Slow Gaming!

What exactly does it mean to beat a game? You can’t have a meaningful contest against an inert digital artefact. From the game’s point of view, you did not beat it. On the contrary, you did exactly what the game wanted you to do, every step of the way. You didn’t play the game, you performed the operations it demanded of you, like an obedient employee.
Steven Poole, “Working for the Man: Against the Employment Paradigm in Videogames”

Steven Poole made some very interesting observations about how deeply playing videogames resembles work in his keynote presentation at the F.R.O.G. conference in Vienna, last October. Observations that brough to mind my own “Of cogs and machines” post, where I approach a similar subject from my perspective as designer and use some eerily similar metaphors.

[…] obediently following a game’s narrative or challenge-reward structure is nothing but work. Only when the player does something that isn’t mandated by the system can she be said to be playing.

He goes on to quote Horkheimer and Adorno as visionary prophets of our dystopian industrialized present and makes an interesting analogy with the Slow Food movement that states:

The culture of our times rests on a false interpretation of industrial civilisation; in the name of dynamism and acceleration, man invents machines to find relief from work but at the same time adopts the machine as a model of how to live his life.

Inspired by this challenge, Mr. Poole imagines a “new videogaming manifesto”:

It would speak of games where you really could choose your own adventure, but also where, if you preferred, you could just take time to smell the coffee, with no shadowy boss figure watching your clock and tapping his foot. It would be called Slow Gaming. Gamers of the world unite: you have nothing to lose but your boring virtual jobs.

Read the full article here!

13 thoughts on “Slow Gaming!”

  1. Sounds good. Time Trial gameplay can often be often be evident of a game with poor design. Why is the clock ticking? sometimes i ask. Because someone set off the self destruct? please. Why is everyone destroying their own bases now-a-days.
    I wish more game makers that desire to spur people onward in there little creation would find a better motive than the timer is running out of time. And don’t pretend that it’s because the bomb is timed to go off in five minutes. Please. It’s just an excuse to make timed gameplay.

  2. In not-so-Soviet Russia, we don’t “beat” our games (and the games don’t beat us, either). We use the verb “пройти”, “to pass”, when we are talking about finishing the game.

  3. Well, sometimes it goes for the exams, but usually we “give up” our exams (the verb is “сдавать”, like “you should give up your weapons when leaving the shooting range”, sorry for a military example).

    But, as in other languages, “пройти” is used in different senses as well, like in simple connotation that you physically passed (e.g. walked) from one place to another.

    By the way, do you see Cyrillic letters correct, or just a bunch of accented symbols?

  4. Yes, the Cyrillic letters show up correctly. It looks very exotic! 😉
    Only we don’t know how to pronounce them, of course. :(

    I don’t think there is an expression equivalent to “beating the game” in Dutch. So I guess we don’t.

  5. I like the term “complete” for finishing a game. It has a nice double meaning.. wherein you’ve “completed” the game, as in gotten all the way to the end.. but the player also “completes” a video game by playing it, in a complementary fashion, in that a game itself is inert code, waiting for a human to come along and complete the experience.

  6. That’s interesting. Though I find the idea of completing a game much less attractive than the game completing me. But then again, I really only care about the art in games.

    Anyway, none of this fascinating journey into language detracts from the point that Steven Poole was trying to make: that our entertainment (videogames) is structured in much the same way as our work. Sadly he more or less skips over his own quote from Horkheimer and Adorno which seems to say that, in an industrial society, entertainment has to just like work because work is what we’re used to and anything else would require too much (mental) effort. And then it wouldn’t be entertaining.

  7. Thank you for the kind link. I had not seen your “Of Cogs and Machines” piece, but reading it now I do like the contrast you draw — the metaphor of the player as a cog in a “system” game is lovely.

    On the other hand, I don’t agree that system games can’t be art. A fugue of Bach’s, for instance, is from one perspective a beautiful “system” comprising patterns of almost forbidding perfection, but we do not deny that it is also art. So I will say that Defender, Tempest etc are art as well. :)

    I agree with Ben that time-trials are hardly ever warranted: and they are a very good example of games-as-work that I might have added.

    Michaël: I don’t read Adorno and Horkheimer as offering their own normative view there.

    Best regards,

  8. Thank you for dropping by, Steven! :)
    I feel honoured!

    The thing with music is that you can enjoy it even if your don’t understand it. The problem with system games is that you have to be good at them, really good at them, to get anywhere near any form of enjoyment. And to become good at them, you generally need to do them over and over again. And to be able to do that, you need to enjoy doing things over and over. Some people do. And for those people, system games can be profoundly deep artistic experiences, I’m sure.

    I prefer my leisure to be a bit more relaxing, myself. Liking lying on the couch and listening to Bach, e.g. :)

  9. Maybe I will one day. 😉

    I see what you mean about having to work for the reward in a system game; but one can appreciate a lot about the art of Defender or Tempest without being very good at it. And many other kinds of art also demand that we work to fully enjoy their rewards, eg if we want to read medieval poetry. I might even argue that the best art in any medium usually has some (variable) proportion of instant reward and reward that you have to work to dig out.

  10. I totally agree with you on a theoretic level. But in practice, I still find it hard to put a Rubens painting and Tempest next to each other. Perhaps I’m just old fashioned. Or perhaps we shouldn’t make such demands of video games. After all most of them have been made so far by engineers with little artistic intent (or seriousness/devotion/integrity). And I do like for my art to have an author.

    But I don’t think “Slow Gaming” needs to be about artistic games. Don’t you think trying to create games for playing rather than working is more a matter of good (or different) design? Some games, be they “slow” or “fast”, will end up being artistically valuable. Most will simply aim at being fun. Perhaps slow games will be fun for more people? (or for different people?)

  11. Oh yes, I agree with that. The question of art is really a separate issue on which I was responding to your other post. (By the way, Tetsuya Mizuguchi is one of those “engineers” of system games who quite happily talks about his work in terms of artistic influences, so I think with him as with others there are serious intentions at work.) “Slow Gaming” won’t necessarily be more “artistic” than system gaming, but it will be different. :)

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