Sunday, February 05, 2006

War/Dance in Life and Play

Why do so many games advance the war metaphor? Chess is almost synonymous with the idea. Other board games will require players to compete for some limited resource or rack up the most points in some arbitrary currency. Perhaps we simply understand life itself as a war, in which case the interaction in these games is called for — preferred, even. But what if we viewed life through another lens? What if we started to think of life as a dance? Interaction becomes poetic, and the goals change completely. Obstacles disappear — without a hammer, you see no nails — they are turned into dance partner, you would be wasting your time stomping on your partner's feet (the dance accounts for the interdependence of things). I'd like to see more games where the players learn about each other and themselves through some sort of continuous poetic interaction towards a shared goal. You could always think of musical improvisation as that sort of game, or the interaction between a Dungeon Master and the characters in a typical RPG, but how could you apply this idea to something like a visual art or board game?


Jason LaPorte said...

I've been thinking about this guy for a while, and I think I've finally hit upon it.

It's cultural. Western culture is a culture of warriors. It's been our birthright since at least the time of the Greeks, and our warlike ways have filtered down through the millenia to the still very competitive and warlike culture we have today.

And so, our games are warlike as well.

It seems to me, though, that games made in a different culture advance or embody the traits of that particular culture. For example, look at Tetris: Tetris was developed in Russia, and is a very constructive game instead of a destructive one. It's a puzzle game. It is meant to challenge the mind, not the reflexes. (And, ironically, it only has a negative reinforcement aspect: you only see your failures pile up on the screen, your successes disappear as soon as you make them.)

Go is another example: it is probably the closest very popular game I can think of to what you're describing, since everyone I know who plays Go always sees it as a game of balance, as a complex interaction between oneself and one's opponent.

I can't play Go since I am too impatient.

What if we used the technology we now have to make games as a poetic interaction? For example, say you have a game where two players control an unbroken line, link a pen upon paper. As they draw, the intent is to trap the formost point of their opponent's line (that is, where their pen is) completely within their own line. There would of course be restrictions on the speed of lines and such, but I think such a game might be interesting.

But that's only a very trivial example. The art of war is so well-advanced nowadays; how might such a different metaphor evolve? It'd have to be much more mainstream, and need the minds of many working on it to get nearly as entrenched as wargames are.

But hey, multiplayer online gaming is just now becoming mainstream, so the time is ripe for something like this...

Kyle said...

I don't think the war metaphor is specific to the West. It may even be stronger in the Middle East and Far East.

" only see your failures pile up on the screen, your successes disappear as soon as you make them." Great point, I hadn't realized this before. Although... I'm no expert in Russian history, but I wouldn't say any sort of "constructive" ideology characterizes the culture.

Go is an interesting case because it has multiple proposed histories. One follows your interpretation, of "discipline, concentration, and balance". The other explanation: "Chinese warlords and generals would use pieces of stone to map out attacking positions." It's worth noting that war itself has been seen as a game of balance.

Your unbroken line idea is similar to something I sketched last winter... though "trapping" the other person still sounds like war to me. I envisioned a game where two players draw together, trying to create something complete with their combined strokes. This still isn't the most complete manifestation of the idea: a truly poetic multiplayer game requires that the result not be attainable by a single player.

Kyle said...

Also, check out Armagetron for something resembling your line-surrounding game.

Jason LaPorte said...

I think a nice way to distinguish games is via "constructive games," in which the goal is to build up, and "destructive games," in which the goal is to destroy. Another distinction is between competitive games, in which players are set at odds to each other, and cooperative games are those in which players build together.

So, for examples, Go, Carcassonne, Settlers of Catan are competitive construction games, Chess and Checkers are competitive destruction games. Examples of cooperative games are a bit harder to find. I can't even think of any examples of cooperative construction games, though there are a lot of video games that are cooperative destruction games (e.g. Contra, Gunstar Heroes, Halo in co-op mode, etc).

When viewed as this square, it seems that in our culture at least, destructive games are more popular than constructive games, and competitive games are more popular than cooperative ones.

In that light, I think the type of game you're desiring would be cooperatively constructive. I'll keep trying to think of examples that we can use to relate it to.