we will learn to lie about them--relating false past events--because humans are social animals, and always striving for the acceptance and approval of others, and true events don't always give us that. Once we have learned to lie, it is a short jump from "lying for personal benefit" to "lying for entertainment value," and once that concept is understood, it's a short step to story-telling. But over the years, story-telling gets elaborated, until we have movies, the Western, Noh theater, and the science fiction short-short.

Cultural artifacts, of all sorts, begin at first as "traditional culture" and, as means of replication spread, eventually become "designed culture." Thus, cuisine begins in traditional cusines such as Mandarin or Escoffieresque French, and ends in modern fusion--chefs inventing novel dishes by comining cooking techniques and ingredients in a fashion that would astound and possibly disgust the chefs of the 19th century. The story begins as oral story-telling, and ends in a publishing industry that produces tens of thousands of novels every year (most with scant readers)--not to mention film, experimental theater, and the rest. The game begins with slowly-evolving folk games, and ends with the vigorous spread of innovative game styles. Culture begins with tradition, and ends in a an artistic medium.

So games are cultural artifacts. What basic human trait, then, do they complexify, as all cultural artifacts complexity some fundamental human impulse--cuisine with food, for example?

Games are the cultural complexification of play. Play is fundamental--not merely to humans, but in fact to all mammals. (I'm not an animal behaviorist, and I could be wrong here, and am open to correction--maybe platypuses don't play or something.) Mammals play, at least as young animals; and through play, they learn and internalize the skills they'll need in later life. When puppies tussle with one another, they're learning how to fight and kill. Ditto kittens. Children learn both physical and social skills when they play.

Interestingly, even this primitive, non-game play occurs under the rule of what Huizinga calls "the magic circle;" play is not in earnest, it is play, and you are expected to walk away from it without ill effects. Puppies may seek to grab each other by the throat, as dogs or wolves will with prey--but they do not kill each other. Humans are expected to walk away from any game, no matter how badly they are defeated, with a cheerful "good game." (We don't always manage it, but that's what we're supposed to do.) One of the basic things about games--the separation of the game from the real world, the isolation of it to a "safe space" in which no real injury is dealt--is true even in the most primitive forms of play, even in play by non-human mammals.

It's possible to maintain, in fact, that games are in a sense more basic, more primordial than stories; stories depend on language, which only humans possess, while games depend on play, which mammals possess. Games reach deeper into our evolutionary past, draw on deeper impulses, than stories.

Games complexify and reify play in the same way that other cultural artifacts complexify and reify other human impulses; they create structures, rules, and places around the basic impulse. They attach meanings to what happens in the course of play (something I was reaching for in the idea of "endogenous meaning" in my earlier piece).

If you look at games this way--as simply cultural elaborations of the impulse to play--they come into focus, it seems to me. It clearly distinguishes games from stories, which are cultural elaborations of the need to tell things to each other. Music is the cultural elaboration of pleasure in rhythm and sound; cuisine is the cultural elaboration of the need to eat; and all sorts of cultural artifacts can overlap and interpenetrate. Music can tell stories, cuisine can be a game (Iron Chef, anyone?), and games and stories can involve each other--but story is no more central to games than music is to story.

Moreover, this kind of encompassing concept of game has, I think, liberating effects. Reading Parlett, I'm frustrated by the narrowness of his definition of "game," and his readiness to cast all games other than classic ones into the category of mere "theme" games. I'm equally frustrated by Salen & Zimmerman's insistence that games must come to "quantifiable conclusions," since some of our most interesting games have no conclusion, and I am not willing (as they are) to classify these as mere "boundary conditions." (There's enough programmer in me to belief that if a boundary condition exist, it's part of the problem we're addressing.)

It's useful definition too, I think, because it expands, rather than limits. Formalist definitions that examine existing game styles and tries to find commonalities are almost doomed to exclude ideas--call them game styles--that violate some common feature of existing game styles. Parlett is guilty of finding it hard to encompass games that don't have features common to games prior to 1900 as "games;" Salen & Zimmerman are guilty of finding it hard to encompass games that existed when they were mere children. That's silly. D&D is a game.

