The open and the closed son

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This presentation was delivered at the International Symposium on Electronic Arts in İstanbul. …

This presentation was delivered at the International Symposium on Electronic Arts in İstanbul.

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  • 1. Altuğ Işığan
    The Open and the Closed: Notes on Game Narrativity
    Presented at theInternational Symposium on Electronic Arts(ISEA)
    Istanbul, September 16 2011
  • 2. Eco, 1962
    Almost 50 years ago, just around the times when engineer Stephen Russell created and ran the game Spacewar! on a car-sized PDP-1 computer at the MIT labs, Umberto Eco published his book The Open Work (1962).
  • 3. Eco, 1962
    • In this book, Eco defines open works as narratives that manifest themselves as the reader interferes with them.
    • 4. They invite readers not only to interprete the text, but to play an active role in their configuration as texts.
    • 5. They provide the readers with a set of rules and elementsthat may be combined randomly to yield a large number of text variations.
  • Emergent Narratives...?
    We speak of emergent yet coherent narratives here
    A large number of variations come to life
    Yet each one of them individually makes sense as an aesthetic experience.
    Examples:
    Raymond Queneau – A Hundred Billion Poems
    George Perec – Life (A Manual)
  • 6. George Perec – Life, A User’s Manual
  • 7. Raymond Queneau – A Hundred Billion Poems
  • 8. Ludology’s Take
    Classic Ludology seems to be convinced that only games possess this quality of emergence.
    To them, “narrative” (which they perceive as being of a “scripted” nature) is against the emergent nature of games
  • 9. Ludology’s Take
    For example Jesper Juul says that when you apply narrative to games, you destroy their emergent character and they turn into games of progession (2002).
    However, Eco’s work clearly shows that narrativity and emergence aren’t mutually exclusive
  • 10. Rethinking “Emergence”
    • This urges me to rethink the notion of “emergence”.
    • 11. Can we speak of emergence as being the nature of only certain media, but not others?
    • 12. Can we safely assume that there is a type of media that renders “emergent” every instance of its use?
  • Rethinking “Emergence”
    • I believe that Ludology comes to a too hasty conclusion in regard to games being emergent by their very nature
    • 13. Interactivity seems to be enough to convince Ludology that game system are truly non-linear.
  • Rethinking “Emergence”
    • I see two problems here:
    • 14. 1 - The need to explain patterns in emergentbehavior
    • 15. 2- A theorethical challenge: Could it be that emergence needs to be crafted artificially rather than being the nature of games?
  • Rethinking “Emergence”
    • I will now elaborate on these two problems...
    • 16. Let’s start with a look at patterns in playerbehavior
  • Berthold Brecht
    • There is a famous quote of Berthold Brecht:
    “The shortest line between two points –if there’s an obstacle inbetween- is a curve.”
  • 17. Conflict
    This is actually a very good definition of the notion of conflict in classical drama theory.
  • 18. Necessity
    Technically speaking, any character who is trying to solve a conflict is subject to necessity.
    Necessity addresses the fact that there is a force at play that keeps the character on search for a optimal solution to the conflict that she is facing
  • 19. Necessity
     In other words, necessity renders “logical” and meaningful only certain types of actions.
    In the light of necessity, only a limited part of the available possibility space is of use;
    the useless parts will probably never be discovered.
  • 20. Necessity
    This means that even if we could, we do not simply roam freely in the open world
    Our actions are rather motivated and telic
    This goal-orientedness causes patterns to emerge in the ongoing emergent behavior
  • 21. Necessity
    Drama Theory addresses these issues under the topic of motivation
     “Why can the character not simply walk away and ignore the challenge?”
     When arriving at decision nodes, why does the character chose what is good for the story?
  • 22. Sample Game
    To illustrate the point, let’s have a look at a formal game with emergent qualities ...
    TETRIS!
  • 23. Tetris
    • Doing nothing results in a straight line from A to B.
    • 24. But if we attempt to change this algorithmic fate, we draw a curve!

