Apr 28, 2011

The Tale of Tales talk at the Art History of Games 2010, “Over Games” (YouTube), included the following (from 16:40 to 19:20):

“We’re not the only designers who think that computer technology has a lot more to offer than dress up games. But we’ve been a bit scattered so far, and whenever we communicate our ideas in public, or even show our work we meet with the brick wall of intolerance of the games industry and the gamers audience. People like games, and they like them so much that they don’t want anybody to make anything else but games.

Rather than continue those endless debates with the fiero junkies, we have decided to join forces. We’re calling this project the Notgames Initiative… the idea is to explore the potential of digital entertainment and art that is not games. By explicitly rejecting the typical game elements of rules and goals and challenges and rewards, we hope to discover new ways to delight and enlighten our audience. Ways that give us more freedom in terms of subject matter and emotional response. It’s important to point out that notgames is not a category of entertainment or art. Instead, it is a method to design, a challenge to designers and artists.

Notgames is not an ideology, either. It’s not necessary to radically choose to never makes games again. We can make a game one day and a not-so-game another. It’s about broadening the spectrum, not narrowing it down…

We hope and believe that our pioneering work with our little group will inspire and encourage more mainstream designers to create digital entertainment for all the hungry people out there who are not enchanted with videogames the way they are now.”

I thought I would pass along the original quote and video, since it was an idea that I have found useful in both explaining my own work and in understanding peculiar side projects of others.

Potential Differences in My Usage

Though their focus is often atmospheric narrative (in a broad use of the word narrative) – immersion without gameplay – my focus since late 2007 has often been on gameplay without game. While the notgames work by Tale of Tales has tended to reinforce entertainment or artistic expression as the primary purpose, I have tended to struggle with communicating concepts or feelings, without regard for entertainment value (to the chagrin and confusion of my peers in entertainment). In keeping with the spirit of the word, my intent is not to hijack the meaning, to say it should mean this instead of that, but to embrace and help realize the broadening of the spectrum that their introduction of the term suggests.

Though I’ve been at this since before Tale of Tales proposed the term, I find it a useful one, very well articulated. As such I have adopted it, at times retroactively, when referring to the apps and programs I’ve developed that include videogame-like functionality without typical game elements, or the use of videogame conventions to achieve some purpose other than the type(s) associated with games.

I consider this broadened interpretation of the concept appropriate, because just as there are more categories and purposes for non-fiction than fiction (fiction is mostly one giant alphabetized section, possibly split by genre; non-fiction includes health, business, philosophy, how-to, relationships, test preparation, science, history, memoir, cultural pieces, travel, diary, psychology, art, literary criticism, geology, politics…), it seems to me that there are more categories and purposes for notgames than games (games are virtually all of what we see alphabetized as one common group on the shelves of GameStop; by contrast, examples of notgames from my own work include: physical/psychological health, strategic patterns, inspiration, instruction, rhetorical simulation, relationship dynamics, skill training, system analysis, dramatized reenactment, autobiography, videogame AI tuning, triggering emotion with videogame mechanics, empathy pieces, personal, cognitive demonstration, art inspection, interpretation, spatial communication (Everest), satire, spectacle tools, poetry, toy soldiers, and more…).

To be clear: this is not an argument that any one type is better than the other (!), only to call attention to the point that notgames are much more fragmented than games, in what I propose parallels the fragmentation of non-fiction compared to fiction.

See slide 29 of this Ben Sawyer PDF from 2008 for an attempt to categorize Serious Games – the number and types of projects that might fit a deck like this have positively exploded and rapidly expanded in the years since to cover an even greater variety of ideas and approaches. I do not know whether Tale of Tales or Ben Sawyer would consider Serious Games as notgames – though I believe many Serious Games fit squarely within “[selective rejection of game conventions for] …new ways to… enlighten our audience.”

All else being equal, one might even assume such a difference in fragmentation anyhow. In a case such as this, one “category” is being defined as anything not belonging to another category which is more clearly understood. An a fictional analogy, if humans went thousands of years knowing of no fruit besides the banana (thus only having one term which both means “fruit” and “banana”), the sudden discovery that some unknown number of other fruits exist might lead to the introduction of a new term for the complementary set: notbanana. In such a case, there would be far more diversity/fragmentation within the notbanana set than the banana set.

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