And--if you view games as the cultural elaboration of play, then not only do you encompass all existing games, but you must also assume that there are huge numbers of potential game styles, combining interesting aspects of play in unexpected ways, still yet to be discovered. And these will all, undoubtedly, share some aspects with the games with which we are already familiar (just as the tabletop RPG shared some aspects with military miniatures), but will undoubtedly elaborate play in novel directions.

In other words, as I've said before, we have only in the last few decades begun to seriously think about "the game," and what combinations of systems produce styles of play that can reach substantial audiences. It is sheer arrogrance to believe (as far too many in the conventional game industry do) that we "know what works," that we have discovered the important inflection points in the potential gamespace of all possible games. Rather, you have to assume that there are many, many potential cultural elaborations of the impulse to play yet to be discovered, and indeed that, as culture changes, the sorts of elaborated play that will appeal to the culture as it changes will also change. Like Balboa on the peak of Darien, we instead gaze in amazement at a whole new ocean. We have whole new worlds to--not conquer, but play with.

This is the beginning--not the end.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004
An excellent article by Jonathan Blow on why game development is so technically challenging (and often risky).

An interesting discussion of patents on game play by a Master's student at the IT University of Goteborg.

Also, those interested in MMOGs may wish to subscribe to Arnold Hendrick's MMO Tidbits newsletter, which is irregular, but provides interesting commentary on recent announcements in the field. Hendrick is an Old School developer (SPI, Avalon Hill, Microprose, iGames, et al.) To subscribe, write him at ajhendrick (at) aol (dot) com.

Sunday, October 17, 2004
The Games We Played
The Games We Played (Margaret K, Hofer, Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 2003, 160pp hardcover) is a useful companion to F.R.B. Whitehouse's Table Games of Georgian and Victorian Games, in that the latter deals with the early history of British boardgames, and the former with early American boardgames. The US boardgame market (as befits a raw colony) arises somewhat later; the earliest British commercial game was published in 1759 (John Jefferys's A Journey Through Europe), while the first American boardgame does not appear until 1830 (Miss Abbot's Mansions of Happiness--at least, this is the earliest per Orbanes; I suspect earlier ones may yet be discovered).

The Games We Played is a sort of coffee-table book, published in celebration of the New-York Historical Society's 2003 exhibition of the Liman collection. The Liman collection--acquired over several decades by Ellen and Arthur Liman (the latter a partner of my father's at Paul, Weiss)--is possibly the finest collection of early American boardgames, and was donated to the society some years earlier.

As is typical of coffee table books, The Games We Played is quite light on text; it seems to be set in something like 36 point type. However, virtually every page is printed with full color reproduction of boardgame covers, boards, cards, or other paraphernalia.

Unfortunately (from my perspective), the book is organized in the same fashion as the Society's exhibition: that is, it portrays boardgames as interesting because they reflect the culture of the times, rather than as of intrinsic interest because of the gradual advance in design technique they represent. Thus, chapters are named things like "Parlor Amusements" and "Morals to Materialism" rather than, say "the travel game," "the fishing game," and so on. Additionally, the exhibition (and the collection) include a number of items that are not, when you get down to it, games at all--puzzles, alphabet blocks, and so on.

Still, information about 19th century games is hard to come by, and this gives at least a glimpse of the emergence of the US boardgame industry prior to George Parker, and as such is to be valued.

I've written the NY Historical Society, btw, asking for access to the collection--I think it would be quite interesting to look it over with an eye to design. Might be an article or two in there.

Friday, October 15, 2004
WiFi + Cellular Convergence
(Nothing about games today...)