  • 25. Tetris
    The more we try, the more curves we create!
  • 26. “Linear” Emergence?
    • This may look like we have a lot of emergence and non-linearity
    • 27. Yet to me the non-linearity that emerges here is rather limited
    • 28. I see in all this some quite linear drama!
    • 29. You may wonder why...
  • “Linear” Emergence!
    Although every playing session may vary considerably, we basically push ourselves through the same AB sequence over and over again
    In other words, the system is quitedeterministic
    Andplayerbehavior is quitepatterned
    But why?
  • 30. Necessity Cap
    Becausewe are motivated by necessity
    This doesn’t leave much space for the type of deviation and free-roaming we credit non-linearityfor
    Thisputs an invisible cap on experimentations
    • I call this theNecessityCap
  • A Sidestep into Chaos Theory
    Chaos Theory would probably consider these types of games as examples of aperiodic behavior,
    something that is slightly less linear than linearity
    in each “free” iteration similar behavior emerges due to the forces that are at play
  • 31. Aperiodic Behavior and Attractors
    In aperodic behavior, there is a single attractor that structures emergent behavior so that it takes similar shapes while on its way to a predictable end.
  • 32. Necessity as Attractor
    We could say that in most video games necessity works like an attractor
    Hence emergent player behavior in these games tends to display a pattern
    As a diagram it would look like...
  • 33. Patterned Emergent Behavior
  • 34. Linearity With Many Faces
    To make the inherent “linearity” even more visible, think of a flowchart-like presentation
  • 35. Linearity With Many Faces
    NarratologistBremondput it evensimpler in his studies on necessityandstorylogicthat he conducted in the 1960s.
  • 36. Pseudo Non-Linear
    • So, the overall narrative construct that we face here is quite predictable, linear, and closed.
    • 37. Hence I dare to call these kind of emergent games pseudo-non-linear.
    • 38. Despite their openness, these games are built around relatively narrow possibility space and an essentiallylinear premise.
    • 39. They are much more a repetition of the same sequence of events as of being truly open-ended and non-linear.
  • A Game Difficulty Perspective
    So far about patterns...
    My second question was asking whether we can safely assume that the game medium renders every instance of its use emergent.
    Looking at the relationship between game difficulty and possibility space may give us an idea.
  • 40. The Open and the Closed
  • 41. Is There A Linear or Non-Linear “Nature” of Media and Narratives?
    • I don’t know if you have noticed, but thissimpleobservationshows us that under certain conditions a non-linear system may turn linear, and vice versa.
    • 42. This situation seems to put a dent to claims that emergence is the “nature” of the game medium.
  • “Artificial” Emergence?
    • Actually we could say that under certain conditions games resist to ambitions of emergence.
    • 43. In other words, the designer has to craft and maintain the conditions of emergence
    • 44. For example using save-points and extra-lives is a way to artificially overcome problems of insufficient possibility space under hard difficulty settings
  • “Nature” or Mode of Consumption?
    • My conclusion here is that neither games nor narratives have a “nature” that by default allows us to label them as open or closed.
    • 45. Maybe we are just making the mistake of seeingtheaestheticconventions of a certain historical mode of productionin a particular mediumas the nature of that medium
  • The Indifferent Medium and the Designer’s Craft
    • To sum it up:
    • 46. Bothlinearity and non-linearity are design achievements, depending on authorial skill and intention.
    • 47. The medium won’t do the work for us, because it does not know linearity or non-linearity.
    • 48. It just makes itself available to our vision and it’s up to us to realize that vision by bending the medium as to serve our needs
    • 49. If we manage to keep it linear, it will be linear
    • 50. If we manage to keep it non-linear, it will be non-linear
    • 51. And if we manage to do so, it will start out emergent but collapse into a state in which nothing can emerge anymore
  • The Open and the Closed
    Thank you!
    http://altugi.wordpress.com
    İsigan.altug@gmail.com
    Twitter: altugi
    LinkedIn: Altug Isigan
  • 52. References
    Eco U. (1987) Açık Yapıt (çev. Yakup Şahan). İstanbul: Kabalcı.
    Juul J. (2002). “The Open and the Closed: Games of Emergence and Games of Progression”. http://www.jesperjuul.net/text/openandtheclosed.html
    Juul J. (2001). “A History of the Computer Game”. http://www.jesperjuul.net/thesis/2-historyofthecomputergame.html
    Sardar Z. and Abrams I. (2010). Kaos: Düzensizlikteki Düzeni Anlamak İçin Çizgibilim. İstanbul: NTV Yayınları.