Gamels: Why bother anyways?

Author’s note: I’m attempting to develop a method for game analysis around irreducible game elements (gamels). This and all the other articles are a sort of log of my thought process, and are not definitive truths. Please feel free to react or comment in any way.

Q: It might seem irrelevant or useless to build a tool for game analysis. I mean, don’t game mags do that already?

A: NO, they don’t. What the gaming press (paper or other) does are game reviews: short and subjective descriptions of a product in order to guide consumers into buying (or not) a game.

Q: Ok ok… So, what about all the talk on game criticism there has been lately?

A: Yeah, that’s a good thing, but it’s not what I’m looking for. Game criticism is very important because it helps us define what games are and what they can be, but since a critique is a literary exercise about a finished product, and since most media critiques are “weak” canonically speaking, they cannot be used as a tool during a development.

Q: And what about Aki Jarvinen’s work on game elements? Isn’t that kinda what you’re doing now, only done better by a guy with more credentials?

A: Well… First off, I must admit I’m a huge fan of Mr. Jarvinen’s work. I think it is a groundbreaking, smart and thought provoking read that should be mandatory in every gaming degree out there. Of course, I also slightly disagree with him on the matter of game elements. It is a very useful tool for analysing a completed game, but I find it too complicated and cumbersome for it to be applicable in the day to day work of a game designer. This is why I set out to find my own model, which is more “tool” oriented than Mr. Jarvinen’s doctoral dissertation.

But the main reason behind it all is that during my studies, I’ve never been taught how to properly analyze and criticize games, focusing on the “craft” of the business. In other media courses, you learn to de-make (analyze) before you get to make. So now I’m trying to learn that by attempting to find a dedicated method to analyze games as games, and not by adapting or borrowing from film or literature (the common method so far).

In a nutshell, what I’m writing about won’t probably become a best-seller (best-blogger?) or change the world, but will at least help me understand what I’m working on a little more .

Gamel categories

Author’s note: I’m attempting to develop a method for game analysis around irreducible game elements (gamels). This and all the other articles are a sort of log of my thought process, and are not definitive truths. Please feel free to react or comment in any way.

I had previously stated that a game element could be classified according to two criteria: whether it is abstract or concrete, and whether it is implicit or explicit. I’ve been giving this idea a little more thought now that everything is quieter on the job front, and would like to expand on it.

First off, I think it is necessary to clarify the labels applied to the criteria.

Concrete: Anything that can be seen, heard, touched, or felt in any other way. An object which has a physical manifestation.

Abstract: All that is not covered by “Concrete”. Abstract objects exist only in someone’s mind.

Explicit: Elements that have a direct, measurable or objective effect on other elements. Causality, correlation and deductive relationships.

Implicit: Elements that have an indirect, non-measurable or subjective effect on the player. Belief, emotional and intuitive relationships.

What emerges from these definitions is that the Concrete/Abstract axis is really about the passive nature of a gamel while the Explicit/Implicit axis is about its active nature. These divisions should be general enough to be all-inclusive and non-ambiguous; a gamel necessarily falls into either category and can’t be both at the same time. If an object appears to have characteristics in two opposed categories, this means it is in fact composed of two different gamels.

I doubt these “containing objects” need any description other than “contain gamels”, their in-game function being determined by their contents. Think of them as your computer’s directories.

The next logical stop from here would be looking into how gamels interact with each other…

Abstract gamels, AKA “rules”

Author’s note: I’m attempting to develop a method for game analysis around irreducible game elements (gamels). This and all the other articles are a sort of log of my thought process, and are not definitive truths. Please feel free to react or comment in any way.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of game rules recently, partly due to Johan Huizinga’s influence and partly due to a “very small” project I’ve been investing my free time in recently.

Rules are what I manipulate when designing. Whether I’m tuning controls, scoring systems, writing a story or just thinking about a new super-cool gameplay, every design decision I make explicitly or implicitly affects one of the many rules that compose a video game. Continue reading

Gamels – game elements

Author’s note: I’m attempting to develop a method for game analysis around irreducible game elements (gamels). This and all the other articles are a sort of log of my thought process, and are not definitive truths. Please feel free to react or comment in any way.

I often run out of words to describe what I want to talk about. My approach in these cases is to just make up a new word.

6x4 picture elements

6x4 picture elements

The concept of game elements or objects has been around long enough, but its real definition is still quite vague. There is the uneasy proximity of terms with the OOP objects, which tend to represent or encapsulate game objects but also do a bunch of other stuff. You could also be talking about any thing that’s visible on-screen, or limit them to what the player manipulates. You could also talk about a character’s inventory or… Well, I think you might have guessed the point by now, so I’ll stop.

Continue reading