Here is what I think the future looks like: Your phone can make both WiFi and a cellular connection. When you're at home or the office, it connects via WiFi, using VoIP to place the call; when out, you use the cellular network. The VoIP call is "free," that is, covered by your monthly subscription, just as all conventional VoIP calls are today; you pay more when using the cell network. The distinction between "landline" and "mobile" disappears, since you use the same phone wherever you go, and there no longer seems a lot of difference between your cellular and a cordless phone using a conventional landline. Long distance carriers essentially disappear; local carriers become one of the three companies that own wires into your home, competing for your Internet access and VoIP dollars. (The other two are the cable company and the electric company.)

The reason I think this makes sense is it's cheap and convenient. The value proposition for consumers is clear.

But--here's Cingular's view of the future. You pay them extra to purchase a handset that has WiFi as well as cellular circuitry. When you are near an SBC WiFi hotspot (SBC is part-owner of Cingular), the phone places the call via WiFi/VoIP, otherwise over the cellular network. It doesn't work with any other WiFi hotspot, and (as far as I can tell), they charge you the same amount for the VoIP call as for a cellular one.

Now, I understand why this makes sense for Cingular; when a call gets placed by WiFi, they make just as much money, but they don't consume cell network bandwidth. But of course, it makes no sense from a consumer's point of view, because if they want to use VoIP at home, they must purchase Internet access from SBC, there's no cost savings, and not much increase in convenience.

This is so, so typical of operator thinking in the telecommunications business. They always want to force consumers to go down paths that benefit them, and so rarely stop to try to figure out what makes a really compelling value proposition for consumers.

There is a solution, I think. Forget the operators. Handset manufacturers--like, say, Nokia (anybody listening?) should launch WiFi/VoIP handsets that connect to any open WiFi connection. Then it's just up to consumers to buy their own Internet and VoIP service, cutting the mobile operator out of that part of the equation entirely.

Of course, there's channel conflict, here; phone manufacturers depend heavily on operator support for sales. But it seems clear to me that consumer demand for this kind of device is going to be there. And perhaps there'll be a first-mover advantage for a device manufacturer that takes the plunge.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004
Parlett, Folk Game History, and Different Aesthetics
In 1999, David Parlett (designer of Hare & Tortoise) published The Oxford History of Board Games, which I read recently.

A better name might perhaps be "The Oxford History of Folk Board Games;" while Parlett gives cursory treatment to boardgames from the 19th and 20th centuries, his chapter devoted to them is the weakest of the book.

Parlett divides games into five categories:

  • Race games are those in which the objective is to get your pieces "home," usually in accordance with the throw of dice or lots.
  • Space games include games of alignment and configuration, in which the objective to arrange the pieces in a particular configuration--a category including such disparate games as Tic-Tac-Toe and Hex.
  • Displace games are those in which the objective is to capture enemy pieces, or to capture (or mate) a particular piece.
  • Chase games are ones in which one player has a larger number of pieces and seeks to immobilize the piece or pieces of the other (Fox & Geese being the canonical example).
  • Finally, Parlett uses the category of "theme games" as a catch-all for what I would term modern games, his theory being that the differentiating point of these games is the attachment to a particular background or theme.

Ignoring theme games for the moment (as I think Parlett's idea here is weak), the scheme works quite well as a means of categorizing the whole panoply of historical folk games. (By "folk game," I mean a game that is the product of a folk tradition, rather than ascribable to any individual designer--I thought I had invented the phrase, but actually, Parlett uses it as well, so I guess not.)

Parlett suggests that race games may originally have begun as a mechanism for tracking the outcome of a repeatedly-played gambling game--that is, that the board was originally just a score-keeping mechanism, in the fashion of a Cribbage board, but that gameplay naturally turned to focus more on the board itself. He goes into particular detail into race games of the American Indians (relying mainly on Stewart Culin's Games of the North American Indians), mainly to make the point that even neolithic cultures have race games. Presumably, earlier cultures in Europe and Asia also had race games early in human history, but the Indians (and presumably others) mostly use improvised materials, organic in nature, which decay quickly--thus we don't have a lot of evidence for this. Interestingly, these (and games from many other cultures) are played using binary lots rather than dice; dice were apparently a later invention. A binary lot is a D2, if you will, and while moderns use coins, a whole host of objects including cowrie shells, nuts, and split sticks have been used in the past. Typically, 4D2 are thrown, with one side representing zero and the other one; however, the number of spaces moved isn't necessarily the number thrown directly. After all, multiple dice yield a bell curve, so rolling the extremes is less likely than rolling an intermediate number; in most cases, games using binary lots ascribe higher values to less likely numbers. E.g., in one game Parlett describes, players throw three binary lots; a roll of 0 means "move forward 5"; a roll of 1 produces a move of 2; a roll of 2, a move of 3; and a roll of 3 is a move of 10. Note that these values do not correspond in any meaningful way to the stastistical chances, since the Indians had not mastered statistics.

