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The Art of Computer Game Design
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must infer causal relationships from a single sequence of facts; the player of a game is encouraged to explore alternatives, contrapositives, and inversions. The game player is free to explore the causal relationship from many different angles. Indeed, the player expects to play the game many times, trying different strategies each time. A story is meant to be experienced once; its representational value decreases with subsequent retellings because it presents no new information. A game s representational value increases with each playing until the player has explored a representative subset of all of the branches in the game net. This does not mean that games are better than stories. Although stories trace only a single sequence of causal development, they do so with greater intricacy and detail than games. Detail is crucial to the creative success of a story, for it provides the texture, the feel of reality that makes a story compelling. The story writer unleashes a mighty swirling torrent of facts that sweeps the audience to its predestined conclusion. The game designer creates a complex network of paths cunningly crafted to show the player all possible facets of a single truth. In this respect, a story is like a statuette where a game is like a jewel. The statuette s value arises from the fineness of detail and intricacy of construction. A jewel, by contrast, has no detail; its faces must be absolutely smooth. The jewel s value arises from its ability to refract light into many different angles. A statuette is meant to be stationary; a jewel is meant to be moved. So too, is a story static where a game is dynamic. Stories enjoy a particular advantage over the current generation of computer games: the element of surprise. A good story boasts an array of interesting plot twists. The storyteller leads us into a set of expectations and then cleverly inserts a new factor that creates a disjunction, a new and dramatically different situation. This process can be repeated many times during the course of the story. Among computer games, only adventures provide this element of surprise. Unfortunately, the surprise can only be created by limiting the player s freedom of action so as to guarantee that the player will encounter the surprise under the proper circumstances. After a while, all adventures begin to smell like primrose paths. The really exciting possibility offered by computer games is the prospect of formulating a plot twist in response to the player s actions, instead of merely dragging him down a pre-ordained primrose path. However, the ability to formulate surprise requires an ability to analyze the player s actions, deduce his expectations, and generate a believable plot twist that confutes his expectations without frustrating him. Artificial intelligence that advanced has yet to be created.
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Games versus Toys
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Games lie between stories and toys on a scale of manipulability. Stories do not permit the audience any opportunity to control the sequence of facts presented. Games allow the player to manipulate some of the facts of the fantasy, but the rules governing the fantasy remain fixed. Toys
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The Art of Computer Game Design
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are much looser; the toy user is free to manipulate it in any manner that strikes his fancy. The storyteller has direct creative control over his audience s experience; the game designer has indirect control; the toymaker has almost none.
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Interaction is important for several reasons. First, it injects a social or interpersonal element into the event. It transforms the challenge of the game from a technical one to an interpersonal one. Solving a cube puzzle is a strictly technical operation; playing chess is an interpersonal operation. In the former, one plays against the logic of the situation; in the latter, one uses the logic of the situation to play against the opponent. Second, interaction transforms the nature of the challenge from a passive challenge to an active challenge. A puzzle will always present the player with exactly the same challenge. But a game opponent reacts to player s actions, and presents different challenges in each game. This difference has major emotional significance. The person solving the puzzle must somehow divine, guess, deduce, master, or discover the key trick built into the puzzle by the designer. Emotionally, the puzzle player is working against the puzzle or its designer to unmask its secret. Once the secret is known, the puzzle is no longer interesting. The game-player, by contrast, faces different challenges each time she plays the game. Where a puzzle is dead a game is alive; the player must create her solution to the game in a manner best suited to her own personality and that of her opponent. The key distinction between a game and a puzzle is the difference between creating your own solution and discovering the designer s solution. A game acknowledges the player s existence and reacts to the player s personality; a puzzle lies down like a dead fish. Computer games seldom provide a human opponent, and so they lack the social element that other games offer. They can, however, present an illusory personality against which the player must work. This is one of the most exciting and least developed potentials of the computer as a game technology. And regardless of the computer s success or failure in synthesizing a social element, the computer can readily make the game a highly interactive experience for the player. It can react to the player s moves with speed and thoroughness.
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