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  • The Nature of Games in the 21st Century

    [03.05.09]
    - Lewis Pulsipher

  • Title boxPacifism. This can be quite surprising for the hardcore video gamers, who tend to prefer games where things blow up or die. But remember that half of game players are women, and the great majority of female game players are not interested in violence.

    It is quite easy to find gamers who just will not attack other players. Games that are essentially multiplayer solitaire are fairly common in the board game world-you can't do anything to harm or much to hinder the other players' situations. "Euro"-aficionados might put this differently, saying that the games use indirect means of influencing other players rather than the direct means common in war games.

    The extraordinarily popular board game (and now video game) Settlers of Catan includes the "robber" in order to give players some way to negatively affect other players; yet this can be seen as a kind of kludge, perhaps added on when the game was otherwise too much like multiplayer solitaire.

    Sharing and cooperation.
    The millennial generation is known to prefer sharing and cooperation more than preceding generations did. Competition is sometimes frowned upon by parents and teachers. We also now have a higher proportion of adult women playing games than in the past, who tend to be less interested in competition and more interested in cooperation.

    People are much more interested in games where you build up things, than games in which you tear down an opponent. (Yes, the hardcore video game players are an exception. They often like to destroy.)

    Perhaps the popularity of the Wii and Wii-like games reflects this change. Dislike of player elimination is another indication. The out-and-out pacifism of some players is another symptom.

    Much stronger visual orientation. In the age of color television, of computers, of the Internet, this is hardly surprising. Inasmuch as people are less likely to read, they are more likely to be interested in images and good looks. Just as some players will criticize a video game for outdated graphics, players will criticize board games for "boring bits" (components). One reason why cards are much more popular, and dice less, in non-electronic games is that cards can include colorful, varied, interesting illustrations.

    I've even heard a teenager say that music "isn't real" until he sees something to go along with hearing the music. Hardly any older person would have that point of view (except perhaps for opera?).

    Uncertainty of information is much more common. Traditional games, even commercial ones such as Monopoly and Risk, have "perfect information" or nearly so. On the other hand, card games were the bastion of hidden information. Early video games provided perfect information, as nothing was hidden from the players. Now hidden information ("fog of war") is the norm, thanks to the power of modern processors. In board games, too, the use of cards and upside-down tiles is much more common, introducing uncertainty.

    Player interaction without overt conflict.
    In war games the inevitable conflict results in constant and strong interaction between players. In traditional commercial games not about war, such as Scrabble and Monopoly, some interaction exists but is not based on violence. Interaction in card games can vary a great deal from one design to another. Modern board games have many ways of encouraging interaction that were uncommon or unknown decades ago, such as auctions and trading. Early video games, almost always one player against the computer, technically involved no player interaction at all, though there was plenty of interaction with the computer opposition.

    Much of the interaction in video games is still based in warfare and violence. But we have seen an increase in non-violent games, as in The Sims, in resource management games such as Settlers, in "casual" games such as Bejeweled and Diner Dash, and in a great many games made for the Wii. You could argue a case that the "real future" of interactive video entertainment is in games with more than one player and with lots of interaction among players, often of a non-violent nature.

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