Raph Koster: Games Teach Odd Lessons

Raph Koster’s talk at GDC China, at least as Gamasutra relates it, sounded fairly negative through much of its content. Koster began by examining the nature of games as, primarily, algorithms, and noted that “humans are still better at solving problems intuitively than computers can ever be”. He then went on to analyze some of the lessons that games impart to players by virtue of their design:

…most of the tropes of non-game media may involve learning and evolving from other characters – moral stories or outcomes. But Koster rightly notes: “In games, we really don’t care about learning from the monster in the RPG. Instead we just kill them all.”

There are other ways that games teach odd lessons. For example, you can retry as many times as you like in most games, and gradually improve your performance, with no ramifications. But, as the design veteran noted: “In the real world, you do get second chances. And [in some cases] the second try is harder.”

Perhaps the most piquant example Koster gave was around what F2P titles might be starting to teach us. He joked that many of today’s game titles seem to be giving the message: “Oh, you have a problem? You can buy yourself out of a problem.”

So in microtransaction-driven games, you can always buy your way out of a problem. But Koster pointed out that in real life: “That isn’t really honest…you can spend a lot of money and not buy your way out of unhappiness.”

The talk ends on an optimistic note, however; Koster remarks on the tendency of games to be optimistic by nature (since every problem can typically be solved). Game creation, as he explains it, is ultimately about “mak[ing] joy”.

Still, his point is well-taken; the solutions to problems faced by our avatars (and Avatars) are, more often than not, solutions that are just not open to us in real life…nor even analogs for solutions that are open to us. Not always, but often.

3 Responses

  1. Sanctimonia Sanctimonia says:

    The Gamasutra post has some interesting–and asinine–comments. What the near future holds is that nearly everything will become a game, and gaming will be omnipresent. Turn signals in cars will become automated, anticipating your next turn and giving you positive points for early manual initiation and follow through but negative points for failing to turn as manually signaled. Transmission devices like PCs and consoles will automatically connect to ensure an uninterrupted pipe to your local and extended network. Nerds are about to hit the mainstream in a way we haven’t yet anticipated and that young people will just accept instinctively.

    • WtF Dragon WtF Dragon says:

      I was driving a Dodge Charger on a recent work trip, and man…the fuel economy monitor became a game for me. It was just a simple gradient bar, moving from red to green by way of yellow, and as you drove it adjusted to reflect the fuel economy of the car per your driving style. Slam the pedal down to hear the engine roar, and the bar would shrink into the red. Hit a clean patch of interstate and thumb on the cruise, and the bar would grow into the green area after a mile or so.

      And I gather the system on Ford cars is even more overtly “gameified”. “Gamified”? Whatever.

      • Sanctimonia Sanctimonia says:

        Heh heh. My favorite “driving game” is to try to disengage/adjust cruise control or brake as infrequently as possible, ideally while maintaining a speed between seven to eight MPH above the speed limit, maintaining a safe following distance, etc. I’ve almost become psychic in anticipating other drivers’ actions, as they generally have “tells” which either indicate a specific upcoming maneuver or reveal their general driving style. It’s a good way to attain some peace of mind considering just how poorly most people drive (and knowing my enemy improves my success at the game).

        Considering your story you might find this interesting (hypermiling): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy-efficient_driving