Backgammon is a sophisticated form of race game, per Parlett, deriving originally from "The Royal Game of Ur," so-called because a board was found in Ur; the British Museum apparently markets a set, but only a partial description of the rules have been found, and their rules are interpolated.

Parlett goes into considerable detail about The Royal Game of Goose, which is quite useful, since it seems to be the inspiration for the earliest British commercial boardgames. It seems to have been mainly a gambling game.

Per Parlett, the inspiration for Hare & Tortoise was the desire to do a race game that was entirely dependent on strategy rather than chance; it is a fine game (Kevin Maroney describes it as "a game for Vulcan children", indicating the degree of thought that goes into playing it), but actually, the lettuce cards do add a little bit of randomness to the game.

Under space games, Parlett describes Mill games (e.g., Nine Mens Morris); games of linear connection (Hex, Twixt); games of "attainment and traversal" (e.g., Chinese Checkers); games of "configuration and congregation" (e.g., Peg Solitaire); games of "restrictive practices" (e.g., Pentominoes); and games of space control (e.g., Go).

Chase games is a short chapter, describing the Norse game of Tafl, the English Fox and Geese, and a slew of Asian games along the same lines.

Almost a third of the book is taken up with "displace games," which is clearly the most variable of Parlett's categories. The Mancala games--there are innumerable variants--have their own chapter. Parlett goes into considerable detail classifying possible types of moves on a square grid, as well as types of capture--apparently the leaping capture of Checkers and the replacement capture of Chess are antedated by capture through surrounding. There's quite a lot on the history of Chess, as you might expect, along with Chess variants. An entire chapter is devoted to Rithmomachy, an arithmetical boardgame that, astonishingly, was among the most popular boardgames in Europe from the 11th through 18th centuries, and has since entirely disappeared.

So far, so good; on the whole, the book is an astonishing feat of scholarship, and an essential reference for anyone interested in the evolution of folk games. The final chapter, however, is a bit weak, and I think a bit of a digression is necessary to explain why.

Many years ago, Sid Sackson told me "There's really no need for any more games, you know." The statement astonished me, but of course I was not going to challenge him on it. And it would have been pointless to do so; from his perspective (and Parlett's, I suspect), he was absolutely right. You can spend an entire lifetime learning Go or Chess, and never wholly master the game. Experimenting with half the games Parlett describes would take years; most newly published games are minor variations on previous ones. In a sense, there are plenty of games already; there's no need for new ones, there are plenty to occupy your time. The "need" is merely a base commercial one; publishers have to fill out their lines.

On a slightly different slant, Parlett says (and I believe Sackson would agree) that "The rules are, in a sense, the game." This is a notion that digital game players will mostly find puzzling; the experience of playing, say, Zelda: Windwaker is not the experience of playing Chess. It's not about mastering a limited set of rules and working out the complicated strategies that derive from them; it's about experiencing the art and beauty of a well-rendered 3D world, exploring and solving the puzzles and challenges posed by the designers, mastering the interface, and getting to the end of the story. There are "rules," of course, but they're hardly perceptible to the player, except as elements of the heads-up display; the rules are code, algorithms that the player probably never understands in anything more than an intuitive way, specifics of resolution hidden and not particularly important to the player.

