Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cybertext

It's funny, it has been a winding road through all of these different books. I started with a book on engineering design principles, then moved on to the effects of those ideas in media via unit operations. A closer look at the nature of visual representations of those systems was followed by an exploration of how much those visuals need to hide about the system and what they should let us see. Then a comparison between two books about what effect, if any, these systems can have on a person. Next, a discourse on how the unit operations are the foundation and the rest is stacked on.

I have read a lot of f***ing books about video games this year.

It's interesting to me the surprising variety of interests that you find digging around this field. I pointed out a few posts back that video games are very handy for talking about metaphysics because you've got millions of people engaging with stuff that isn't real. Sitting and jabbering about how we don't really know what courage or virtue is can be a difficult dialog because most people are content with "I know it when I see it." Asking someone why they give a damn about their score in a video game though...now that will get them talking. It's equally surprising that the principles of engineering connect to all this because designing something that isn't real is arguably tougher than designing something that you can hold in your hand. And how do we represent all of this? What, precisely, is the best way to show someone leveling up? How do we design that so that it feels more real? Is the plot what gets people to connect or is it the design? Can it be both?

For all these damn books, I've got more questions now than when I started out.

Espen J. Aarseth's book Cybertext is an argument for finding a new method for discussing these systems that isn't confined to just the plot or just the design. Spinning terms like 'ergodics' and arguing that some kinds of books are literally explored instead of just read, it is stunning to read something like this knowing it was written over a decade ago. What did he have to work with? Text adventures? A few platformers? Much of it has aged, but most of it we're still arguing about even today.

You may as well check out one of the biggest milestones in this debate.

3 comments:

Evan said...

You've probably already seen it, but if you're interested in visual representations of complex systems, the definitive reference is pretty much anything by Tufte. It doesn't necessarily map well to game design, but it does provide an interesting counterpoint on how highly dimensional systems can be efficiently represented in two-dimensional space.

Worth a look, even if it's only for the pretty pictures!

L.B. Jeffries said...

That's Edward Tufte, right? I'll have to look into it when I get a chance. I keep getting more books I need to read...

Evan said...

Yup, he's the one; the next time you're in a bookstore, see if you can pick one up even if it's just to flip through.