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  • Game Studies: Physical Elements Of Play

    - James Kinch

  • Role Play

    Role play is a very broad genre of games as it can be found in many different forms of play. There are some games, as previously described, that incorporate it as a mechanic such as D&D. However, in some instances, there are few physical elements that drive role play forward and it is up to the players to drive the narrative.

    This is the case especially in online roleplay sessions between two or more people in a chat room or instant messaging app. Due to the anonymity of the internet, players are able to create their own characters without needing to share personal details about themselves. As Mortensen writes, "Communicating by way of a computer provides a liberty to presenting yourself as realistically as you desire" (Mortensen, 2002) thus allowing players to create anything that they wish whether it be related to themselves or not.

    Mortesen goes on to write that "the speed of the exchanges is closer to the real-time experience of conversation and makes for the intimacy of the physical encounter with the safety of distance. This creates an illusion of real-time interaction and introduces a high level of intimacy." There are very few physical elements to this way of interacting, only requiring a computer, a method of input and a method of output. Voice communication can be disregarded and no elements are needed to keep "score" or ways to move.

    This is dependent on the ‘rules' of the roleplay which are generally determined before the creation and interaction of characters has begun. This is similar to significant cultural events where there are (in reference to Halloween) "rules or at least parameters" (Fullerton, et al., 2007) in which people participating can behave, dress or act. While there are laws that must be followed in a country, people can use the parameters of an event to express themselves in an alternative way to everyday life, similar to how a character is created/acted.

    Players will sometimes break character in an attempt to ask a question about the rules or something unrelated to the game which is referred to as ‘Out of Character' (OOC). Described as a "culture" by Mortesen, it is an important aspect of roleplay and may be needed throughout a session for multiple reasons. One of these reasons is to ensure that the story is continuing in the path that the players would like. This may be set out initially the ‘rules' but it may be called upon to direct attention to an interaction that the players need to have in order to progress. Utilising this is important to have the continued interest in the roleplay and therefore the drive of the narrative.

    Designated Playing Areas (Boards)

    A board is generally the largest physical element to a game that features one. These can range from simple markings like the ones found in Chess or more detailed ones found in games such as Formula D (Randall & Lavaur, 1991).

    Figure 5 - Starting Chess board layout.

    Figure 6 - A Formula D track.

    Both of these games rely on players moving their pieces around the board. In Chess, it is to take away the opponent's pieces whereas in Formula D, it is to race around the track and to win the race. This means that the players spend a lot of time looking at the board attempting to make moves.

    A chess player could quite easily recreate a chess grid on a piece of paper and use the figures to play out the game. In Formula D, while this technically could be possible, not only would it take a significant more amount of time due to the more advance track layout, lots of the detail that is present around the track would be lost unless it was drawn in. In the example above, for instance, by recreating it on paper, it is unlikely that it will be drawn at night. This could potentially change the perception that people have of the track and how much they enjoy playing it. The player may prefer races at night which may make this their favourite track in the game. Removing the uniqueness of the setting could change that player's view.

    As previously mentioned in the introduction, Monopoly has sold many different special editions over the years. The current world record holder of most Monopoly sets owned is held by Neil Scallan with 2249 sets (World of Monopoly, 2019). Some editions retain the classic token line-up but all editions change the board's place names and iconography to match the theme in the edition. Is it evidence that these editions must either sell a lot of copies or the manufacturing costs are so low that there is no point in not making one. Unfortunately, the most complete list that has been created so far is that of Scallan's collection and therefore it is difficult to accurately find information about the sales/manufacturing costs of Monopoly editions besides the standard versions.


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