In other words, the aesthetic of the modern game--and in this, I include modern boardgames and RPGs as well as digital games--is quite different from the aesthetic of the classic game. Novelty, exploration, and experimentation are prized; we want new games in order to have new experiences, and while some games-- Civilization, NetHack, Diplomacy--encourage repeat play, sometimes over years, we neither expect nor demand this of most titles. We do indeed need new games, both because we prize novelty and new experiences, and because many of the games we play are not, like Chess, single titles to which you can devote a life. And we like it that way.

By the standards of "the modern game," most folk games are severe, stripped-down, and fundamentally dull--even the most strategically challenging of them. Contrariwise, by the aesthetic of "classic gamers," if you will, most modern games are frivolous, glitzy, and shallow.

It's understandable, then, that Parlett dismisses them as mere "theme" games. And yet, from my perspective, he's missing the point: The classic games he describes are grouped (reasonably so) into perhaps two dozen basic gameplay styles. Yet over the last two centuries, we've devised many more gameplay styles than were developed over the whole prior history of games--RPGs, LARPs, MMOGs, RTS, FPS, the board wargame, etc., etc. Rather than viewing modern games as commercial "theme games" mostly exploiting earlier game styles, it's better to view modern games as an amazingly creative florescence after a long, slow history of folk game evolution.

Parlett's chapter on theme games is best as he describes 20th century commercial boardgames--understandably, since he has direct experience with that industry--and weakest when he ventures to discuss wargames and RPGs. He seems to think, for example, that dice are used for movement in wargames, which is very much untrue; and his discussion of RPGs seems more than a little off key (D&D is an expression of New Ageism? I think not).

But as I've suggested, it's best not to dwell too much on the modest failings of Parlett's final chapter, given the excellence of the preceeding ones.

Thursday, October 07, 2004
Player Categories
GNS (Gamist-Narrativist-Simulationist) theory, to which I alluded a while ago is, it occurs to me, only one of a large number of attempts to assign players to categories that depend on their motivation for play. (According to GNS theory, players of tabletop RPGs, at least, can be categorized as Gamist [playing for personal accomplishment], Narrativist [playing to experience a good story], or Simulationist [playing for the sake of simulating a world and its technology].)

The first such approach I encountered was in an article by Glenn Blacow in Different Worlds, Chaosium's old magazine, entitled "The Fourfold Way," which split players differently: his categories were wargamers, power gamers, roleplayers, and story-tellers.

The best known approach is Rich Bartle's, who in Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit MUDs", proposes the categories of achievers, explorers, socialisers, and killers.

Nick Yee proposes five categories: players who desire relationships, immersion, grief play, achievement, and leadership.

Nicole Lazzaro (in a presentation at GDC 2004), claims the main motivation for play are desires for "internal experience," for "challenge and strategy," for "immersion," and for social experiences.

Richard Rouse, in Game Design Theory & Practice, say players want either a challenge, to socialize, a dynamic solitaire experience, bragging rights, an emotional experience, or to fantasize.

And in Game Design Workshop Tracy Fullerton and her collaborators say there are at least ten player types: competitors, explorers, collectors, achievers, jokers, artists, directors, storytellers, performers, and craftsmen.

It occurs to me to wonder whether there's any validity to any of these, and any particular utility. Some utility does exist, I believe; as an example, the Themis Group uses a scheme somewhere between Bartle's and Yee's when analyzing their client's MMOGs. Essentially, they look at each stage of the player life-cycle, and ask whether, at each life-cycle, each of the player types are given interesting things to do--and if not, propose changes to ensure that they do.

However, except for Yee's, all of these taxonomies are based on anecdotal evidence--individual observation--rather than real research. Yee interviewed more than 6000 MMOG players in order to come to his conclusions. However, even here, the evidence isn't 100% convincing; Yee began by inventing what he thought was an exhaustive set of possible motivations, and then categorized his respondents according to that larger scheme, finding that only five motivations were common. In other words, rather than examining data and parsing it, he began with a parsing scheme, and slotted the data into it. A better and more accurate approach would be to ask a slew of different questions of players, and do a regression analysis to see how responses cluster--than describe each cluster in terms of its apparent motivations. (And a better methodology yet would be to somehow get this data without using a questionnaire, since people are notorious liars, at least when they believe the asker is looking for particular answers--I bet there are a lot more griefers than people who will admit to griefing, as an example.)

