Unusability: You don’t want to play it again!

“Unusable games“ sound like a contradiction: Who would want to play a game that doesn’t work? And why are there designers – educators, of all the people with already a reputation for bad game design – that create these unusable games?

If in a game we regret acting like we did, usable games give us a chance to do better next time.
Unusable games force us to repeat the same regrettable action over and over, until we regret playing the game as it is, without alterations of its rules or its narratives to do better.
Its a game-genre about awareness: Stop playing by the given rules, laugh at them – or change them.

Games demand from the player blind trust that they, as a medium, behave in a stable, foreseeable and conventional way. For example a game is usually accompanied by the exciting suspense of who may win in the end; a game that ‘cheats’, by subtly sabotaging this balance in favour of the game, of one player or a group of players, may turn gameplay into a frustrating experience.

So, if given a game the player expects it to be balanced, to be fun, to contain a coherent contextualisation. She expects it to be either culturally and traditionally tethered and proven like chess, or, with contemporary games, created en bloc by a competent and benevolent game designer for her entertainment.


Games and the „best way“ to tell stories

Torsten Meyer (thanks!) just sent me a link to a recent interview with game designer Peter Molyneux, published in the „Tageszeitung“, the title translates as „Fable-Gamedesigner Peter Molyneux: A visionary and charlatan“

Molyneux is quite enthusiastic about interactive-adaptive stories as games, but omits other aspects of the relation of „story“ and „game“ resp. „play“ which I think are quite important.
If there’s the question „How can stories in games ever compete with books and movies?“, one may have fallen to an error of categorisation. Stories in games have to deal with similar problems as texts in the digital medium: They are easily seen as simple transfers from previous technical media, but basically the same as before, a linear progression of meaningful – or dramatically arranged – information.

In search of a game’s True Meaning ™…

As with the ongoing ‚Killerspiel‘ debate in Germany, public and politicians are in search of The Meaning of a game. Though it’s understandable that there’s concern over violent, pornographic or propagandistic content, few seem to understand that games can also be created as toys.
To quote Marvin Minsky in his ‚Society of Mind‘,

„A thing with just one meaning has scarcely any meaning at all.“

Games can take the form of paths, labyrinths, and landscapes, and the latter ones are difficult or even impossible to fathom. If seen from a literary point of view, I’d even deny a linear game to be ‚understood‘ in its ‚entirety‘, just by being played from a narrow social, temporal and mental vantage point.

I’m often asking myself, whether this is political actionism, populism, wishful thinking, technological and medial ignorance, or a mix of all these.

There seems to be a strong urge for a world which is deterministic, monocausal, where any one thing has one discrete meaning. Which fits nicely on the description of ‚digital‘, without the analog fuzz surrounding it.
Thus this drive is both very compatible with an information society, but also somehow incompatible with social, cultural, individual reality, diversity, and most of all ambiguity.