When you think about it, the whole thing seems very similar to how advertisers go about segmenting the market. They gather data about the population as a whole, and then invent bizarre categories, with names like Green Acre Nesters and Post-Yuppie Hipsters, and then attempt to persuade their advertising clients that they can more effectively market to these invented demographic categories because they are so smart and have such a finger on the pulse of the market that they've gone about inventing these categories. The problem is that every agency slices and dices the market in different ways, according to different criteria, and indeed a single agency will often abandon an old scheme and adopt a new one in an effort to look fresher and hipper.

The point is that with a large population, you can slice and dice the data just about any way you want, particularly if your objective is to invent a taxonomy that conforms with your own pre-existing notions (or simply to invent a novel and different one). And while it's undoubtedly true that tastes differ, and different games (and game styles) appeal to different tastes, beyond a certain point it's hard to slot people permanently into particular categories, particularly since a player's motivation may differ a great deal, depending on mood.

So while the effort has some merit, it's also important not to read too much into any set of taxonomies; a different set may well be more useful or important, depending on what you're trying to achieve. Beyond a certain point, your reaction to a new taxonomy has to be more like "Oh, that's interesting" than like "ohmigod! now I understand!."

Because when you get down to it, the only fundamental things you can say are banalities, like: Different strokes for different folks. And it's a funny old world, isn't it?

Sunday, October 03, 2004
The Blogosphere
I normally restrict myself to commenting games, but at least as an experiment, I think I'll comment on blogs I've looked at recently.

Predictable sentiment, given the man's politics, but I believe this is the first blog by a billionaire. I welcome this, and hope it's the start of a trend. Although maybe not if we get agonizing, deeply personal posts about Bill's marital problems with Melinda.

Patrick thinks the 'October surprise' of Osama's capture is inevitable. I think this is nonsense. If the morons in Washington could find Osama, they would have captured him months ago, and the October surprise would be his public execution in Times Square.

On the opposite side of the equation, Eric Raymond, whom by and large I love dearly, has abandoned the libertarian principle of non-intervention, and actually embraces the lunacy of invading harmless, if totalitarian, states on the basis of trumped-up intelligence. War is the health of the state. Remember, Eric?

Jamie Fristom worries that game rentals reduce game unit sales; I think this is bogus. Nintendo and Sega fought the introduction of game rentals back in the 80s, lost in court, and saw their sales increase as a result of a cheap way for people to 'try before you buy.' I think rental is a good thing.

Scott Rosenberg always writes well, but I'd surely love for him to post more about things other than Bush and the elections. For that, I can read Kos or somebody.

Teresa at least alleviates the anti-Bush fulmination with fulmination against publishing scams, which is surely worthwhile.

Scott Miller, who I always find worth reading, talks about 'high concept,' in essentially a praiseworthy way. The problem, for me, is that I think of 'high concept' as anathema: If I can explain something to you in a sentence, it isn't particularly original. If it's original, I have to work to get you to understand it. Yes, getting something greenlit in either Hollywood or the game industry is easier if you -can- explain it in a sentence, but something truly novel cannot be so easily explained.

But then, a recent exchange on a list-serv I participate in reinforces for me how Hollywood-oriented most game designers are: either they have Hollywood envy, or they turn to movies first as their exemplars of story-telling; or they look to movies as the "elder form" (and never mind that the first commericial, original game I'm aware of was John Jefferys's A Journey Through Europe, published in 1759... we are the elder form). As a game designer and prose writer, who pretty much eschews video in all its forms, I find this--extremely odd. I'd certainly like to earn a Hollywood income, but I don't think they really have much to teach us.

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